The bar, which has been staggeringly low for some time, has now been raised, and any studio or filmmaker looking to create a long-after direct sequel should watch this film and see how successful it can be when done right.
Legacy sequels have become a more significant part of mainstream media over the past few years. These films are rooted in nostalgia, trying to pull in an older audience that grew up with these specific characters all while introducing a younger audience into the mix. It’s also usually purely done as a way to squeeze every last dime out of an already beloved film or franchise with very little care put into the actual craftsmanship of the film or thought for the people who created it.
The newest one of these is Top Gun: Maverick, the follow-up to the 1986 hit Top Gun. It picks up with Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) who spends his time testing the Mach levels of the Navy’s newest aircrafts, and still breaking the rules to do so. He is called back to Top Gun to train some of the best flyers in the world for the hardest mission of their entire lives. Among this crop of flyers is Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s former wingman “Goose,” who passed away during a flight exercise during his time at Top Gun.
The feat that Top Gun: Maverick manages to pull off is nothing short of extraordinary. The entire crew of screenwriters, most notably Christopher McQuarrie, did what most legacy sequels don’t, or sometimes can’t, accomplish. They expand on the already beloved original to make something compelling, fresh, and in this case – even if it wasn’t a high bar to hurdle – better. They were able to use the nostalgia from the first film to create scenes such as the opening and “Great Balls of Fire” that tap into the feeling of watching Top Gun for the first time, but what is so great about this film is that it never plants itself in only being nostalgia bait.
No, what the crew behind this film do instead is expand on the areas that didn’t quite work the first time around. Using the character of Rooster, they were able to craft a compelling story of grief and how even almost 40 years down the line, this idea of “what could I have done differently” floats in Maverick’s brain constantly. In one of his best performances this century, Cruise is doing far more than the daredevil-style leading stuntman role that he has started to find comfort in later in his career.
He isn’t afraid to show his grief and more importantly the fear he has not only for himself and what little purpose he believes he will have if he can’t fly, but for Rooster who he fears is constantly chasing his father’s legacy so much he might end up dying like him. It is in these quiet moments, reflecting on the life of his friend and the father that Rooster had lost, that Cruise’s performance truly manages to stand out.
Just because film’s Evel Knievel managed to bring out more emotions than we are used to seeing from him as of late doesn’t mean he went cheap on the stunts. What truly will make Top Gun: Maverick one of the best action films of the decade is Cruise’s commitment to the realism of the stunts. The flight sequences are so real and the reactions from the actors are pulled off in such a way that as an audience member, you might catch yourself gasping for air and clinching the armrests. You feel a part of the movie in such a tangible way that most action films could never dream of achieving. In a way, this film could also be seen as the legacy of Cruise balled up into one movie giving one of the performances that made him who he was and the kind of death-defying actor he would eventually become.
Legacy sequels aren’t going away anytime soon; if anything, they are going to become more modern in the years to come. Top Gun: Maverick crafted the perfect blueprint to successfully create a film so long after the original and make it even grander. The bar, which has been staggeringly low for some time, has now been raised, and any studio or filmmaker looking to create a long-after direct sequel should watch this film and see how successful it can be when done right.
Nominated: Picture, Screenplay, Sound, Song, Editing, Visual Effects
Should have been Considered: Cinematography
Where to Watch: Paramount+
Loves movies, the awards season, and this dog (even if he isn’t his).
Favorite Director: Bo Burnham
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