Review: Cruise delivers thrilling nostalgia-fest with ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick / Paramount Pictures

There’s little doubt that Hollywood will deliver better movies this year than “Top Gun: Maverick.”

In fact, I’d argue that a couple have already been released.

However, the latest Tom Cruise blockbuster is a crowd-pleasing popcorn movie that for the most part hits all the right nostalgic notes in this sequel that many of the actor’s fans have been craving for more than three and a half decades.

Cruise was a star prior to the 1986 release of “Top Gun,” but it was that film, which was the top-grossing movie of the year, that catapulted him to the industry’s A List, where he has resided ever since.

The movie has a ton of heart — although not a lot of depth — as Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is saved by his old buddy/rival Adm. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) from being grounded for life and given an assignment to train the finest pilots the U.S. Navy has to offer for what amounts to a suicide bombing mission against a secluded target at the bottom of a deep valley in an undisclosed enemy nation’s home territory.

Maverick returns to Top Gun flight school as a legend of sorts who comes with an equally perplexing reputation as being a screw-up. However, despite his unorthodox bravado, he’s also known to be the U.S.’s most skilled pilot, and the best fit to forge a team out of a group of natural leaders.

If the mission of whipping the squad into shape in just three weeks weren’t tough enough, one of the pilots Maverick is training is Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s late partner Nick “Goose” Bradshaw. Maverick and Rooster are at odds because of a road block Maverick set for Rooster when he believed the young man was too immature to begin his naval career right out of high school.

The script could be picked apart on a number of levels, but the dynamism of Joseph Kosinski’s direction as well as Cruise and Teller’s star power plow over most of the movie’s flaws. The aerial photography and composition is exhilarating and explosive.

Aspects of the movie are silly, but the film’s emotional core rings true from the light but sexy love story between Maverick and former girlfriend Penny (Jennifer Connelly) and the bonds of friendship and respect forged between the pilots in the crucible of training.

Perhaps the standout sequence of the film — beyond the various aerial dogfights — is when Maverick visits Iceman, who is stricken with cancer. Kilmer, who has suffered from throat cancer, gives a moving performance opposite Cruise that is heartening and touching.

Teller and Cruise have solid on-screen chemistry and are fun to watch together; however, one portion of the third act delves into outlandish, almost comedic territory that somehow works, but seems oddly out of place considering the general tenor of the movie.

The film features many call-back moments to the original film that its fans will likely enjoy. The movie is truly a nostalgia-fest that is phenomenally shot with excellent pacing. It’s exhilarating at points, and highly enjoyable in the moment.

However, the movie functions as much as a remake as it does a sequel, and while I had a great time watching it in the moment, the more I think about the movie the more issues I find.

Like popcorn, “Top Gun: Maverick” has a lot of flavor in the moment, but not a lot of lasting substance.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 11 min.
Grade: B

  New in Local Theaters

Top Gun: Maverick (watch trailer) / (PG-13) 2 hr. 11 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Town, Skylight

Bob’s Burgers (watch trailer) / (PG-13) 1 hr. 42 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Town

Classic Corner – War movies take spotlight on TCM for Memorial Day

From Here to Eternity (1953) / Columbia Pictures

Turner Classic Movies serves up its annual war-movie marathon in honor of Memorial Day, starting at 7 p.m. and running through Tuesday morning sat 7:30 p.m. with 39 classic films that cover the landscape of the Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

From Here to Eternity (7 p.m. Saturday)

There are many great movies that feature fine casts who give standout performances, but there are few that top the 1953 classic From Here to Eternity in terms of drama and tragedy of the major and minor sort.

Director Fred Zinnemann puts his all-star cast through the emotional wringer and their performances turn the audience inside out before it’s done with them.

The film features Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, and Frank Sinatra as enlisted men stationed in Hawaii shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the women whom they tragically love Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed. The film won eight of the 13 Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Sinatra), and Best Supporting Actress (Reed).

The movie is best known for the illicit kiss shared by lovers Lancaster and Kerr on the beach, as the tide rolls over them.

Suffering emotionally after blinding a good friend in a sparring match, Clift wants nothing more to do with boxing, but when his Captain (Phillip Ober) pressures him to join the regiment’s boxing team because of his talent, Clift adamantly declines, setting the two at odds. Ober orders Lancaster to begin court martial proceedings against Clift, but Lancaster, who is having an affair with Ober’s wife (Kerr) resists.

Sinatra plays Clift’s lone supporter on the base, but he’s struggling with alcoholism, which places both men in tenuous situations while spending liberty off base. Sinatra gets plastered and gets into a fight, while Clift is falling for Reed, a hostess at the club. From there, the film only becomes more tragic.

Ernest Borgnine and George Reeves (“The Adventures of Superman) offer solid support to the main cast.

“From Here to Eternity” reignited Sinatra’s big-screen career. After winning the Academy Award, Sinatra proved to be as bankable on the big screen as he was behind the microphone, enjoying a string of film successes that rolled into the mid-1960s.

Rumors that the mob helped Sinatra gain the role prompted a subplot in Mario Puzo’s bestseller “The Godfather” and its subsequent film adaption, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Zinneman, however, said he never awoke to find a severed horse head in his bed as depicted in Coppola’s epic masterpiece.