The Best And Worst Moments In Top Gun: Maverick Ranked

The Best And Worst Moments In Top Gun: Maverick Ranked

It took 36 years for Tom Cruise and company to deliver "Top Gun: Maverick." Is it worth the wait? That depends entirely on your need for speed. 

The original "Top Gun" is a pop art masterpiece. It's one iconic scene after another as if the entire film was embedded in some universal cultural keystone, and director Tony Scott merely chipped away in the edit bay to uncover a fully intact mosaic of action movie genius. This Cold War-era treasure is so good in part because the Pentagon let Paramount Pictures borrow a real US aircraft carrier and a fleet of F-14s for just $1.8 million, according to The Washington Post. The film had a meager $15 million budget, but billions in production value. The result was an immortal movie and a Navy recruitment boom.

"Top Gun: Maverick" reportedly has over ten times the original's budget. Cruise and executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer put it to good use. Again, they got real planes, but this time, the actors aren't acting. For "Top Gun" one, Scott wanted to shoot the performers flying for real but everyone aside from Val Kilmer puked from the G-forces and that plan was scrapped. This time, Cruise himself, who is a pilot in real life, designed a training regimen that allowed his co-stars to take flight. It all works to make "Top Gun: Maverick" a spectacular crowd-pleaser with astonishing visuals and a worthy sequel to the most iconic aviation film ever made.

Best: The Nostalgic Opening Credits

Try going to an air show since Tom Cruise first took up the "Maverick" call sign and not hearing "Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins. It's impossible.

Tom Cruise introduces this movie. This was a passion project, and before the opening credits, we see the star and his megawatt smile. I kept waiting for some message — like perhaps about how the film was delayed almost two years due to COVID-19. Or maybe Cruise was again going to remind us of the perils of motion smoothing. (That's an important campaign, and Cruise is correct about that technology destroying the look of films. Turn that off before "Top Gun: Maverick" comes to streaming.) However, Cruise's only message is basically: We worked hard on this, we love it, enjoy the show.

That leads directly into the "Top Gun Anthem" you know and love. "Top Gun: Maverick" has a credit sequence exactly like the original. It's an epic slow-motion montage of fighter jets taking off from and landing on a U.S. aircraft carrier in the warm glow of a low sun. The sequence even borrows the dated but once again retro-cool font from the original. Then it hits you with "Danger Zone" by Loggins, and we're off. It's a nostalgia trip that works whether or not you remember the 1980s. Even if you haven't seen the first film, it's a strong start to one helluva ride.

Worst: Maverick Vs. The Drone Ranger

"Top Gun: Maverick" opens with our hero stuck in time. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell ought to be an admiral at this point. Instead, he still ranks captain, working as a test pilot about to take an experimental jet to Mach 9. Suddenly, his mission is called off.

Not only has Maverick gotten old, but so has the entire premise of fighter pilots. So Admiral Chester "Hammer" Cain (Ed Harris) cans the whole program. Hammer is a gentleman of a certain age, too, but he's also new-school, earning him the moniker, the "Drone Ranger." Manned flights are obsolete he declares, giving Maverick the perfect chance to disobey direct orders. Mav hops in his black spy-jet and takes it to a blistering Mach 10.4, all to prove a pilot-led program can still work.

It seems like this Drone Ranger will be Maverick's foil, but oddly, Harris only has this one scene. It's mostly a narrative launch pad that sends Maverick back to the TOPGUN program where the real action starts. The weakest part of this section is the NASA-like control room that monitors Maverick's spy plane. A team of engineers sitting behind long rows of desks stares intently at a wall of fancy LED lights outlining the jet's vitals. The screen buzzes and flashes red as Maverick pushes the plane past its structural limits. Maybe test jets do require an entire geek squad support staff with custom LED arrays, but it's definitely a movie cliche.

Best: Maverick Vs. Gravity

Despite a somewhat weak opening section featuring Maverick vs. the Drone Ranger, this set piece has a fantastic conclusion that sets up the rest of the film. Harris dismisses human pilots and their needs, explaining. "Pilots need to eat, sleep ... They disobey orders."

Well, that's exactly Maverick's brand. Maverick has something to prove and pushes his plane to record speeds. As the jet begins to break up, it looks like our hero will too, but with two hours of runtime left, that seems unlikely.

We don't see the crash, but Maverick somehow ejects. We next see the Top Gun ace bedraggled and crispy, his space-age flight suit burnt ash black as he walks into a rural diner. It's a Western genre moment as everyone turns from their tables and stares. "Where am I?" Maverick asks to a room of blank faces after gulping down a huge glass of water. "Earth" responds a particularly adorable red-headed boy, looking up at Maverick in wonder. "Top Gun: Maverick" borrows its test pilot section from other films, but the cleverly staged capper has the right stuff.

Worst: Maverick Has Lost That Loving Feeling

"Top Gun: Maverick" starts with a somewhat flat romance between Maverick and ex-fling Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connolly).

