Older but not necessarily wiser describes Cruise’s Pete Mitchell, a.k.a. Maverick, the daredevil Navy pilot whose career hasn’t matched his high-flying skills, largely because he has a bad habit of sidestepping orders and flouting authority.
“I’m where I belong,” Maverick says, when asked why he’s still a captain after all these years, following an introduction to the Kenny Loggins song “Danger Zone,” just to reset the mood.
On the verge of paying the price for that, he’s given the proverbial last chance, called back to Top Gun to train pilots for a top-secret mission, among them Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of the partner that Mav famously lost in the first movie.
Cruise reunites with “Oblivion” director Joseph Kosinski, working from a script credited to a trio of writers, among them the star’s frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie. Somehow, the film manages to putty in the intervening decades on the, um, fly, painting a portrait of a guy whose “need for speed” has both propelled him forward and held him back, especially in terms of commitment and rootlessness.
Still, it’s called “Top Gun” for a reason, and the aerial sequences are visceral and effective, conveying the adrenaline rush and physical toll of hurtling through the sky as well as the mentality required to eagerly brave those risks.
Somehow, “Maverick” manages to recycle those latter beats — with an exceptionally well cast class of new pilots — and still feel contemporary, all while approximating the old-fashioned virtues of the kind of movies that flourished in the ’80s but have found the theatrical skies considerably less friendly in recent years.
Paramount waited a long time in order to launch “Top Gun” in theaters, and that bet seems likely to pay off. Because while you could watch Maverick’s heroics in the comfort of home, like the man said, the big screen is where he belongs.
“Top Gun: Maverick” premieres May 27 in US theaters. It’s rated PG-13.