‘Top Gun: Maverick’ review: an engaging if brainless return to the danger zone

Tom Cruise fires up the jets again

Just in time to encourage a new generation of Ray-Banned Americans to sign up to bomb fledgling nuclear production sites from the skies, Top Gun’s rebel fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is back, 36 years older but seemingly no closer to any sort of revelation about the manipulative futility of modern warfare. If the iconic 1986 original movie was essentially an adrenalised advert for hi-octane military thrills – fly an F-14 upside down! Shag the sexy instructor! Probably don’t die! – there’s zero philosophical evolution in this belated follow-up. Well-drilled, balls-of-titanium air aces with novelty call signs (Hangman, Phoenix, Coyote, um, Bob) battle to be selected for a surefire suicide mission without a flicker of fear or uncertainty. They’re as likely to consider the wider geopolitical implications of an unprovoked international attack as the cast of Fast & Furious are to start indicating.

So heavily does Maverick play on its retro-classic credentials that in the none-more-‘80s title sequence, complete with Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’, you’d be forgiven for thinking the US navy’s military hardware hasn’t been updated in over three decades. But here we find Maverick, fired as an instructor at the elite Top Gun training school after two months (which is where Top Gun left him), and now working as a test pilot on hyper-speed aircraft to avoid being shunted into a desk job. He’s called back to Top Gun to train a fresh set of the US military’s best pilots for a – yes – impossible mission to take out the nuclear development facility of a (tactfully unspecified) enemy country. For a few minutes, it seems as though Maverick will become an astute and timely comment on the replacement of humans with AI drones and the mechanisation of military slaughter. Then they forget about all that and, basically, for the next 135 minutes it’s a case of plane-go-zoom unless plane-go-boom.

Which is to say that Top Gun: Maverick does exactly what its intended audience wants it to do – pile on the airborne thrills and steely military heroics without knotting things up with too much moralising or complex character development. Its plot may just be an extended Rocky-style training film for the jet fighter equivalent of the bombing of the Death Star, but throwbacks to the original movie supply the emotional heart. Maverick’s rekindling of an old flame with bar owner Penny (Jennifer Connelly) is uneventful and rote, but the inclusion of his old wingman Goose’s son Rooster (Miles Teller) as one of the pilots Maverick might be sending to their deaths is both the film’s thread to the past and its dramatic jet engine. Trickled between some breathtaking sequences of G-Force 9 air ballet, it makes for an entertaining blockbuster ride back into the danger zone, albeit one with the fuel pipe to its brain resolutely disengaged.

Details

  • Director: Joseph Kosinski
  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly
  • Release date: May 25
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