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The Best And Worst Things In Top Gun: Maverick

Contains major spoilers for "Top Gun: Maverick"

It has been over 35 years since Tony Scott's "Top Gun" originally flew into theaters and thrilled audiences with its innovative action scenes and emotional storytelling. And now Tom Cruise is back in the cockpit again for "Top Gun: Maverick." The long-awaited sequel picks up with Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, who has refused to climb the ranks of the U.S. Navy so he can stay in the skies, rather than get stuck behind a desk. He spends his days either fixing his own planes or testing experimental jets.

But when he pushes the boundaries of his orders, Maverick is forced to go back to the Top Gun school and train the best of the best for a deadly mission to destroy a uranium enrichment plant in a dangerous mountainous region in Eastern Europe. Not only does Maverick's new assignment include teaching his class a near-impossible set of maneuvers, but the son of his fallen wingman, Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), is also on the squad. So, that's definitely going to make things tense.

Director Joseph Kosinski has recruited an impressive squad of pilots — sorry, actors — for the sequel, including Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Glen Powell, Jon Hamm, and Val Kilmer. "Maverick" has been met with rave reviews from critics, and it has already earned itself an impressive score on Rotten Tomatoes.

But what did we think? Well, here are the best and worst things in "Top Gun: Maverick."

Best: The flight scenes

There's no doubt about it: the thing that everyone will be talking about after seeing "Top Gun: Maverick" is just how thrilling the aerial scenes are. A huge part of the film obviously takes place on and over U.S. soil as the class trains under Maverick's tutelage, but even those practice dogfights are a shot of pure adrenaline as the old dog has plenty of tricks up his sleeve to get the best out of the new pilots. But when they start training for the extreme g-force they'll deal with on their mission, Joseph Kosinski really cranks up the tension. Maybe it's the fact that Goose dies in the original, but there's definitely the feeling that any member of the team could be killed at any second.

That's only made worse when Javy "Coyote" Machado (Greg Tarzan Davis) passes out mid-flight and nearly crashes, while Natasha "Phoenix" Trace (Monica Barbaro) and Bob Floyd (Lewis Pullman) are forced to eject during the same exercise. This makes the stakes of the final mission feel even more foreboding, and when the team actually manages to pull it off and they destroy the uranium plant, it feels so, so satisfying for the audience because we know how hard they've worked to get this far.

But it only gets tenser when the anti-aircraft missile turrets start aiming at the squad, and it becomes a nail-biting race to escape the area — especially with the addition of a couple of enemy fighter jets. Every dodged missile or narrow brush with death only makes these aerial combat scenes all the more impressive, especially with the seamless CGI. Bravo Kosinski and Paramount, bravo.

Worst: Maverick's promise

The film does a pretty good job of carving out the tense relationship between Maverick and Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (Miles Teller), and it's understandable why the young pilot would be so hostile towards his father's best friend considering the circumstances. But even so, it comes across like the audience is missing something. Eventually, Maverick confesses to Penny (Jennifer Connelly) that he pulled Rooster's Navy papers to stall his career. Why? Because he'd made a promise to Goose's wife, Carole Bradshaw (Meg Ryan), that he'd stop Rooster from ending up like his dad.

No, we don't see Ryan reprise her role, we're only told that Maverick made her the promise before she died. It's a poor choice of plot development because it doesn't actually achieve anything. Yes, Rooster's career was pushed back a few years, but he still winds up becoming an ace pilot, and he's not at a disadvantage alongside the rest of the squad. The reveal about the promise also doesn't drastically change his relationship with Maverick since it was already strained in the first place because of Goose's death.

It just feels like an excuse to briefly mention Carole again while also giving Maverick more time to be moody about the situation. Sure, it's not a huge storytelling crime or anything, but it just seems a bit pointless.

Best: An impossible mission

As mentioned earlier on, the finale is an epic race against time to blow up the uranium plant — one that requires expert precision, and just the right amount of speed to make it into, and out of, the mountains. And although it goes smoothly, for the most part, the turret sequence is breathtaking, with the pilots swooping and soaring all over the place, as well as deploying flares to stop any pursuing missiles. Unfortunately, one moment sees Rooster nearly get gunned down — and Maverick uses his own plane to save him by throwing himself in the way.

It's here the film throws the audience a curveball by ramping up the tension in a new way, as Maverick crash lands behind enemy lines and even tries to outrun a gunship that tries to annihilate him as he runs through the snow. It feels like an extra chunk of the movie that we didn't pay for because the movie lulls the audience into thinking that all the action has to take place in the skies — it feels very unpredictable in the best way.

But when Rooster comes back to save him, the duo steals an old enemy aircraft to make it home and watching them fight to keep it in the air just adds to the danger (zone).

Worst: Killing Iceman

Now look, there's no way Paramount could've done a "Top Gun" sequel without bringing back Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (Val Kilmer) — it would've been blasphemous. Thankfully, the "Heat" and "Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang" star reprises his role as an older Iceman, who has since progressed through the ranks to become a four-star admiral in the Navy, and he still bails Maverick out whenever he gets in trouble. Because what are friends for? Iceman's even there to offer his friend some guidance with the team — and with Rooster — when things start to get tough. It's an incredibly touching moment, one that really helps provide part of the emotional backbone of the film.

