“Top Gun: Maverick” keeps the ’80s nostalgia and exceeds the original

Aug. 22, 2022, 10:07 p.m.

“Top Gun: Maverick” (2022), the sequel to Tony Scott’s “Top Gun” (1986), boasted 96% on Rotten Tomatoes a month after its theatrical release and made history as the 50th movie ever to have a box office gross of over $1 billion worldwide. Its popularity can be attributed to multiple factors: a strong plot, well-developed character arcs, a balanced romantic side-plot and most of all, its beautiful cinematography and special effects. Not only does this movie maintain elements of the original movie, but it also improves upon them.

“Top Gun” itself was the highest-grossing movie in its year of release, cashing in around $440 million in today’s dollars. Complete with ahead-of-its-time action sequences and the sex appeal of its cast, “Top Gun” was a hit with its many target audiences. Many today consider it a Hollywood classic and for good reason: its enthralling action scenes, charismatic characters, as well as its “slice of life” format make it a perfect feel-good movie.

“Top Gun” was an action movie with a fresh story beat. There were no villains, and the main focus was the journey of Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, played by Tom Cruise, at TOPGUN academy. But even without an explicit antagonist, Maverick’s time there catalyzed his incredible character growth arc as he made friends, rivals and even found love.

Meanwhile, “Top Gun: Maverick” has a simple and concise plot paired alongside a linear heist subplot. The straightforwardness makes it easier for characters to shine and keeps the audience’s attention. It also helps the scenes blend seamlessly together — there are no awkward or slow parts of the movie, as many action movies tend to have. A well-written heist movie generally has excellent suspense, witty dialogue, great action scenes and good chemistry between characters — all areas in which “Top Gun: Maverick” excels. The 1986 original has an unusual story that gave it a beat of freshness, but the plot was ultimately weak. The film’s pace was too slow occasionally and failed to develop its side characters. The structure of “Top Gun: Maverick” was familiar and therefore easier to follow than its predecessor.

The original, despite its groundbreaking action scenes and impeccable aesthetic, fell short in its characters and their interactions with one another. Maverick was the only dynamic, well-rounded character within the entire cast. Other characters, like Goose, Maverick’s best friend played by Anthony Edwards, and Maverick’s love interest, Charlie, played by Kelly McGillis, were flat and static. Interactions between characters were also slow, awkward and, for the most part, pointless, barring the dialogue during action scenes. 

On the other hand, all the characters of ‘“Top Gun: Maverick” are able to shine, partially because easily understood plot but also because of the good chemistry the characters and actors have with each other. Miles Teller as Rooster captured the slick aesthetic of a brooding, cocky and handsome male lead from the original movie. Cruise’s acting as Maverick is impeccable as always, and the character interactions don’t feel stilted. Cruise and co-star Jennifer Connelly, playing Penny Benjamin, have a playful chemistry with each other that is mature yet lighthearted and easygoing. The chemistry between Maverick and Rooster is also believable; the movie is paced well enough to give adequate time to establish tension between these two characters and a believable reconciliation at the end. 

The romance in “Top Gun,” although central to the plot, was a bit half-hearted. Cruise’s acting and character far outshone his love interest. However, it did allow the audience to observe some depth in McGillis’s character. She is more mature and careful in her affection compared to Cruise’s brazen yet naive depiction of love.

But it’s a classic for a good reason: at the time, the use of little-to-no CGI for its stunts and effects was mind-blowing for the realism and quality of the action. The movie, though the action was contained in the first and last 20 minutes of the movie, had a satisfying, feel-good conclusion. 

“Top Gun: Maverick” similarly has few CGI action scenes, but unlike “Top Gun,” the cinematography is all-around gorgeous. The action scenes are a cut above the rest — nail-biting and heart-pounding. Viewers feel like they were right there with the characters, feeling what they felt and seeing what they saw. The movie is vivid and full of life, like reading a novel with surround sound. 

Comparing “Top Gun” with its sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick,” the latter does everything the former does, but better. The action scenes are gritty, the emotion is raw, in and piercing through the screen, the cinematography is more modern and the aged main character just gives the movie more charm. While “Top Gun” will always have its ‘80s nostalgia, “Top Gun: Maverick” is a perfect movie for modern-day audiences.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.

Sonia Verma is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.com

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