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Top Gun: Maverick is almost the best of the best

Top Gun: Maverick ends with a heart-warming gesture: a dedication to Tony Scott. That feels right. A mere 36 years earlier, Scott gave us something we didn’t know we needed: an endlessly quotable actioner about hyper-masculine fighter pilots. Not only was Top Gun near-perfect, it had a complete storytelling arc, while still leaving us wanting more. Top Gun: Maverick makes the best case in years for the legacy sequel. Maybe instant gratification isn’t always the way of cinema: all we needed was lots of time.

{Quick segue on time apropos of, oh, nothing: The origins of Scientology are a wild ride. An immortal being called Thetan has somehow attached himself to all physical bodies. Also, millions of years ago, a galaxy-ruling race of super aliens led by a dude called Xenu came to Earth to nuke a ton of aliens in a volcano, and now we’re all trying to get clear of our primordial trauma using advanced technology, including global action filmmaking (I may have made the last part up)}.

Back to Top Gun: Maverick. This film has been precision-crafted to deliver joy. It pays homage to Scott’s masterpiece, with director Joseph Kosinski making this type of crowd-pleasing filmmaking look effortless. There is laughter and tears in a familiar naval setting, with nods to the original soundtrack and a sweet repetition of the plot hallmarks that made Top Gun beloved. Maverick is so accomplished that it’s kind of disconcerting. It’s so good at hitting those beats that the plot is largely irrelevant. Nobody is watching for original storytelling, this is an experience. There are hotshots, there are egos, there are hard bodies and there is a mission. And within that hard shell is an exploration of the pure love we feel for our friends.

Maverick widens the world of Top Gun while retaining the essence of the original with excellent casting additions. Miles Teller is a fitting Rooster, son of Goose (guess Gosling was taken?). He’s up against a dream team of, the cool Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), geek-chic BOB (Lewis Pullman) and the only character who actually wants to live, Payback (Jay Ellis). But the real star of the film is Glen Powell as Hangman, Iceman’s natural successor. Old faces make appearances and old scores are settled as motorbikes weave through those coastal tracks. But there is no Kelly McGillis, no Meg Ryan. Instead, we get Jennifer Connelly, the world’s most beautiful 50 year old, standing in a trench. And of course, she is impeccable.

So, yeah, something isn’t quite right. It’s always more difficult to bring a legacy sequel up to date. Elite pilots should come in every colour, gender and personality type. Female love interests need their own full, independent lives. Blind authority should always be challenged. But these changes are made here only to tick the boxes. There is no room for exploration of any character other than that one person with an ego not dented in 36 years. This film is obsessed with Tom Cruise. One example sees the camera lingering on a young, black, female naval officer admiring Maverick destroying a jet to impress his superiors. We cannot change the inherent whiteness of the Top Gun universe, from Iceman’s gnashing teeth to Maverick serenading in his officer’s whites. I salute Kosinski for trying, but this film employs a trope more than 36 years out of date. When you surround a white man with non-white admiration, you create the worst kind of white: a white saviour.

Maverick delivers that high of feel-good action filmmaking. It will make you cheer, laugh and feel alive. But I can’t quote a single line.

Top Gun: Maverick hits UK cinemas on 27th May 2022.

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