Top Gun: Maverick (2022) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Now that’s a real cinematic entertainment

We really have to admire and appreciate the enduring star quality of Tom Cruise, who is soon going to have the 60th birthday but has steadily given us a series of entertaining films during last several decades. To be frank with you, I often wonder whether his recent action films are actually his own way of handling middle-life crisis, but, if so, he has done that quite productively and entertainingly for us, and it is certainly awesome to observe how he magnificently carries “Top Gun: Maverick” from the beginning to the end.

As many of you know, the movie is the long-awaited sequel to late Tony Scott’s “Top Gun” (1986), which boosted Cruise’s growing stardom further after Paul Brickman’s “Risky Business” (1983). Although it is rather rote and corny in terms of story and characters, the 1986 film impressed audiences a lot via a number of excellent aerial action sequences, and it was subsequently Oscar-nominated in four technical categories in addition to having a huge box office success at that time (It won the Best Song Oscar for its iconic theme song “Take My Breath Away”, by the way).

Now more than three decades have passed, but Cruise demonstrates here again that he still has the same charm and charisma he confidently wielded in the 1986 film, and watching him taking the role of mentor in “Top Gun: Maverick” somehow takes me back to when he was sort of mentored by none other than Paul Newman in Martin Scorsese’ “The Color of Money” (1986). Seriously, at that time, who could have imagined that he would not only endure but also prevail long enough to be on the opposite side as a senior Hollywood star actor?

Just like the 1986 film, “Top Gun: Maverick” is mainly about a very, very, very risky military operation to be accomplished by a bunch of young, ambitious, and, above all, talented US Naval pilots. Their target is a uranium enrichment facility located inside a conveniently unnamed enemy country, and it is the job of Cruise’s character, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, to train and then prepare those young pilots for the operation within a few weeks.

However, Maverick is not so excited about his job because this will be probably the last hurrah in his long and illustrious career. As shown from the stunning opening sequence where he boldly pushes the limit of his latest test flight, he prefers to be active up in the air as long as he can, but, as an annoyed admiral played by Ed Harris sharply reminds him later, his time is ending due to many reasons including rapid military technology advancement. After all, using drones is usually far less risky and much cheaper than depending on human elements, isn’t it?

Anyway, Maverick demands his trainees to push their limits all the way, and his rather unorthodox training methods bring lots of headaches to his new direct superior played by John Hamm, who surely does not like Maverick much right from the beginning. In addition, one of Maverick’s trainees turns out to be the son of his old friend who unfortunately died in the 1986 film, and their official encounter is pretty awkward to say the least. While Maverick has always cared about him, Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) has resented Maverick for understandable personal reasons, and Maverick becomes more conflicted about whether he should include Rooster in the operation.

During this part, the movie serves us a number of vivid and spectacular aerial action sequences which will surely take your breath away right from their first few seconds. I am sure that they used a considerable amount of special efforts during these sequences, but I must admit that Cruise and several main cast members look quite real and convincing in their respective cockpits, and the movie palpably conveys to us a number of hair-raising extreme risks taken by their characters on the screen.

Meanwhile, the movie is also surprisingly engaging in several quiet personal moments, which remind Maverick of how things have changed during last several decades of his life. As Maverick’s old former lover, Jennifer Connelly clicks well with Cruise during several key scenes between them, and she and Cruise skillfully balance their characters’ rekindled romance well between humor and maturity. In case of the brief but memorable appearance of Val Kilmer, who played the main adversary of Cruise’s character in the 1986 film, it feels all the more poignant considering Kilmer’s recent medical problem, which was the main reason why he went into retirement several years ago.

In the end, everything in the story culminates to the expected climactic part where the operation is eventually executed (Is this a spoiler?), and the movie goes all the way along with Cruise while giving us a number of unexpected surprises for more thrill and entertainment. Director Joseph Kosinski, who previously directed “Tron: Legacy” (2010) and “Oblivion” (2013), and his crew members including editor Eddie Hamilton and cinematographer Claudio Miranda did a stupefying top-notch job on the whole, and I will not be surprised if the movie is Oscar-nominated in several technical categories in next year just like its predecessor.

Overall, “Top Gun: Maverick” is one of the more entertaining blockbuster films of this year, and it surely reminds me again of one of the main reasons why I go to movie theater. Like many of you, I am eager to be entertained a lot, and I was really energized by how “Top Gun: Maverick” boldly flies way beyond not only its predecessor but also many of less ambitious Hollywood blockbusters during last several years. Now that’s a real cinematic entertainment, folks.

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