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An All American Flick, “Top Gun: Maverick”

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“Top Gun” is not just a movie, it’s an experience. Ever since its release in 1986, “Top Gun” has captured the imaginations of moviegoers everywhere. And for ’80s babies, this movie is a milestone. “Top Gun” is a vibrant action-adventure picture that tells the story of Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell who is a daredevil Navy pilot who breaks all rules and hearts in his way. “Top Gun” was the highest-grossing movie of 1986, and was included among the American Film Institute’s 2001 list of 400 movies nominated for the top 100 Most Heart-Pounding American Movies.

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I vividly recall taking in a showing of the original “Top Gun” back at the Sky-Hi Drive-In in my hometown of Muncie, Indiana. My gal pals and I gaped at the high-flying action scenes, swooned at the kissing scenes, and did both in reaction to the famed and celebrated beach volleyball scene.

As I walked into the Spring Hill 8 cinema last week to see the sequel to this cinematic gem, “Top Gun: Maverick,” I came with a big ol’ bag of buttered popcorn, a box of Junior Mints, and some mighty high expectations. All of which, I’m pleased to report, were met and exceeded. “Top Gun: Maverick” is an excellent flick.

First, we are welcomed to the theater via a special videotaped message from a beaming (natch) Tom Cruise, who bids us to enjoy a film made for us. Thanks, Tom Cruise! As we rejoin the life of the title character, now a captain, he is ordered to rejoin the teaching team at “Top Gun,” which is described as an elite Naval school for the top fighter pilots in the world. He has been assigned to this post by former rival Iceman (Val Kilmer), now a commander who feels that Maverick is the only person to lead this crew on a dangerous mission.

Rounding out the team are Miles Teller as Rooster, son of Maverick’s fallen friend Goose, Charles Parnell as Warlock, Lewis Pullman as Bob (yep, that’s his call sign), and Glen Powell as the inordinately cocky and classically handsome Hangman.

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The essence of “Top Gun: Maverick” lies within the realm of its spectacle. The viewer gapes outright at the stunning aerial shots, sings along to songs old and new, laughs jovially with the humor, and marvels at additional shots of racing motorcycles and cascading sailboats.

Yet the movie also has heart, as Maverick still laments the death of best friend/wingman Goose, and faces the challenge of molding Goose’s rebellious, resentful son into a top-notch fighter pilot. And he finds new love with old flame Penny, now a bar owner and divorced mother who sets her own ground rules for her renewed romance with Maverick.

And, in answer to the famed and aforementioned beach volleyball scene, this sequel features an equally respectable beach football scene. Oh, and that blonde sitting in the end seat of the second row who applauded this scene and cried out, “Brava!” at the end? That so wasn’t me, really.

On the disappointing side, this film totally deletes the presence of a major character vital to its backstory: Charlie Blackwood, an astrophysicist who was Maverick’s love interest in the first movie, and so much more. For young girls of my generation, Charlie served as a role model and inspiration. And if one reads deeply into the history of “Top Gun,” we learn that it was the late, great movie executive Dawn Steel who insisted that Charlie be so much more than a bimbo love interest for the macho action star. And she was played masterfully by Kelly McGillis, who has said that she probably wasn’t invited back to the sequel because of her age and weight. Replaced by an actress nine years Cruise’s junior, playing an old flame of Maverick’s who would have been a teenager at the time of their initial involvement. As much as I like and admire Jennifer Connelly and her tough-talking character of Penny, I cringe at this change in plot line. I also miss Meg Ryan’s funny, spirited character of Carole from the first film.

On the good side, the character of Lt. Natasha Phoenix Trace, as played by Monica Barbaro, is portrayed as a strong, intelligent Naval officer treated as an equal by her peers. Phoenix does indeed rise as she flies high above the clouds, in the pilot’s seat of her prized fighter. It’s also worth noting that she’s one of the few individuals to actually wear a top in the infamous beach football scene.

As with the original “Top Gun,” “Top Gun: Maverick” is a fun escapist movie packed with action, humor, music and good times. And if there’s anything we need right now, it’s a good cinematic escape. Brava!

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