" You gotta be quick with me; I’m from Erie P-A "
— Steve Zahn, That Thing You Do!

MRQE Top Critic

Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs

More chuckles than belly laughs, more episodic than Big Score, but still worth watching —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Futurama is Back a Billion

Sponsored links

Top Gun: Maverick marks a major milestone for post-COVID moviegoing. It’s the return of the classic summer movie experience.

Danger Zone

Maverick (Tom Cruise)
Maverick (Tom Cruise)

It’s been too long since there’s been a crowd-pleasing, rather patriotic movie that virtually projects the vibes of summer and the whole spirit of the quintessential “summer movie.” With its Memorial Day weekend release, Maverick signals a return to when blockbusters weren’t released on a year-round calendar (a shift thanks, in large part, to Marvel), but instead the big, splashy action movies were reserved for the summer season. With kids out of school, it was time to release movies where the brain could be turned off for a couple hours. Butter the popcorn. Pour the soda. Settle in for the thrills. But, most importantly, feel something — feel good — while being swept away in the action.

Originally scheduled to open in June 2020, COVID thwarted Maverick’s release a couple times. It says something about the scale and quality of the movie that Paramount had the patience to wait this long while other titles, such as Eddie Murphy’s Coming 2 America and Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, were sold off to streamers Amazon Prime and Netflix without a theatrical release. Maverick is most definitely worthy of the studio’s fortitude. This is a great theatrical experience, amplified all the more when witnessed in the extra-large IMAX format.

This is thrilling human action, like Mad Max: Fury Road, not the mind-numbing CGI madness of Marvel movies. It’s a story of human heroes and heroics, and it’s all padded with a nice amount of heart for the characters.

The first few minutes of Maverick are a nostalgia trip. Danger Zone once again blasts out of the auditorium’s speakers. The original movie’s opening title card explaining the meaning of the term “Top Gun” lingers on the screen. It’s kind of like how Star Wars movies open with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...” as the verbiage recalls the elite group’s formation a long time ago (in 1969). Curiously, that’s not the only similarity to Star Wars. Maverick centers around a bona fide military mission that is reminiscent of the Death Star attack in A New Hope.

Thankfully, the nostalgia is pretty well kept in check after those opening minutes and this movie becomes a force all its own.

Take My Breath Away

How well the original Top Gun (released 36 years ago on May 18, 1986) holds up likely depends on one’s tolerance of or fondness for things like big hair, the now shocking amount of cigarette smoking (and gum chewing) and cinematography that features an obnoxious overuse and abuse of camera lens filters.

But that was then. This is now. (And, in between, Tom Cruise has aged well. He turns 60 in July and it’s arguable his movies have been getting bigger — and better.)

During the past 10 years in particular, Cruise has built a stable of creative talent around him that has provided an improved level of quality control, The Mummy being a notable exception of exceptionally bad ideas. Specifically, Christopher McQuarrie has elevated the Mission: Impossible series with great screenplays and direction. Here, McQuarrie’s words are paired with the direction of Joseph Kosinski, who previously collaborated with Cruise on Oblivion.

At its core, the movie is about an impossible, death-defying mission. There are intonations in the early going that signal the prospects of this one taking a turn along the lines of No Time to Die. There’s no need to spoil the ride, but it can be said this is a satisfying journey that brings Maverick back into the spotlight in a wholly rational storyline.

Maverick’s been hand-picked to train a group of pilots for this aerial assault. The big gotcha is one of the candidates is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller, The Offer). He’s the son of Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, the character played by Anthony Edwards in the original movie.

It’s not necessary to see the first Top Gun, but it helps put the characters in context and in the proper historical perspective.

I Ain’t Worried

Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) with Maverick
Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) with Maverick

Top Gun was released one year after Roger Moore’s last outing as James Bond (A View to a Kill) and one year before Timothy Dalton debuted as Bond in The Living Daylights. Top Gun: Maverick’s release now comes in the wake of Daniel Craig’s transformative take on Bond and in some respects plays off some of the same riffs of technology overtaking the need for human skill and intuition.

As this one begins, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is about to prove — once again — he has the right stuff as he attempts to become the fastest man alive by hitting Mach 10. Alas, the Navy’s decided to move his project’s budget to unmanned aircraft and Maverick should be grounded. But, of course, he’s all about breaking rules and he brushes right past things like military regulations and military orders.

Back on the ground, Maverick’s schooled in a way that also sums up what he’s been doing for the past three decades. Instead of rising to a two-star admiral, he’s still a captain (albeit, a very distinguished captain, as Pete would defend himself). He can’t get promoted, won’t retire and refuses to die.

Single. No kids. Older, but not slower.

“The future is coming and you’re not in it,” he’s told, much like Bond was taunted in Skyfall.

It might very well have been a humbling dress down were it not for some impeccable timing. Maverick’s been called back to North Island for that training gig.

It’s a return to the setting of all that jocularity in Top Gun. But the times have changed and the squad’s much more diverse. The jocularity’s gone rather tame. And the movie has enough commercial savvy to not identify the enemy; there’s no need to jeopardize the global box office. Still, Russia’s a solid guess.

Hold My Hand

Rooster (Miles Teller)
Rooster (Miles Teller)

Top Gun: Maverick isn’t just a where-are-they-now update, a modern return to a familiar setting purely for the sake of nostalgia. This is a legitimate story that plays with some legitimate emotions. Yes, emotions — and not just the heart-pumping adrenaline from an ‘80s movie rock soundtrack or a PG version of a steamy romance. They’re the emotions derived from character development, plausible relationships and a dose of reality.

As Maverick describes the mission, he says, “Time is your greatest enemy.” So true, but not only on the battlefield. Everybody ages, but not everybody ages as well as Cruise. That theme — in all its facets — plays out nicely in Maverick.

And that’s what sets this sequel apart from so many others. This one has the action one would hope for — spectacularly choregraphed and beautifully filmed — and it has an uncommon resonance and depth. Appreciate it for the new recruits that, in addition to Teller, include Monica Barbaro and Glen Powell; there’s also Jennifer Connelly as a strong woman in a nicely nuanced romantic entanglement with Maverick that has some history of its own. Enjoy it for the heart it has for characters new and old, including a touching cameo by a co-star from the original movie. Absorb the themes of human skills, dedication and adventure; of course, it’s a story that also demonstrates life is not one size fits all. But above all else, thrill to how this movie was put together with the lead cast in the cockpit, soaring and reacting to all those g-forces. This is what great moviemaking and storytelling is all about.

That last point is thanks to Cruise himself, who’s on an indefatigable quest to keep the human element in filmmaking and stunt work. That wild quest is intending to take him to the International Space Station in an upcoming production.

Stepping aside from all the politics and ill temperaments parading around society today, setting aside Cruise’s own off-screen reputation, Top Gun: Maverick subtly suggests that — gosh darn it — maybe it’s not so bad to be an American after all.

It’s time to once again enjoy the summer.