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A complicated relationship between a man and his dead best friend’s son, a dangerous, nearly impossible mission with an impending deadline, and lives at stake — what more could you possibly ask for?
“Top Gun: Maverick,” the highly anticipated sequel to the ’80s blockbuster “Top Gun,” delivers all of this and more. Along with its engrossing and nuanced plot, the film also features stellar performances from an A-list cast and stunning shots, making it the perfect candidate to win this year’s Best Picture award.
The film’s greatest strength lies in the compelling plot. Centered around Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise), who trains a team of navy pilots to dismantle an unsanctioned uranium plant, an assignment so perilous that many doubt if it is even possible, much less survivable. There’s an even greater sense of urgency as the mission must run by a certain date whether the team is ready or not, and Maverick’s position in the Navy is being called into question at every turn.
“Top Gun: Maverick” manages to masterfully weave all of these elements together and create constant waves of suspense that leaves viewers fully engrossed every second. Often, the movie seemingly resolves the building tension in a scene, causing the audience to lower their guard, only to strike back unexpectedly with a new suspenseful twist. It brings the experience of watching the flying scenes as close as possible to actually being in the plane.
While the story has all of the underpinnings to be another typical pro-military patriotic film, it manages to steer clear of this and achieve nuance by focusing on the complicated relationships between the characters; camaraderie, teamwork, and forgiveness are at the forefront of themes explored. Maverick has a tangled history with one of his trainees, Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (Miles Teller). The son of Maverick’s best friend and a man for whose death he feels responsible. Additionally, it is revealed that Maverick hindered Rooster’s naval pilot career, causing Rooster to harbor lots of resentment towards him. The film focuses on the relationship between the two men and how they each grapple with their feelings toward the other, culminating in an extremely satisfying resolution. Miles Teller and Tom Cruise play the struggle between the two characters brilliantly, giving one of the best portrayals of a not-quite-father-son duo. Perhaps the most satisfying scene in the film is when Rooster, in one of the most stressful moments of his life, with anguish all over his face whispers, “Talk to me dad,” with Maverick whispering back, “Come on kid, you can do it.”
Other relationships are also integral to the movie and to the team’s success, and they further boost the complexity and enjoyability of the film. The team’s camaraderie is emphasized well, with wonderful performances by Glen Powell and Monica Barbaro. Maverick’s relationship with his friend and former rival Admiral Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (Val Kilmer) and romantic interest Penelope "Penny" Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) add further dimension to the story. The movie manages to juggle these subplots and relationships deftly so they do not feel unnecessary or boring; each is essential to the whole of the film. One underlying issue Maverick faces throughout the film is finding his place outside of the navy. Time that Maverick spends with Penny forces him to grapple with this precise issue, making their relationship more than a cheesy romance. Maverick is able to confide in Penny about his rift with Rooster and worries about the future of his career, showcasing a whole other side of Maverick beyond his skill in a plane.
Furthermore, the visual images in the movie are stunning. “Top Gun” makes extensive use of aerial shots to capture the high-speed plane action, resulting in breathtaking visuals. In addition, the film features cutting-edge visual effects which help create a sense of realism and immersion in the aerial sequences, making the audience feel as if they are in the cockpit with the characters. The editing is fast-paced and dynamic, with rapid cuts and quick camera movements that create a sense of excitement and urgency, and they also help illustrate the technical skill and precision required for aerial maneuvers. Close-up shots in the planes make up many scenes, showcasing minute facial expressions of characters and the talent of the actors. These all combine for a thrilling viewing experience.
“Top Gun: Maverick” manages to take something nostalgic and breathe new life into it to make for a compelling, entertaining story. It covers themes that are universal and uplifting, and allows viewers a brief escape from reality. Regardless of whether or not it wins Best Picture, “Top Gun: Maverick” is a movie to be celebrated.
—Staff writer Jennifer Y. Gao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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