Why would anyone in today’s desirable moviegoing demo want to see a sequel to a 1986 film—even one as popular as Top Gun? The question becomes academic, if not downright moot, after watching this superior film. It’s hard to picture another entry in the summer movie sweepstakes that can equal or exceed this one for pure, adrenalin-fueled entertainment.

Tom Cruise proves he’s still got what it takes to command the screen, even when he’s playing a character who might have been cast with someone decades younger than himself. He retains the looks and swagger of a youthful leading man without actually stepping into (or out of) a time machine. His character’s backstory explains his presence in the elite U.S. Navy flight program. Since his reputation precedes him, his love story with age-appropriate Jennifer Connelly and competition with the son of his former pal (Miles Teller) all make sense.

With a screenplay credited to Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and recent Cruise collaborator Christopher MacQuarrie, the saga of how a legendary hotshot returns to the scene of his former glory days doesn’t strain credulity. Even a brief reunion with his former cohort Val Kilmer is set up and played with just the right amount of sentimentality. If the film relies on tried-and-true Hollywood movie tropes, it makes excellent use of them.

This is not a special effects movie, per se, but the simulated—and actual—flights in F18 jets offer compelling and nail-biting excitement, all the more so when you learn that the cast members actually trained to do their own flying in these supersonic jets. 

It isn’t necessary to have seen, or revisited, the original 1986 pop hit to understand the relationships in this screenplay. Cruise’s cocky persona speaks for itself, especially in his scenes with his humorless superior officer, well played by Jon Hamm. The reasons for Teller’s resentment of Cruise are also clearly spelled out.

Under Joseph Kosinski’s direction, Top Gun: Maverick never feels like a fill-in-the-blanks formula product. It has a freshness and vitality that recalls the best Hollywood sequels and remakes, not the worst. I had a great time watching Top Gun: Maverick and recommend seeing it as I did, on a giant IMAX screen.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024