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Now this—Top Gun: Maverick—is why people should see movies in theaters. Or at least they should see this particular movie in a theater, if at all possible. Why? Because you feel as if you are flying in an F-13 or an F-25, swooping through the air at top speed (even over Mach 10), about to get bombed by the nebulous bad guy chasing you. It’s a thrill, even for someone like me who doesn’t even like action movies that much. 

Tom Cruise, with his one-in-a-million smile, delivers an impossible feat, giving us a wildly entertaining sequel to the original Top Gun, 36 years after it defined movies for a generation. He and director Joseph Kosinski serve up unbelievable action (mostly CGI-free!), but also tenderness, heart, and soul. It’s a winning combination that can’t be beat.

Cruise straps back in with ease as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a slightly wild, perpetually rebellious fighter pilot who still has a hard time following the orders of his superiors. He hasn’t been promoted from captain in all this time, although his once-nemesis-turned-best-friend, Iceman (played by an ailing Val Kilmer) is now an admiral. We nearly lose Mav in the first scene, where he defies orders and flies his jet over its Mach 10 limit, to explosive results.

After this stunt, meant to show us his indestructibility, a limping Maverick wanders into a local bar, with an air of loneliness and vulnerability. (Yes, indestructible and vulnerable—only Cruise can pull it off.) He doesn’t really want to teach the new crop of Top Gun fighter pilots how to escape death, but his orders from Iceman are clear. He especially does not want to teach Rooster (an endearing Miles Teller) how to escape death, because Rooster is the son of Goose, Mav’s dearest friend, who died in his arms in the 1986 movie. Mav would rather protect Rooster from danger, not throw him into it, and Rooster resents him for it. 

(Teller is a casting coup, as he bears a striking resemblance to Anthony Edwards, who played his “father” Goose in the original.)

This conflict is the crux of what happens next, when Maverick must prepare his young Top Guns for an impossible mission to destroy a uranium plant in enemy territory without getting killed. Not one but two “miracles” are needed to pull this off, and Maverick is scared he will lose Rooster just like he lost his dad. Comforting him is Jennifer Connelly’s Penny, who did not play his love interest 36 years ago but apparently her character was in a relationship with him at some point. While I enjoyed the romance and banter between these two, the decision to play the well-preserved and beautiful Connelly as opposed to Kelly McGillis, who played Charlie, Mav’s girl, in the original and now appears much older than Cruise, made me think. In Hollywood, age and wisdom are not nearly as important as how thin and wrinkle-free one is. This also exposes a double standard, as Kilmer looks every minute of his age and beyond. 

Though poor Charlie is not given one second of remembrance, there’s plenty of nostalgia here to keep teens of the 1980s happy. Filmmakers brought back some of the old tunes, such as “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins, and there are many nods to the original. Perhaps the most touching reference is the relationship between Maverick and a sickly Iceman. Kilmer has throat cancer in real life and cannot speak but turns in a tender performance; the emotions between him and Cruise are palpable. 

Maverick’ is so tied to the original, in fact, that I felt disoriented upon exiting the theater, feeling as if I had somehow time-traveled to 1986. 

Because I love the ’80s nostalgia, not to mention the thrillride, romance, touching scenes, and fizzy banter, I want to see Top Gun: Maverick again, and soon. But this time, I want to see it in IMAX.(Paramount, Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action, and some strong language)

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