Top Gun: Maverick sensationally reaffirms your belief in how movies can be magic

Tom Cruise’s Peter ‘Maverick’ Mitchell returns, 30-plus years later, in Top Gun: Maverick. It’s true, writes Daniel Rutledge, this is the best blockbuster action flick to come out of Hollywood in years.

It’s important to remember that this is just a movie. With some of the pull quotes from the early reviews, it’s easy to get your expectations all inflated up to a crazy level that no movie could meet. This is simply an example of everyone involved in the film getting it right, without an arrogant studio executive or dumb test screening edits or something else screwing up the process. This is just an example of a team of skilled Hollywood filmmakers, led by director Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion), who know what they’re doing and being left to just do the damn thing. But it is just a movie.

Now with that out of the way, prepare for more hyperbole because holy shit, I loved this film. It’s true, this is the best blockbuster action flick to come out of Hollywood in years and certainly the best long-belated sequel I can remember. We’re constantly swimming through oceans of reboots, remakes, reimaginings, legasequels and other products designed to tap into that sweet, sweet nostalgia dollar. Top Gun: Maverick is an exquisitely rare gem in the 1% of nostalgia bait where it pays just the right amount of tribute to the original, updates in just the right ways, and then impossibly surpasses its greatness.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for is the searing beauty of the film. I guess I was so excited about the ground-breaking aviation action I didn’t think much about the plain gorgeousness of the cinematography, which is often jaw-dropping. But there’s also an uncynical, earnest approach to the storytelling that struck me as beautiful, too. While it feels contemporary, there’s a way it expresses that good old-fashioned, kinda naive American brand of honour and duty that I found really endearing. You could go in with your arms crossed and dismiss this all as cheesy, jingoistic military porn, but you’d really have to try hard not to get swept up in it.

The potent homoeroticism of the original film is sadly dialed way back almost to zero, but in its place is a surprisingly meaningful take on platonic male relationships. It would be a spoiler to say whom the primary man-on-man partnership involves, as it’s something quite moving to discover and fully experience in the film. It’s actually delightful how mature almost every relationship is. Sure, it’s a far cry from the raw horniness of the 1986 movie we may have thought we wanted more of, but it seems like the best way to follow that up even if we didn’t know we wanted it this way.

It’s hard to believe I’ve gotten this far through the review without describing the action—but quite simply, it delivers. The early promotional videos teased amazing airborne action the likes of which we’ve never seen before with actors actually in jets and state-of-the-art filming techniques to capture everything with extreme fidelity. You get all that and then some, with the climactic air combat scenes, in particular, being just ridiculously thrilling. It really does deliver, but I think this was a relatively safe bet, especially with not only Cruise but Christopher McQuarrie involved (as writer/producer). They’ve learned with recent entries in the Mission: Impossible franchise how to do blockbuster action better than pretty much anyone else and in Top Gun: Maverick they’ve simply applied it to fighter jets.

It’s much more astonishing how well the rest of the movie hits it out of the park as well as just on the action front. The original Top Gun is a thoroughly ’80s movie which wouldn’t make sense if it was released today. It’s such a joy to have a follow-up that makes absolute sense now and is about as close to a perfect sequel as you can get. Top Gun: Maverick is just a movie, yes. But it is one of those ones you only get every few years that sensationally reaffirms your belief in how a movie can be magic.