“My dad believed in you. I’m not gonna make the same mistake.”Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw
Whilst it may be an 80s classic, it is fair to say that the lasting cultural impact of Tony Scott’s testosterone-fuelled Top Gun outstripped its cinematic quality. A sequel some 36 years later, still starring Tom Cruise, seemed a perilously misguided undertaking and yet miraculously it has resulted in a far superior film. With Maverick teaching the next generation of pilots, there are similar themes about overconfidence, authority and teamwork, but the emotional weight is greater here as we find Maverick is still dealing with the trauma of losing his closest friend whilst also trying to be a father figure to the man’s son. Miles Teller and Cruise play this dynamic of bitterness and regret believably, forming the foundation for the story. A romantic subplot feels hollower, relying on an unseen prior relationship in which we have no investment, but it plays into the theme of Maverick’s life having stalled. The mission itself is bizarrely derivative of the Death Star trench run from Star Wars but it is so brazen that any distraction rapidly wanes and the aerial action is consistently thrilling under Kosinski’s direction. Conversely, it is difficult not to view Maverick as propaganda, US regalia constantly on display with the adrenaline-pumping depictions of combat serving as prime recruitment material for the military. There is space for reflection that was absent in the original and the film is not blind to cultural shifts in the intervening years. Music was responsible for much of Top Gun’s atmosphere and Maverick’s soundtrack is most evocative when it borrows liberally from Harold Faltermeyer’s original score (he is credited alongside Hans Zimmer). The connective tissue runs beyond the music, with several scenes repurposed in the sequel including a requisite sun-drenched beach sports montage that impressively manages to avoid parody. Val Kilmer’s cameo as Iceman — the only other returning character — is particularly poignant, overlaying the severe health issues that left Kilmer with damaged vocal chords. Maverick may not be doing anything groundbreaking, but it is effective blockbuster pageantry and a rare sequel that outshines its predecessor, rarer still after such a prolonged gap.