Top Gun: Maverick – 3 1/2 stars out of 4

As much as I enjoyed “Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” and with all due respect to Mr. Nicholas Cage, I think “Top Gun: Maverick” just took over my top spot for Favorite Movie of 2022 (So Far). It is a perfect blend of cheeky nostalgia, thrilling action, and throwback adventure. And this is coming from a guy who didn’t even like the original movie all that much.

The first “Top Gun” was a perfectly good action movie, but I think I was a little more into science fiction when it came out, so I never really embraced it the way some of my peers did. And when I heard they were finally making a sequel, I was skeptical. Sequels have a rough enough success rate after ten years, let alone 35.

All of this is to say that I went into “Maverick” with modest expectations, and enjoyed the movie all the more as a result. Joseph Kosinski’s “Maverick” is a pure, fist-pumping joy. It is a perfect summer blockbuster.

The story opens with Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) working as a test pilot, still stuck as a Captain after all these years because he can’t help living up to his call sign. But as frustrating as he is to Navy brass, Maverick is still the best, so when they are faced with training a team of pilots for an impossible mission (maybe a mission impossible?), they know there is only one man to call.

Thus Maverick returns to Top Gun, the elite pilot training outfit that launched (pun slightly intended) his career in the first film. Here he finds a dozen highly competitive alphas, a former love interest (Jennifer Connelly), and an even bigger ghost from his past: Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s deceased best friend Goose (Anthony Edwards).

Will Maverick be able to get along with Rooster? Will he get fired from the program for pushing the rules a little too far? Will the team pull off their impossible mission? Honestly, you can probably answer all of these questions without watching the movie, but in spite of some predictability, “Maverick” follows its classic ‘80s action movie formula so well that you don’t mind.

Part of this is because of the skillful use of nostalgia, using music cues and throwback visuals to reconnect the audience to the original film. Yes, there’s even a tribute to that ridiculous beach volleyball scene. The best example by far is a heartwarming and heartbreaking scene between two characters that has powerful ties to real life. (Let’s just say you might want to watch last year’s “Val” in preparation.)

But all the nostalgia is complemented by top notch action production, intense pacing, and impressive execution. Twenty years into the 21st century, we’ve become accustomed to accepting visuals that look great but are clearly CGI-enhanced. “Maverick” looks and feels 100% real, almost timeless, as if it could have been filmed in 1986, 2000, or 2050.

The third act feels a little rushed, but is still a huge crowd pleaser, and after waiting two extra years to be able to see this IMAX juggernaut in theaters, “Maverick” stands as a perfect example of why some movies need to be seen on the big screen. Take it from someone who only considers himself a mild fan of the first film: “Top Gun: Maverick” is the larger-than-life action experience you’ve been waiting for.

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