I very much hated the first Top Gun upon its initial release in 1986. It was the year I graduated from high school; the film reeked of the worst the ’80s had to offer, and it was as shallow as modern-day Lake Mead. (There you go, folks … low-hanging-fruit humor regarding to Lake Mead!)

Tom Cruise, a promising but sometimes-too-commercial actor at the time, was perhaps the best thing about it. The flight scenes were OK, but everything in between those planes being in the air … yeesh. It was yet more pandering, generic, slick moviemaking like Rocky IV, Dirty Dancing, Footloose and that Kevin Bacon bike-messenger film, Quicksilver. These are the films that turned me into the evil movie critic I am today.

There weren’t immediate plans for a sequel back in the ’80s, but serious talks and rumors about a sequel emerged about 10 years ago. Then, with actual production, and a release date on the calendar, the pandemic struck and caused a lot of delays after cameras initially rolled in 2018.

A lot has happened since 1986. Thirty-six years (holy shit!) have passed, and Mr. Cruise has evolved into a semi-reputable actor. A carbon-copy sequel to the original Top Gun just wouldn’t do.

So, we finally get Top Gun: Maverick. Thankfully, it’s not a carbon-copy sequel. It’s a testament to the state of modern action filmmaking, a fun statement on the current perception of Cruise himself (a cinema statesman; pretty insane, like most of his characters)—and an all-around good time at the movie theater.

As for the flight scenes, this film delivers. The cockpit shots of Cruise and actors like Miles Teller enduring g-force are thrilling beyond compare. The meticulously staged dog fights and plane acrobatics are, no doubt about it, the best ever put to screen. If you are going to Top Gun: Maverick to have your face blown off by masterful action filmmaking (rather than brain-massaging philosophy and high-intellect musings), you will not be let down.

Still, the film has some unexpected, swimmable depth to it. Cruise brings true sentimentality and dimension to Capt. Maverick as he sets out to mentor a new Top Gun flight crew against an unnamed generic enemy. He’s tasked with turning a suicide mission into a survivable victory.

The film pits him against Rooster (Teller), the son of Maverick’s late wingman, Goose (Anthony Edwards in the original). Rooster is still sore about the death of his father, and Maverick is interfering with his Air Force career. Is it ridiculous to write a script that has these two characters, with major history, sharing the same mission? Sure it is, but the writers, director Joseph Kosinki and the performers make it all click nicely.

It all works up to a finale that offers high-octane thrills and surprising emotional charm. Yes, I was won over by Top Gun: Maverick, so I returned home and said, “What the hell; let’s watch the original for nostalgia’s sake.”

I really enjoyed Top Gun: Maverick. The original is still a piece of shit.

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