Top Gun: Maverick

Direct hit!

Note: Before you go into the theater, I highly recommend calling up on Netflix the 1986 movie that launched Tom Cruise’s career. This will (1) give you some needed points of reference for this 36-years-later “sequel.” And (2), you’ll realize how mediocre a film it was. Thin plot, macho posing, repetitive dogfight sequences, mainly a Reagan-era Naval Aviation recruitment commercial. Cruise himself described it as little more than an amusement park ride.

This one fixes all that, and more. Some are ranking it as a rare sequel that is better than the original (like, maybe, Godfather: Part II or Mad Max: The Road Warrior). And it is indeed better in every conceivable way. It’s got real emotional punch. The story is more involving. The dialogue is sharper. The dogfight sequences, refreshingly done with minimal CGI, are wonderfully coherent thanks to the work of film editor Eddie Hamilton, my choice for this year’s Oscar. 

But I put quotes around “sequel” in the first para because it’s really more of a remake. Plot: Cruise, now a rules-defying (natch) test pilot, is drafted to train a new crew of elite fighter pilots for a nearly impossible mission (see what I did there?) to destroy a well fortified uranium processing facility. (The mission, and the film’s climax, co closely resembles the final attack in Star Wars that I kept expecting a gravely British voice to say, “Use the Force. Mav!”)

Nice nod to Val Kilmer. Iceman is now an admiral struggling with throat cancer, as is the actor. Also Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, John Hamm and Ed Harris, none of whom matter; this is a Tom Cruise movie. Don’t you dare watch this on anything but a theater screen; the biggest one you can possibly find. (131 min)