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Tom Cruise returns to the danger zone in the triumphant 'Top Gun: Maverick' (Review)

Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick puts Tom Cruise back in the cockpit of a Navy fighter jet. (Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

For those of us who've made it around the sun forty or more times, one of the touchstone cinematic experiences of the '80s was Paramount Pictures' patriotic portrayal of daredevil Naval aviators in "Top Gun." 

Directed by Tony Scott (Ridley Scott's late brother) and released on May 16,1986, "Top Gun" was the macho movie that cemented Tom Cruise's legacy as a megawatt movie star that lit up the screen at Mach 2 with his hair on fire in an F-14 fighter jet.

Now the sequel we never thought would happen, "Top Gun: Maverick," is hitting the box office afterburners from director Joseph Kosinski with a stellar $156 million domestic opening weekend and Cruise reprising his role as the charismatic icon, Lt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell.

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Just when we were beginning to lose all faith in the Hollywood dream machine, "Top Gun: Maverick" delivers a triumphant crowd-pleaser that hits every emotional note and never descends into nostalgic sentimentality or rides on the famed coattails of its 1986 predecessor. This marks the biggest opening weekend of Cruise's 41-year acting career and breaks a 15-year-old Memorial Day record set by "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End." "Maverick" is seemingly everywhere on 4,732 screens across America, making it the widest release in Hollywood history.

Co-starring with Cruise is a squadron of talented actors including Miles Teller ("Whiplash," "The Offer") as Lt. Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw, the son of "“Goose," Maverick’s best friend and co-pilot who perished in "Top Gun" after an ejection seat malfunction during a flame-out flat spin. But make no mistake about it, this is no formulaic rehash serving as a 21st century cash-grab.

Tom Cruise reprises his Maverick role in "Top Gun: Maverick." (Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

The organic plot finds Maverick 35 years older and trying to integrate into the digital age as a relic of another era. The cocky test pilot is called back into action after pushing the envelope a bit too far in a stealthy experimental spy plane, where he’s ordered to shepherd an inexperienced flock of Top Gun graduates towards new heights of advanced combat in FighterTown USA.

While acting as strike team leader for a suicide-type mission to destroy a rogue nation’s uranium factory in a perilous mountain setting, Maverick finds closure and purpose while inspiring a younger generation to reach for their personal bests in the most dangerous of conditions.

This just feels like the right film for our divided country and its thrilling dogfights are the perfect temporary antidote for rampant inflation, stock market malaise and stratospheric gas prices. When was the last time you heard the sweet music of a clapping, cheering audience at the multiplex? If we're being honest, it's been a while. 

But how refreshing is it to have your faith restored like a baptismal awakening, cleansed in the transcendent waters of smart filmmaking where emotional payoffs arise from carefully drawn characters in an engaging screenplay?

Miles Teller as Lt. Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw in "Top Gun: Maverick." (Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

The adrenalized script by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie offers a full spectrum of emotion and beautiful pacing as we watch Tom Cruise do what he does best - be a certified movie star in the old tradition. Jennifer Connolly as Penny Benjamin, Maverick’s bar-owning love interest, anchors the romantic side of the film and the pair produces palpable fireworks and glassy-eyed chemistry until the final sunset scene in a soaring P-51 Mustang. 

Astute aficionados of the 1986 flick will remember her character mentioned when Maverick and Goose are getting scolded by their carrier commander and he tells Maverick of his high speed pass with one admiral’s daughter. Goose then reminds Mav that it was indeed Penny Benjamin.

Director Joseph Kosinski ("Tron: Legacy," "Oblivion") has crafted an instant classic by channeling the late Tony Scott’s style of riveting flash cuts, musical cues, and penetrating close-ups that made the original "Top Gun" so revolutionary. Here the F-18 Hornets’ low-altitude runs and intense aerial combat, deftly edited by Eddie Hamilton, are exhilarating to the point of inducing vertigo and will leave you as breathless as that haunting Berlin ballad from the first film.

Tom Cruise and Jennifer Connolly make a handsome couple in "Top Gun: Maverick." (Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Rounding out the top-notch cast are Jon Hamm, Ed Harris, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Danny Ramirez, Monica Barbaro, and Manny Jacinto. Thankfully, Val Kilmer provides a touching extended cameo that adds tearful pathos to the sequel, playing Maverick’s ex-rival and now ardent supporter, Tom "Iceman" Kazansky who is now commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

From the familiar melody of Harold Faltermeyer's "Top Gun" theme, to Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone," and Maverick streaking down a runway on his old Ninja motorcycle, "Top Gun: Maverick" is a necessary trip down memory lane that kicks off the summer movie season on the highest of notes.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.