But as Iceman's wife, Sarah (Jean Louise Kelly), explains to Maverick, the admiral is suffering from cancer, and he doesn't have long left. Unfortunately, he passes away before the uranium mission and gets a full military funeral to honor his legacy. It's sad, but it also feels a little morbid considering Kilmer's recent struggle with throat cancer. The star went public with his diagnosis back in 2017 and underwent chemotherapy as well as a tracheostomy, which has damaged his voice (via People). Although thankfully he's been cancer-free for a few years, killing Iceman in "Top Gun: Maverick" and making such a big deal about his death feels a little off.

Best: Hangman saves Maverick and Rooster

During the finale, Joseph Kosinski delivers yet another punch-the-air moment as Maverick and Rooster are just seconds away from making it back to the aircraft carrier following their daring escape out of enemy territory. It's a pulse-pounding sequence, as they dodge missiles and try to outmaneuver the last fighter jet that just won't stay off their tail. With no bullets, no flares, and no missiles left of their own, it all looks quite dire — surely they couldn't die, not when they're so close to safety?

That's when Jake "Hangman" Seresin (Glen Powell) roars onto screen as he swiftly shoots down their attacker, saving the day. It's so crowd-pleasing, that the only way Kosinski could've topped it is if Maverick picked up Mjolnir at the end. But seriously, this works so well largely because of the rivalry between Hangman and Rooster, which the former takes too far by making jabs about Goose earlier on in the film. The hot-headed pilot coming in at the last minute shows he's capable of redemption, as well as proves to the rest of the squad that he's not as selfish as he makes out and that he's a team player.

Yes, Rooster and Hangman are the new Maverick and Iceman, but it works so well.

Worst: The ambiguous villains

Unfortunately, there's one element of the big mission that doesn't quite work so well, and that is encapsulated by this question: Who exactly is the U.S. Navy bombing? During the briefing early on in the film, it's made clear that the uranium plant will help the country's enemies produce nuclear weapons and that's why it has to be blown to smithereens. But the "Top Gun" sequel avoids actually explaining who it is they're up against. The only thing we know is that this nation exists in a snowy, mountainous region to the east somewhere.

And when the pilots eventually go head-to-head with the enemy in the sky, they're dressed in black flight suits with no flags or patches that can be seen anywhere. Their enemies even wear tinted helmets so the audience can't assume it's one particular nation. It's understandable that Paramount doesn't want to single out any particular country as "the enemy" — especially when there are enough political problems in the world right now — but avoiding the issue entirely almost makes it more obvious. 

The easy option would be to just have the enemy as some kind of rogue terrorist cell, then it wouldn't look like the studio is trying to tiptoe around real-world situations. Of course, this could also be attributed to the fact that Paramount wants to make the sequel universally accessible to all audiences, rather than alienating a specific market.

Best: Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise is obviously one of the biggest A-list actors in the world, and when he makes a movie, he makes a movie. "Top Gun: Maverick" is such a full-throttle experience that it's easy to overlook his performance at times due to the sheer impressive action that's constantly unfolding on-screen. But Cruise's performance is at the heart of that, and it's his work that really sells the intensity of every risky move, every argument, and every dogfight that the film has to offer. But as entertaining as it is to see his face get pulled back by the g-force, Cruise's best work is done in the movie's quieter moments.

The playful dynamic between Maverick and Penny highlights his charisma, but they also have a tender, quiet respect for their vastly different lives. Then there's obviously the brilliantly heartfelt scene with Maverick and Iceman, which helps the seasoned pilot figure out a way of making his students actually behave like a team. And although we have our issues with killing Iceman, Cruise's performance in the funeral scene feels genuinely sincere.

Of course, he pulls out his signature action hero run in the finale, but the moment which perfectly captures what makes Cruise great in the sequel is right at the start when he races alongside a jet while on his motorbike. The man's got a grin from ear to ear, and it's obvious that he's having the time of his life.

Worst: A little too much nostalgia

Admittedly, this one isn't such a terrible crime mainly because it has been over 35 years since the original film came out, and it's not like it has been a long-standing franchise with numerous sequels or spin-offs. Some nostalgia is to be expected, but it's almost like a paint-by-numbers affair at times. Everything you'd jokingly think of in a "Top Gun" sequel is definitely there. It even kicks off with a montage sequence of aircraft carrier crew members prepping fighter jets for take-off set to the iconic Kenny Loggins classic from the original soundtrack: "Danger Zone."

There's tense rivalry between pilots — only this time, it's Rooster and Hangman rather than Maverick and Iceman — and of course, there's the obligatory shirtless beach scene where they all kick back with some team-building exercises. Paramount definitely wants to show off Miles Teller and Glen Powell's washboard abs (fair enough). The 2022 movie even recreates Maverick and Goose singing "Great Balls of Fire" on the piano, but with Rooster and the rest of the pilots at Penny's bar instead. It's not that these things are bad, it's just that they're a little predictable. 

Thankfully, director Joseph Kosinski mostly leans on the right side of nostalgia here, and although it doesn't look like there will be a "Top Gun 3" anytime soon, the baton has clearly been handed over to Rooster, Hangman, and the rest of their squad.