In the new film, the training has a lot more purpose and jeopardy. Down on the ground, the antagonism has more substance to it, too. The admiral in charge of the school, Cyclone (Jon Hamm, doing a good line in goggle-eyed exasperation), doesn’t approve of Pete’s methods because he fears they might compromise the mission. Meanwhile, one of his students is Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Pete’s best pal Goose, who was killed in the first film. Rooster has inherited the family moustache, but that hasn’t stopped him bearing a grudge. There is even a drop of bad blood between Pete and his old flame Penny the Conveniently Single Bar Owner (Jennifer Connelly), but she is better suited to him than the first film’s love interest, Charlie (Kelly McGillis, who doesn’t get a mention, let alone a cameo appearance). The tentative romance between Pete and Penny is predictable, but quite touching because there is chemistry and history between them, and an awareness that they aren’t in the first flush of youth. True, Cruise and Connelly are both still gorgeous, but they’re allowed to have wrinkles on their faces in the close-ups.
Cruise himself has more humanity and depth than usual, even if he is as buff as ever in the requisite beach-sport montage (there are moments when Top Gun feels like a less appropriate title than Top Off). Don’t be surprised if he gets an Oscar nomination. He, Kosinski, McQuarrie and their various co-writers have worked out how to make Pete a responsible, rueful adult at the same time as keeping him as, well, a maverick. They have made a carefully calibrated yet warm-hearted blockbuster that does everything expected of it, and more. Much like the laser-guided missiles fired by Pete and his buddies, it streaks towards its target with awe-inspiring efficiency, and hits it with explosive force.
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