As years go, 1986 was a rather significant one for me: I graduated high school, met and began dating my first serious boyfriend, turned 18, and started college. That spring and summer were filled with special moments and memories. When “Top Gun” hit the theaters, we were there. I don’t recall the exact count, but I know I saw it in the theater several times. It had a huge impact – culturally and in our teenaged psyches. It was quintessentially mid-80s – and I know I’m far from alone in appreciating the nostalgia of it.
So it was that I looked forward with great anticipation to the release of its sequel – skeptical though I was as to whether it could ever touch the original (as so few sequels truly do). I didn’t worry overmuch when the initial delay was announced but was genuinely disappointed when COVID put it on ice for another almost-two-years.
As soon as the actual release was announced, I made clear my eagerness to see it. My handsome beau indulged me Saturday evening and to the show we went. As I alluded on Twitter following the viewing: “Top Gun: Maverick met all expectations save one.”
Top Gun Maverick met all expectations save one – if I can figure out how to explain it, I may write it up.
If you’re a fan of the original, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this one.
— Susie Moore (@SmoosieQ) May 29, 2022
I expected it to entertain me – it did. I expected there to be tense, thrilling flight and battle scenes – there were. I expected the score to pack the punch of the original – it did (though I’m not as fond of the overall soundtrack of this one as the first). I expected the cinematography to be top-notch – it was. I expected there to be laughs – there were. I expected the returning characters to be and look older – they were and did, even though Tom Cruise clearly has had a couple nips at the Fountain of Youth. I expected a reprise of the volleyball scene – without giving much away, there was a worthy equivalent. I even expected to feel nostalgic – I definitely did.
What I didn’t expect (so perhaps it’s a bit misleading to say the movie didn’t meet an expectation; rather it far exceeded one I didn’t even realize I had) was the huge wave of emotion that hit me toward the end of the movie – not because the storyline itself was moving, though it was, even if in a somewhat predictable way – but because it so perfectly evoked a feeling I’d almost forgotten.
As formulaic (and yes, even cheesy) as both films are, there’s a wholesome feel-goodness to them both. It’s hard to capture it adequately with words here – it’s not love of country (that’s implicit here but just faintly so), it’s not pride in our military and technology (explicit without being ham-fisted); it’s the sense that we are capable of greatness, of doing the right thing, of sacrifice, of heroism, of selflessness, and of love.
There are no politics in this movie. There is no preaching. It’s just good guys (and gals) doing a good thing for good reason – and we, the audience, are given permission to cheer that unabashedly.
It is 2022 but it was also 1986. And for even just a little while, the cynicism and heartache we’ve experienced collectively in the intervening years receded. It made me feel like a kid again – in the best of ways. And it choked me up to realize how much I’ve missed that – how much we all have.
And now for some non-spoilery spoilers/observations about “Top Gun: Maverick”:
I genuinely enjoyed the additions/introductions of Bashir Salahuddin (Hondo), Ed Harris (Cain), Charles Parnell (Warlock), Monica Barbaro (Phoenix), Jon Hamm (Cyclone), and Lewis Pullman (Bob). Truly, the entire supporting cast was strong here.
I saw and appreciated nods to both “The Right Stuff” and, somewhat surprisingly, “Star Wars.” Speaking of nods, I caught one in the opening sequence that tickled me – as the “Darkstar” plane featured began to take off, I swore I saw an image of “Flower” (of “Bambi” fame) on the tail of it. (I had never heard of “Skunk Works” before – now I know it wasn’t my imagination.)
The scene between Maverick and Ice Man is both funny and touching. If you’re a Gen-Xer, this one’s going to hit you in the feels.
I agree with my friend Kevin McKeever: The romance between Maverick and “Penny” (Jennifer Connelly) shouldn’t work but it does. And the window scene is disarmingly sweet.
Lastly, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the character of “Rooster” (son of “Goose”), but Miles Teller works magic here in subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) capturing the mannerisms and spirit of Goose and his chemistry with Maverick, while being his own character. There’s more than one love story in this movie.
I can promise you this: If you liked the original, you won’t be disappointed by this sequel. It may have taken 36 years to get here, but it was worth the wait. Go see it.