Rolling Stone

THE NEED FOR SPEED (AND SEQUELS)

Tom Cruise returns to his most famous role, and gives us a flyboy-in-winter who doesn’t quite take our breath away

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Another day, another secret bunker full of uranium to wipe out. At the start of Top Gun: Maverick, our man Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is working as a test pilot. He’s still a captain: Some 30-plus years into his career, he’s advanced . . . very little. His reputation for abandoning protocol in favor of following his own instincts precedes him, even if it means pushing a plane past Mach 10 against all common sense. He’s “Maverick” after all.

Director Joseph Kosinski’s decades-later sequel catches our hero on the other side of his fearless, reckless youth, with no glory and no family

— only a spotty reputation. After an incident with a test plane he’s operating results in a fiery ball of shrapnel and a talking-to by the ever-stern Ed Harris, Maverick is assigned to see everything from the other side. Back to Flighttown, USA, he goes. Only now he’s the teacher.

There’s also Penelope ( Jennifer Connelly), a new love interest that Maverick has seen and abandoned before. There’s that uranium that Maverick’s top-shelf pupils must learn to blow up for NATO’s sake. And there’s the problem of mortality, the harbinger of which hangs over Maverick by way of his memories of Goose, the wingman who died 30 years ago, and Iceman, his onetime frenemy who recommende­d him for this teaching job. (Val Kilmer’s only scene in the movie, a cherry-on-top callback that can’t help but feel like a tribute to the ailing actor’s iconic career, is more moving than you’d think it would be.)

One of those students is the son of Goose, a kid who goes by Rooster (Miles Teller), and it’s no spoiler to say that he and Maverick have their own history. And because

Top Gun: Maverick is a movie that follows the blueprint of the original beat-for-beat, Rooster has his own flair for theatrics and flailing shows of confidence. He’s a maverick in his own right. And he’s got his own personal Iceman, in the form of a fellow pilot-in-training named Hangman (Glen Powell).

There’s a baseline fear underlying it all, and that’s the fact that the flyboy era is almost over. Automation is in: Fewer casualties, fewer loose cannons. When machines rebel, it terrifies us. When people do it, we cheer — under the right circumstan­ces. What Top Gun: Maverick presuppose­s is that we’d all rather watch a movie about team building, overcoming the odds, and defying our own limits than a treatise on technology — that we’d all rather root for Tom Cruise than a machine. The irony is that the movie goes out of its way to humanize these young men and women to such an extraordin­ary extent that it only hits that much harder when you realize, as Maverick says very early on, that someone is necessaril­y going to die.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Top Gun if it didn’t feel like it were playing out in a vacuum, with all of these melodramat­ic concerns — not least a war that’s apparently already going on or is awfully imminent — eclipsing any real examinatio­n of what, exactly, we’re fighting for.

But maybe all of this is what we’re fighting for. “The

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 ?? ?? K. AUSTIN COLLINS
K. AUSTIN COLLINS

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