Tuesday, 28 May 2024

‘Top Gun: Maverick’ soars high with relentless thrills

Let’s waste no time getting to the point. Better than its 1986 source material, “Top Gun: Maverick” fires on all cylinders to deliver an adrenaline-charged, suspenseful entertainment that demands to be seen on the large screen.

Several names are attached to this film in the producer capacity, but the only name that really matters is Jerry Bruckheimer, the creative force behind the “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Bad Boys.”

With a track record of incredible success and having produced “Top Gun,” Bruckheimer, reunited with Tom Cruise after being the actor’s mentor more than three decades ago, is an essential factor putting the pieces in place for electrifying action.

Once a hotshot Navy pilot, Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has only ascended to the rank of Captain and is content to remain one of the Navy’s top aviators because any advancement in rank would ground him.

Like all of his fellow pilots, Captain Mitchell goes by his own aviator call sign of “Maverick,” which is a most fitting nickname given his propensity for skirting the rules if not outright being insubordinate.

Based in the Navy’s equivalent of Siberia in the Mojave Desert, Maverick runs afoul of Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (a grizzly Ed Harris) with an unauthorized test of the speed limit of an advanced fighter jet.

Rear Admiral Cain tells Maverick that “the future is coming, and you’re not in it.” Even though he’s ruffled more than a few feathers during his time in the Navy, Maverick still has friends in high places to save his bacon.

After all, it’s only the beginning of the story, so we know Maverick is not headed to the unemployment line. And it may not be the last time he’ll disobey a command or bend the regulations.

His former nemesis from the old days, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) is now a 4-star Admiral who knows that Maverick is the only pilot with the expertise and daring needed to train a special detachment to complete a crucial mission.

The operation is so dangerous that only the most elite pilots could be recruited for the job, and yet this new generation of aviators doesn’t have the proficiency required to have a chance at returning home safely.

As a result, Maverick is shipped off to the Miramar Naval Base in San Diego, the place where it all began for him 36 years ago, with the assignment to teach a dozen aviators the logistics and tactics for a daring excursion into a foreign country.

Teaching is not exactly what Maverick had in mind, and his new commanding officer, Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm) is another by-the-book stiff who on at least one occasion threatens to have Maverick court-martialed and dishonorably discharged.

Given his old-school manner, Maverick finds it challenging to connect with the young pilots in the Top Gun program, one of them being the supremely arrogant and brash Lt. Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell).

But the more troubling relationship for Maverick is the fact that Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) is the son of his former wingman Lt. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, who was killed in a training accident.

At the heart of this new story is the conflict between Maverick and Rooster, as their history runs deep to the time that Maverick and Goose had to eject from their F-14 Tomcat and the fact that Goose did not survive is a cross that Maverick has had to bear.

Another part of Maverick’s past is a reunion with Penny Benjamin, a character only mentioned in the original movie, now brought to life by Jennifer Connelly, who’s the owner of The Hard Deck bar, the hangout for the Navy aviators.

Penny and Maverick had a brief romance and rekindled the relationship over the years, and while their breakups were amicable, now the sparks start to fly again so that the aging hotshot pilot might actually settle down for a change.

In any case, whether the pilots are bonding over touch football on the beach or enjoying a raucous time at their seaside hideaway, the quest for a sneak attack on a nuclear installation deep in enemy territory is what matters most.

The stakes are extremely high as the pilots must navigate narrow canyons flying at low altitude to evade radar detection. It’s impossible to watch the daring flights and not feel the tension deep in your heart and soul.

There is a majesty and beauty to the sophistication of the aerial sequences of F-18 fighter jets engaged in dogfights or rousing evasive maneuvers. The visceral delight of muscular aerial heroics on display is simply mind-blowing.

“Top Gun: Maverick,” steeped in old-fashioned nostalgia celebrating America’s military might, does not disappoint.

The F-18 jets soaring in the sky and dodging enemy fire are truly breathtaking and unnerving, and the excitement of the airborne thrills cannot be overstated.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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