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Expectations are the weight
That drags us to a win or loss.
And either way, we learn to hate
The expectation albatross.

For whether it is you alone
Or one you’re trying to impress,
The chance of failure’s one millstone
That only comes off with success.

A flaw offends, a stumble spreads,
And those who saw it coming quit,
Shaking their collective heads.
They knew you couldn’t handle it.

But then, you might have full support
Yet build up such a stress within,
That nothing but the highest court
Could name you worthy of a win.

Still yet, we live for moments grand
When fear is met by answered prayer,
When what occurs is what was planned,
Even if that may feel rare.

These expectations doom or drive
Our efforts to achieve our best.
Just know as long as you’re alive
That nothing is a futile quest.

MPA rating: PG-13

I don’t know if anyone remembers, but I rewatched the original Top Gun back in 2020 so I could review it before the sequel came out later that year. Of course, a certain pandemic got in the way of that, repeatedly pushing the release of Top Gun: Maverick to a point where it would have the best chance of thriving in theaters rather than settling for a limited or streaming release. And thrived it has, racking up over a billion dollars and outperforming what I think most people expected from yet another resurrected 1980s franchise. I appreciate the first Top Gun on a purely superficial level but would never consider it a favorite movie, so I was genuinely surprised that Maverick actually managed to deliver on the hype that had grown around it.

Set over thirty years after the original, Top Gun: Maverick sees the return of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise), whose penchant for risks and disobeying orders has kept him from rising above the rank of captain. With his career near its end, he is called by his old rival and friend Iceman (Val Kilmer, whose inclusion was a nice treat considering his health struggles) to return to Top Gun (a.k.a. the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program) and train the most skilled graduates for a daring mission to destroy a uranium enrichment plant. Among them is “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s deceased partner Goose, and the two must work through their shared history to make the mission a success.

I can absolutely see a version of this movie with the same description I gave above that feels like a zombie retread of the first film, resurrected for the sake of cashing in on audience nostalgia. While that’s likely how the film’s development started, a laudable amount of effort and care went into making this a worthy successor that honestly surpasses the first film in every way. Knowing that the real actors and planes were involved in the aerial action adds much to the experience as a sharp contrast to the overabundance of CGI, and the high-flying direction feels brisk and immediate while not losing track of which plane is which. Plus, the soundtrack is a knockout, featuring not just the return of Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” but also welcome additions from The Who, OneRepublic, and Lady Gaga.

It’s rather amazing that Maverick has all of the same ingredients as the first film – hot shot pilots, including a cocky rival (Glen Powell); surly superiors (Jon Hamm, Ed Harris); a simmering romance centered in a bar (now with Jennifer Connolly in place of Kelly McGillis); a shirtless volleyball game; and a climactic face-off with an unnamed enemy – and yet it deepens them and makes them mean more than in the original Top Gun. The writing and story are clearly improved and give the performances of Cruise and Teller especially much more dramatic weight as the loss of Goose continues to weigh on them both. And the whole climax set among snowy mountains is a tense thrill ride, not a sudden “crisis” that pops up like in the first film, but an extended mission that the whole film builds up to, with high stakes and an ever-present chance that someone might not make it home.

The distinction may only make sense to me, but I consider Top Gun an entertaining movie, while Top Gun: Maverick is an entertaining film. Both may be summer blockbusters, but the sequel lives in another category of quality, and I really would like to see it perhaps snag a Best Picture nod at the Oscars. Even with my half-hearted appreciation of the first film, the second was moving, patriotic, and immensely satisfying in its own right while also building on the nostalgia. It sets a new standard for these long-delayed ‘80s sequels, one that will be hard for any other to top.

Best line: (Admiral “Cyclone” Simpson) “Your reputation precedes you.”   (Maverick) “Thank you, Sir.”  (Adm. Simpson) “It wasn’t a compliment.”

Rank: List-Worthy

© 2022 S.G. Liput
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