Maverick's hookup with flight instructor Charlie (Kelly McGillis) in the original "Top Gun" at least had that hot-for-teacher thing going. And it had two stars in their physical primes. In this newer installment, Maverick reconnects with a character only referenced in the original. Back then, we were informed by an angry CO Stinger that the young hot-shot Maverick had "a history of high-speed passes over five air control towers and one admiral's daughter!" Goose then turns to Maverick and asks, "Penny Benjamin?"

Fast forward 36 years and Penny is a single mom. When Maverick returns to the TOPGUN school in San Diego, he shows up at the bar where Penny works for a beer and some flirting. There's no real chemistry, and somehow Penny is completely unattached. Regardless, the two fall in bed anyway in a sexless love scene that won't exactly take your breath away. On the upside, these aren't love-sick kids anymore, so maybe it's okay if the Penny-Maverick romance feels practical. There is, however, a funny moment in which Maverick gets caught sneaking out of a window by Penny's teenage daughter. The kid is hip to the hookup scene, though, and only asks that Maverick doesn't break her mom's heart.

Best: Maverick Reconnects With Iceman

"Top Gun: Maverick has a new "Iceman" of sorts. Glen Powell plays the "Hangman." He's the foil to our rooting interest here but is Ice's opposite. Whereas Val Kilmer's iconic alpha did everything by the book and chided Maverick for leaving his wingman, the Hangman earned his moniker for bailing on his buddies in combat.

That leaves room for a perfectly executed cameo by the real Ice, played by  Kilmer. Kilmer was stricken with throat cancer in 2014 and bears the scars of the disease. "Top Gun: Maverick" leans into Kilmer's changed appearance, and the Iceman is now a dying man. He's also become an admiral since the first film and sets up Maverick at the TOPGUN school to train some elite graduates for a deadly new mission.

Ice is near the end as he and Maverick are reunited. He can barely speak, so he communicates by typing out his thoughts on a PC screen. He encourages Maverick to train Goose's son (Miles Teller) for the big mission. As the two men, part Ice does manage a few words: "One last thing," he suddenly rasps after a brief embrace. "Who is the better pilot, you or me?" The film could go soft here, considering Iceman's condition. Instead, it stays true to the characters. Maverick responds with a smile but doesn't back down, "This is a nice moment, let's not ruin it."

Worst: Great Balls Of Goose Nostalgia

A sequel to a treasured film made decades later is a tightrope. "Top Gun: Maverick" needed to pay homage to the original while still being its own film. Early on, however, it gets a bit mired in the past.

The ghost of "Goose" (Anthony Edwards) looms large in this otherwise excellent sequel. Nods to the death of Maverick's beloved co-pilot come early and often: slow pans over old photos of Goose in uniform, a flashback to the original "Top Gun" as Goose works his magic on piano. There's even an extended bar scene in which Goose's son, Lt. Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw hammers out Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" just like dad used to!

Remembering Goose should've been poignant but feels more like exposition. Rooster was just a toddler when his dad died, and "Top Gun: Maverick" does need to explain why 36 years later, Goose's nearly 40-year-old son is still at the TOPGUN school at an age when most military men are eyeing their pensions. Maverick, it turns out, personally held Rooster back from entering the Naval Academy, and it cost the kid five years of progress. Rooster is bitter, setting up his dramatic arc with Maverick, who stoically refuses to explain that he did it all at the behest of Rooster's mother, who we learn is also dead. That means no Meg Ryan cameos in this movie. 

Best: Maverick Proves He's Still Top Gun

"Top Gun: Maverick" has a simple premise: Maverick is hanging on to his glory days. While his contemporaries have moved on, many to that great landing strip in the sky,  Maverick is called upon to return to TOPGUN to train some graduates for an all-but-impossible mission.

The only reason Maverick isn't grounded is the goodwill of Admiral "Ice."  TOPGUN's actual director, Admiral Beau "Cyclone" Simpson (Jon Hamm) wants to wash Maverick out and certainly won't let the old man fly this mission himself.

Maverick's trainees, however, continually fail the death-defying training course. That includes Goose's son, Rooster (Miles Teller). Cyclone then pulls the plug on Maverick's plan and sends him packing. The new strategy Cyclone devises is simpler but means not everyone is coming home. With the ghost of Goose looming, that doesn't work for Maverick. He's not going to let Rooster get killed, too. Just as Cyclone is briefing the team on his deadly new scheme, a screen behind him lights up. Maverick has once again defied orders, and this time, he's jumped into an F-18 to prove the right pilot can make the daring mission work. Maverick deadeyes the target, and Cyclone is forced to make him the team leader. As that iconic "Top Gun Anthem" guitar riff swells, so does the lump in your throat. The best section of this excellent action film is coming in hot.

Best: Maverick Finally Gets The Girl

The rekindled romance between Maverick and Penny Benjamin doesn't start with a lot of propulsion but takes flight midway through the film when the pair go sailing. Penny is steady at the helm in high winds and rough chop, but Maverick doesn't have his sea legs.

