Review: Why Tom Cruise is still the Top Gun in white-knuckle ride of scintillating cinema

Top Gun: Maverick (12A), (131 mins)

Top Gun - Paramount Pictures
Top Gun - Paramount Pictures

Oh, it’s good. It’s very, very, very good. After a few weeks of pretty duff and iffy films, along comes a cracker. The drought stops with Tom Cruise’s return, after 30 years, to the role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in a white-knuckle ride of scintillating cinema.

It hardly matters that that first film is just a vaguely pleasurable distant memory by now. You are soon into the sequel which finds Mav, one of the Navy’s top aviators, still a captain, still studiously avoiding the promotions which would surely ground him.

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As someone says, he really ought to be an admiral by now, but Mav – like Tom himself – is a man of action through and through, and the last thing he wants is a desk job. Instead, he’s pushing the limits as a test pilot in a teasing little prologue which sets up very cleverly all that follows.

The problem that Maverick presents to his disapproving seniors is that he is exceptional in what he does, and that’s why, against all their instincts, they put him charge of training a bunch of elite pilots for a crucial but essentially suicidal-looking mission.

Some ill-defined hideous baddie is cooking up some hidden nasties in an underground bunker which can be reached only by a twisty-turny death-defying low-level flight through a valley before the steepest of climbs takes you into the steepest of descents for the chance to blow up their base – before another head-crushing, chest-busting ascent out of there.

The destruction is a two-part process which, as one of the top brass says, requires two miracles, one immediately after another.

But it’s not just mindless pursuit. There is genuine depth to this film as Maverick – really excellent from Cruise – faces down the ghosts from his past. The mission brings him into direct contact and indeed conflict with Lt Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), call sign Rooster, the son of Maverick’s late friend and Radar Intercept Officer Lt Nick Bradshaw, aka Goose. Maverick blames himself for his mate’s death and clearly his mate’s son shares that view. Are the hostility and the resentment going to be the factors that sabotage the mission?

Plus of course, the task of teaching the pilots hardly sits well with Maverick when he would really rather be one of them. Complicating it all still further is the fact that he’s starting to hook up again with an old flame.

The pressure’s on in every respect, and Joseph Kosinski ratchets up the tension brilliantly as all sorts of professional and personal considerations come crashing together in the build-up to a mission that really ought to be impossible.

A measure of the film’s hold was the silence in the packed cinema. Not a rustle of wrappers, not a flash of text messages received. Even after all these years, Tom Cruise has still got it – and he has got it in spades, a commanding screen presence who three decades later equals an early-career defining role.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​