Tom Cruise as an ace pilot and flight instructor Pete Mitchell in Top Gun Maverick still has his magic, from his famous smile to his boyish, smooth charm. It’s fun to hear him railed by superior officers like Rear Adm. Chester Cain (Ed Harris). Cain blasts Mitchell as his last choice for a suicide mission to destroy a nuclear weapons facility and argues that pilots like Mitchell might be better replaced by drone planes.
Of course, Mitchell annoys most top brass with his frequent insubordination. He is begrudgingly tolerated only because they need him for tough missions. This reminds me of Clint Eastwood’s role as Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway in Heartbreak Ridge (1986), where superiors continually reminded the old soldier that he was a washed-up has-been, in spite of a chest full of medals earned for valiant and honorable duty in combat. When the chips are down, experience counts, and our heroes get the job done.
Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) returns in a cameo role and because of his support, Mitchell is tied to the mission. Iceman, a fellow pilot from the original Top Gun team in 1986, has been texting Pete Mitchell, reminding him of his value for both training the new Top Gun class and planning a difficult, critical mission.
Kazansky “orders” Mitchell to come to see him. Cruise and Kilmer share a tender face-to-face meeting in their respective roles. While they may be portraying a scene, their mutual regard is clearly genuine. You see, Val Kilmer is suffering from throat cancer and has undergone a tracheotomy. He can no longer speak and through electronic means, his voice was digitally created from old recordings for this scene. For most of their interaction, Kilmer types what he needs to say. The urgency of the meeting is explained when shortly afterward, Adm. Kazansky expires, and we see a military funeral with full honors. Some fellow movie-goers aware of Kilmer’s current health challenges were disturbed that the film portrayed his movie character’s demise.
Current geopolitics are set aside as the location of the nuclear weapons site remains a mystery. We can only guess that in today’s context it’s in North Korea, China, Russia, or Iran. It’s just as well, as viewers can escape temporarily from politics and enjoy the sacrifice, heroism, bravery, and success of our pilots, aircraft carriers, and their magnificent flying machines.
Opening this past Memorial Day weekend, the symbolism and patriotism were not lost on audience goers. Early viewing times were sold out, pushing us back to a later show.
Top Gun Maverick is a patriotic, feel-good action film tied nicely to the original movie. Esprit de corps is ably portrayed, and we empathize with the characters.
Thank you, Tom Cruise, and company! We wish all the best to Val Kilmer.
You need not have seen the original Top Gun that premiered 38 years ago but it helps see the connections and put you in the mood. Netflix offered the movie without charge through 5/31/2022.
Top Gun: Maverick
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writers: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Val Kilmer, Bashir Salahuddin
Running Time: 2h 11m
Genres: Action, Drama