2022 | PG-13 | starring Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, John Hamm, Glenn Powell, Monica Barbaro, Val Kilmer, Ed Harris | directed by Joseph Kosinski | 2 hrs 10 mins |

At the end of the opening set piece of Top Gun: Maverick, Ed Harris’ Admiral character is giving Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) another dressing down for his latest stunt, telling him that he’s a relic and will eventually go extinct. When Maverick retorts “Not today”, he might as well be talking about movies and Maverick’s place in the modern day Hollywood landscape. Maverick is a sequel 30 years removed from the original, silly, superficial and incredibly well made, that drops at a time to capture an audience’s thirst to be purely and simply entertained. It’s the right movie, made by the right people with the right intentions bolstered by Tom Cruise, flexing global movie star muscle to break out of Hollywood mandates and bring movies back to being made for the sheer passion of the project. There are moments in Maverick where my hair stood on end for how classically charming it was.

I say that as someone who has no nostalgic love for 1986’s Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Top Gun. It’s 2-hour training montage structure makes my eyes glaze over, I don’t hold Goose’s death close to my heart, I don’t get nostalgic for the soundtrack and I don’t quote it’s cheesy lines. Cruise has learned a lot since then, namely taking all of the real-world stunt tricks they learned with the Mission: Impossible franchise and infusing Maverick with high-stakes, realistic-looking action that doesn’t just dazzle the eye, but is milked for tension. Some of the flight sequences here are dizzying, but the plot is also a perfectly efficient clothesline for them. Keeping it simple, true to the original and M:I films, we get a mission debrief, a plan and that plan going south in a couple of ways. At the center of it all is Cruise, not playing a character so much as playing a classic Cary Grant leading man movie star, which also went out of fashion decades ago.

Maverick works on all cylinders with everyone on the same page. It’s cliche and cheesy in the most delightful ways, gleefully having Maverick hold up a literal rule book and then toss it in the trash. He gets dressed down by the superiors because that’s what maverick’s do in these movies and he gets put in a position to save the day because he’s just “the best”. Maverick has a very PG-13 romance with Jennifer Connelly as a woman from his past because that’s just what leading men in these movies do. From director Joseph Kosinski all the way down this movie feels like the work of people who actually love the original and care about what they’re doing. In the last 5 years we have seen time and again sequels and reboots of works from the past mutated and reformed into ugly, cynical nostalgia bait by filmmakers who not only don’t care for the original, but actively hate it, hate it’s fans and are making a new version to correct the mistakes of the past. In that version of this movie, Maverick is humiliated and relegated to a side character, it becomes a by-the-numbers retread of the first movie and the film is sold as an ESG product to studio investors who will never watch it and don’t care what the audience thinks of it. People that view the movie as a tool to beat people over the head with. That’s The Matrix Resurrections. That’s the 2016 Ghostbusters and even in some ways Ghostbusters: Afterlife. That’s Star Wars, Star Trek, Jurassic World, Halloween. It’s every Disney Live Action Remake. It’s damn near every Hollywood franchise.

On the other hand, Maverick stands as a perfect example of how to do nostalgia just right. Opening with “Highway to the Danger Zone” with just enough flashbacks to fold this story back over the last one. It isn’t in your face. It isn’t Member Berries. It’s just the right tone. The plot: Maverick gets bumped back to Top Gun and is given the task of teaching the 12 best pilots in the world how they are going to pull off a suicide mission. That mission: right out of Mission: Impossible involves hitting a uranium plant in the middle of a crater and flying under surface-to-air missiles – and doing it all in 2.5 minutes.  The stakes are high, the rules are clear, the movie twists it up just enough. In the class is Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Goose harboring resentment against Maverick for trying to keep him out of the academy in the wake of his father’s death. The movie makes time for some macho posturing between the more cautious Rooster and arrogant Hangman (Glen Powell, Scream Queens), shirtless beach football and little moments of bonding among the new class including by-the-book Phoenix (Monica Barboa) and awkward Bob (Lewis Pullman). Teller sports an out-of-fashion mustache, but even without that it is kind of remarkable how much he looks like Anthony Edwards.

Top Gun: Maverick is an old fashioned blast that leaves nostalgia bait movies in it’s dust, wallowing in it’s own cheese with an expert understanding of crowd-pleasing maximum efficiency cinema. In this creatively bankrupt environment it’s hard not to praise Top Gun Maverick for what it isn’t just as much as what it is, but the point is a big one: Tom Cruise made this movie as good as it is, with no incentive to do so. Why? Something as alien as a gift for the fans or sheer love for cinema. I haven’t seen a movie this devoted to hitting the notes that give an audience what they want since 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. Maverick unearths and dusts off a concept that we haven’t seen in a very long time. It’s a Feel Good Movie.