Penny affectionately mocks Maverick for being a Navy man who is none too familiar with sailing. Maverick cleverly responds, "I land on boats. I don't sail them." As the chemistry finally picks up, the couple hoists a large second sail and "turn on the afterburners."

Before the final mission, Goose's son, Rooster is still furious at Maverick and angrily makes the point that it doesn't matter if Maverick comes back from the mission or not. After all, he's got no wife and kids to mourn him. Maverick takes these words to heart and promptly proposes to Penny. There are no words in the excellent romantic finale that follows. There's no ring either. Maverick simply dons his Navy whites, shows up at Penny's bar, leans in close, and whispers the request in her ear. We can't hear what's said, but we know the point of this beautiful montage. Maverick has spent a lifetime holding on tight, but now, before his most dangerous mission ever, he finally has something to lose.

Best: Maverick Vs. Rooster

The most compelling plotline of "Top Gun: Maverick" is the burgeoning father-son dynamic between Goose's son, Rooster, and Maverick, who feels obligated to protect the only child of his fallen friend.

That puts Maverick in a serious bind. He can send Rooster into combat and maybe get him killed or hold him back and leave Rooster to live in his resentment forever. Needless to say, the two men eventually embark on the final mission together. Beforehand, Maverick gives just one piece of advice: "Don't think." When a bogey gets a lock on Rooster it seems like game over, but Maverick swoops in and takes the hit. Somehow, Maverick ejects and wakes up face down in the snow, only to be tracked down by an enemy attack helicopter. Just as he's about to be blown apart, Rooster, who has defied orders and circled back, shoots down the chopper and saves Maverick.

This ending action set-piece is a series of phenomenal sequences that keeps escalating. Rooster is next shot down by surface-to-air missiles but also ejects just in time. Maverick sees him go down and sprints to the crash site. Tom Cruise does his classic stiff-handed running form, and when he gets there, he's furious with Rooster. Maverick has just sacrificed himself to save the kid, and now, they're both grounded behind enemy lines. "What were you thinking!?" 'Maverick' chides. "You told me not to think!" 'Rooster' responds with hilarious sincerity.

Best: Maverick Is Reunited With His Old F-14

Once Maverick and Rooster are downed in enemy territory, they make their way to a smoldering runway where they spot a vintage F-14 Tomcat. This is the plane flown in the original "Top Gun." To this point, "Top Gun: Maverick" has featured only the newer F-18 Super Hornet. The F-14 is a Cold War relic, just like Maverick, and the two seem destined for this reunion.

"How are we gonna get this old museum piece in the air?" 'Rooster' exclaims. "I shot down three MiGs in one of these," Maverick shoots back as the men saddle up to get back in the fight. Immediately, there are problems with this vintage plane (officially retired in 2006). The radar and radio aren't working. Maverick tells Rooster to flip one of the breakers as the camera cuts to an endless row of identical-looking switches. "Which one!?" Rooster asks in a panic. "I don't know," 'Maverick' admits, "that was your dad's department!"

I can't put into words the epic final dogfight except to say, of course, Maverick and Rooster are soon spotted by a pair of state-of-the-art "fifth-generation" fighter planes. "It's not the plane. It's the pilot," has been a Maverick motif throughout, and now that theory is put to the test. This final battle features some of the most spectacular daredevil aviation ever put to film, and it's a genuine wonder that none of the real pilots flying these planes crashed and burned.

Best: In Memory Of Tony Scott

"Top Gun" director Tony Scott died tragically in 2012 at age 68, and "Top Gun: Maverick" ends with a well-deserved dedication to the legendary filmmaker. 

The younger brother of fellow auteur Ridley Scott left an incredible legacy of exciting films like "Beverly Hills Cops II," "Crimson Tide," and "Man On Fire," but no work of pop moviemaking has had a more enduring impact than Scott's indelible war movie masterpiece, "Top Gun." One of Scott's most ardent admirers is Quentin Tarantino, the writer of Scott's best '90s film, "True Romance." Tarantino called Scott's 2010 action-thriller "Unstoppable" one of the 10 best films of the decade. "It's one of the last great movies from one of the last great directors of all time at the height of his powers, doing what he does," Tarantino swoons.

Scott's shooting style is a little like Michael Bay, and I mean that in the best way possible. He liked lots of coverage, putting tons of cameras everywhere, and then creating his film largely in post-production. He was a selector more than a director, and that mode works when you're shooting action aboard a rented U.S. aircraft carrier. If Scott missed a shot, it's not like he could just turn the enormous ship around on a dime and ask the sun to set again. "Top Gun" is Scott's immortal masterpiece. "Top Gun: Maverick" is a worthy tribute to the filmmaker's stylish legacy.

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The post The Best and Worst Moments in Top Gun: Maverick Ranked appeared first on /Film.

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