Thirty-six years after Tony Scott’s Top Gun opened in theaters, and further launched the stardom of actor Tom Cruise, a sequel is finally playing in theaters. Over thirty years is a very long time between movie installments, but director Joseph Kosinsky, the film’s writers and producer/star Tom Cruise have made damn sure the movie has been totally worth the wait. Not only does Top Gun: Maverick celebrate and honor all that makes the first movie so lovable and enjoyable, it launches the franchise into the stratosphere with some of the best and most exciting fighter jet sequences ever captured for cinema. Maverick is one of those rare sequels that simply outshines its predecessor in so many ways and does so with the utmost respect.

In the present day, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) continues to serve the U.S. Navy as a fearless test pilot for a stealth jet program. Still a bit of a troublemaker, Maverick has tactically managed to dodge promotions, as he knows that a rise in the ranks means he will no longer be able to fly. And after another act of defiance to superiors threatening to shut down his program, Maverick, once again, gets reassigned. This time, the assignment is all too familiar. He gets tasked with fighter tactics training to a group of the nation’s most talented fighter pilots.

However, this time, his task will prove to be a greater challenge. Mitchell is in charge of training a unit of the best Top Gun graduates, who must fly a secret mission to destroy a uranium facility belonging to an undisclosed rogue nation. Believed to be used for weapons manufacturing, the facility is located in a canyon that is rather treacherous for below radar flight. Maverick must use all of his skills and talents to prepare the team of F/A-18E/F Super Hornet pilots for the challenge of their careers. Included in this group of elite aviators is the surviving son of Maverick’s late best friend and RIO, “Goose” Bradshaw. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), may be a gifted pilot, but he still has much to learn. He also resents Maverick for a couple of personal reasons.

WIth a solidly written screenplay by Ehren Krueger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie (from a story by Peter Craig and Justin Marks), director Joseph Kosinsky and his amazing crew of filmmakers have made such an incredible and thrilling movie in Top Gun: Maverick. If one already believes that Top Gun is the be-all, end-all movie of military aviation, then you’re in for a wonderful surprise. The cinematography by Claudio Miranda, the editing by Eddie Hamilton, and the extraordinary work by everyone who contributed to the flight and battle sequences all deserve a standing ovation for crafting a motion picture that makes the audience feel immersed and part of the action.

And the movie isn’t nothing, but spectacle. The writers do some great work in developing the characters, and developing a story that allows for growth. This is another aspect of the sequel that definitely outshines the first installment, which actually suffers from lousy, silly writing. Now, granted, I must acknowledge the mission in the movie is a mostly shameless rehash of the Death Star mission in Star Wars, but that act of creative thievery is forgivable, given all of the great things this movie has going for it.

As far as the cast is concerned, only two actors from the first movie return, which of course are Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer. Given the circumstances of Kilmer’s cancer battle, and his inability to speak well, this is appropriately and tastefully addressed in the movie. Still, it is wonderful to see Kilmer back on the big screen and as a more mature and wiser version of his character Tom “Iceman” Kazansky. As for Cruise, he also portrays Maverick as a more mature man, but one who still has a wilder, rebellious side.

I honestly have nothing at all bad to say about the cast of actors, new to the Top Gun franchise. Every one of these talented performers play their respective roles well. In addition to Miles Teller, who I mention above, the sequel features fine performances by Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, Monica Barbaro, Charles Parnell, and several others.

It should go without saying at this point, that I must highly recommend watching this movie on the biggest and best screen possible. For my press screening, I was treated to experiencing the film on a small IMAX screen with an awesome sound system, which was still very good, but I would’ve preferred a full-sized IMAX screen. The movie was shot with IMAX cameras and looks amazing because of the incredible resolution, so this is obviously the best format to enjoy it.

Top Gun: Maverick definitely lives up to the hype and delivers a spectacle with much heart. It is also shows much love for the fans of the first installment, without ever leaning too heavily into it. Top Gun was my late father’s favorite movie of all time, and I just know he would have loved this sequel as I do.

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