Dog’s Movie House: “Top Gun: Maverick” Rousing Sequel 36 Years In The Making!”

“Top Gun: Maverick” takes place over 30 years after the original in which we find Pete Mitchell (Cruise) working as a test pilot for high-speed stealth aircraft. We find out that he’s been stuck at the rank of Captain all these years because he has a tendency to act without thinking. After a stunt with the aforementioned stealth plane attracts the ire of one Admiral Cain (Ed Harris), he is miraculously redeployed to Top Gun in San Diego. There he is ordered to train a group of top graduates for a mission to an unknown Baltic state to take out a uranium factory before it starts producing. Among the recruits is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) the son of Goose, Maverick’s best friend and partner who died in the original film. To say the two have history would be an understatement. It’s up to Maverick, under the watchful eye of disapproving Admiral Simpson (a pitch perfect Jon Hamm) to train these youngsters for a nearly impossible mission. Complicating things is a woman from his past (a terrific Jennifer Connelly) for which Maverick still has feelings. Everything comes down to a spectacular mission overseas where Maverick and his pilots will have to be at their very best in order to survive.

“Top Gun: Maverick” is clearly a loving homage to the original film, following the story beats fairly closely, especially during the films first half. It’s not a blatant copy, however, with scripters Ehren Kruger, Chris McQuarrie, and Eric Warren Singer manages to throw enough character and story driven curveballs to make “Maverick” its own thing. The tone is a bit different as well, eschewing the rah-rah over-the-top eighties vibe in favor of something a little deeper though no less patriotic. This tone allows the viewer to feel more for the characters and it really works especially in film’s quieter scenes.

The performances are all very good. Cruise carries “Maverick” on his still muscular shoulders, trading overt cockiness for something a little more melancholy. He’s still a loner and the best at what he does, but there are hints of regret at what could have been encroaching on the ultra-masculine facade. He’s still Maverick, but he realizes he might be fighting a losing battle to remain relevant in an ever changing world. This combination of bravado and vulnerability (especially when it comes to dealing with the son of his late best friend) makes Maverick a more appealing character.

Cruise gets fine support from Teller as Rooster, Hamm as the admiral running the op who doesn’t entirely trust Maverick but ends up respecting his talent. Connelly is terrific as Penny, an old flame who helps guide Maverick on the emotional side of his journey. Connelly is normally associated with roles that are serious and, quite frankly, a bit depressing. Penny is a mature, confident firecracker who, despite her lingering affection for Maverick, isn’t afraid to put him in his place. Harris is good in a small role and excellent in what amounts to an extended cameo is Val Kilmer returning to the screen as Iceman. Now a rear admiral suffering of throat cancer (a natural way to address Kilmer’s experience with the condition and its effect of rendering it difficult for him to speak) he has been Maverick’s guardian angel for all these years. They have just one scene together and it only lasts a couple of minutes, but it is the best dramatic scene in the movie, hands-down. All of that history and affectation and conflict is concentrated into a moment between two legendary pilots who despite their differences, love each other as brothers. Make sure you bring a tissue for this scene alone.

But what about the action? You have nothing to worry about. Kosinski, who directed Cruise in the neat sci-fi film “Oblivion” has found his stride here. I’m sure CGI was used subtly here, but the fact the filmmakers favored practical and real filmmaking over the computer imagery we’re used to adds a level of authenticity that’s hard to fake. The flying and battle sequences are incredibly thrilling with stuff I don’t think I’ve ever seen filmed before. The final mission is one hair-raising sequence after another and if you don’t see this on the biggest screen possible then you’re doing yourself a grave disservice.

“Top Gun: Maverick” is one of the few sequels that improves upon the original in almost every way while honoring the eighties classic at the same time. With a fine story, wonderful performances, and some of the greatest flying battle scenes ever put to film, “Top Gun: Maverick” lays its claim to being one of the greatest action thrillers of all time. See this on the IMAX screen if you can! It’s worth it! 4 1/2 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!

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