Critics feel the need for speed.
Top Gun: Maverick, the long-delayed follow-up to the 1986 blockbuster, finally hits theaters on May 27 with Tom Cruise returning in the lead role. More than three decades after the original action film became a hit, though, was a sequel truly necessary, and is this the right time for it?
According to critics, not only is the answer to both questions a resounding yes, but this satisfying, action-packed, and surprisingly emotional movie is superior to its predecessor.
A sequel that's better than the original
Top Gun: Maverick "more than merits its existence," writes Peter Debruge at Variety, while The Associated Press' Mark Kennedy calls it a "textbook example of how to make a sequel," hitting "all the touchstones of the first film" but still standing "on its own." Compared to the 1986 movie, it's an "appreciably weightier affair" with a "classy, elegiac sheen," says the Los Angeles Times' Justin Chang, and Polygon's Oli Welsh describes it as "more grown-up, more generous, and more lighthearted" than the original. All in all, it's a "much better film than its predecessor was," TIME's Stephanie Zacharek agrees, and "much better than it needs to be overall."
As Maverick, Cruise, the "last Hollywood movie star of his kind," delivers "one of the most vulnerable performances of his career," according to IndieWire's David Ehrlich. In fact, Deadline's Pete Hammond says the actor's "performance for the ages" might actually be his best ever.
The rest of the cast includes Miles Teller starring as the son of Nick "Goose" Bradshaw, who died in the original film, and Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson says Teller gives an "oddly alluring performance that really shouldn't work as well as it does." Original star Val Kilmer, who lost his voice due to throat cancer, also briefly appears, and it's "surprisingly moving," according to Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt. Neither Kelly McGillis nor Meg Ryan return from the first movie, though. As a result, there's "a nagging sense that this sequel hung the women from the original out to dry," but Jennifer Connelly thankfully "brings a welcome warmth" to the cast, says Slashfilm's Ben Pearson.
Breathtaking action with heart
Top Gun: Maverick's main attraction is its flight sequences, which were largely shot practically, without excessive use of CGI. "The aviation sequences had to be real," producer Jerry Bruckheimer said, "so our actors went through three months of grueling training."
Critics say these scenes are worth the price of admission. At ScreenCrush, Matt Singer writes that the flying sequences in Maverick are "truly remarkable — far clearer and far more intense than anything in the original Top Gun," and they're "so convincing and so exciting" that they "restore a little of your faith in the magic of movies."
Indeed, The Ringer's Miles Surrey notes that "what makes Maverick such a tantalizing blockbuster is knowing that Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski are committed to making every fighter jet sequence as authentic as possible," and RogerEbert.com's Tomris Laffly says this "authentic work that went into every frame generously shows."
Beyond the action, though, The Playlist's Rodrigo Perez says Maverick offers "big emotional stakes, heart, soul, and poignant pathos," and CNN's Brian Lowry writes that the plot works because of "the movie's emotional moorings, which are sentimental without becoming syrupy."
A potential Oscar contender?
At the same time, some critics felt Top Gun: Maverick is too similar to the first film for its own good. Scott Mendelson writes for Forbes that this sequel seems unwilling to "do anything that might challenge fans of the 1986 original," while Mashable's Kristy Puchko says it "retreads the original pretty intensely" and is "far more interested in safe choices than danger zones." Still, The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney concludes that although it "follows the original beat for beat, to a degree that's almost comical," there's "no denying that it delivers in terms of both nostalgia and reinvention."
Reviews have been so rapturous that some have gone as far as to float Maverick as a potential 2023 Oscar contender — not just in the technical categories like sound design, but possibly even for Best Picture. After another acclaimed action film, Mad Max: Fury Road, was nominated in 2016, it might not be so far-fetched.
"With the right awards campaign, Top Gun: Maverick will be among next year's Best Picture nominees," predicts Los Angeles magazine's Jeff Sneider, who calls the film the "perfect summer blockbuster."