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Top Gun: Maverick

"takes your breath away"

★★★★★ - EMPIRE 

- In 1986, Tony Scott’s Top Gun made superstars of Tom Cruise, F-14 Tomcats and homoerotic beach volleyball. Effortlessly tapping into its ’80s-ness, yet somehow still feeling fresh, Joseph Kosinki’s joyous Top Gun: Maverick not only matches the original but also, in certain areas, is an improvement. It feels familiar, but everyone on board clearly understands the assignment, and it’s delivered with so much oomph and affection — with a slight undertow of melancholy — that it’s impossible not to get swept up.

Kickstarting with a beat-by-beat recreation of the original’s opening sequence — heat hazes, filtered skies, men in overalls, synthetic bells, Kenny Loggins — director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Cruise’s own Oblivion) and screenwriters Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie cleave very closely to the Top Gun flight plan. There are affecting variations on buzzing the tower, racing jet fighters on a Kawasaki, bar-room sing-songs (giving Mav a bad case of the flashbacks — hello, young Meg Ryan), clothes-light beach sports and a moving death, right down to the love interest played by Jennifer Connelly seemingly living in the same house as Kelly McGillis’ Charlie. The tweak here is that Maverick is now the tutor, Obi-Wan to a whole new roster of likeable Top Gun Jedi, all with cool call signs like Hangman, Phoenix and Payback (if Top Gun were British they’d be called Ballbag and Quavers) and zero respect for the old man.

Kosinski is in his element in the clouds — an early sequence with Maverick trying to break Mach 10 has some of the sleekness of Tron: Legacy — forging stunning flying sequences that fuel the blood through countless camera angles and breakneck but comprehensible editing. Early doors, there’s tangible delight in our hero taking down cocky recruits in training exercises, watching big close-ups of actors actually undergoing Zero-G, and learning the new quotable jargon (“Turn and burn, baby”; “Move it or lose it”).

Back on terra firma, Maverick obviously butts heads with his superiors (Jon Hamm once again reminding us he is not in enough movies), woos barkeep Penny (a charming Connelly) and, in a nicely judged thread, tries to win over new recruit ‘Rooster’ (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s old flying partner ‘Goose’. Kosinski mostly eschews Tony Scott’s macho posturing and the loveliest scenes involve Maverick and Iceman (Val Kilmer), former rivals finding touching common ground in advanced years. This is perhaps the biggest new thing the film has to offer: an elegiac sense of Maverick as a man verging on obsolete, trying to find his place in an ever-changing world. Kilmer, who has survived throat cancer in recent years, movingly plays most of his screentime via the medium of typing. Cruise, meanwhile, does a terrific job of retaining Maverick’s spirit and swagger while keeping it all tasteful and age-appropriate. Thirty-six years on, his conviction still takes your breath away.

Avoiding the danger zone of mere retread, Kosinski and co deliver all the Top Gun feels and then some: slick visuals, crew camaraderie, thrilling aerial action, a surprising emotional wallop and, in Tom Cruise, a magnetic movie-star performance as comforting as an old leather jacket. Punching the air is mandatory.

- Ian Freer, EMPIRE

Top Gun: Maverick is now playing at Light House Cinema! 

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