The cockiest flyboy in the history of naval aviation was confronted by Rear Adm. Chester. When bombs are dropped from a strip mall outside Las Vegas, the admiral is talking about the obsolescence of fighter pilots. He is speaking in a metatextual way about the legend playing this legend: Hollywood's aging but ageless golden boy Tom Cruise, pushing 60 but still climbing into cockpits.

The winks are common in legacy sequels, a self-conscious strain of modern franchise continuation. There isn't a hint of irony in Top Gun: Maverick, a follow-up to a hit of the 1980s. You half expect a 21-gun salute when Cruise whips a tarp off that old motorcycle, the one he rode around back in 1986 and the moment is so glowingly awestruck. The movie is deeply in love with its title character, and with the movie star reprising that role, it is reviving.

Tom Cruise pilots a jet.

It's a tad amusing to see how hushed reverence is applied to all box-office sensations. The movie was made with the cooperation and final script approval of the U.S. Navy, and was propped up by the slick craft of its director, the late Tony Scott. It was a popcorn commercial that was very similar to aPepsi commercial. Top Gun is mostly a kitsch object, an antique of superficial patriotism and excess. One key to its twinkly romantic charm is that it takes it seriously.

Kosinski, who worked with Cruise on Oblivion, fills Scott's big jackboots by committing fully to his project. The first few minutes are close to shot-for-shot remake territory, as that same opening epigraph fills the screen in the same style, while the same score from Harold Faltermeyer rises beautifully on the soundtrack. It was replaced by the sounds of Kenny Loggins and the sight of metal birds taxiing around a runway. The film is repeated many times.

The Top Gun plot was faithfully adopted by Maverick. It barely has one. Cruise's veteran airman has dodged promotions for decades, so he'll take some young pilots under his wing outside of San Diego. The actor played the hotshot in The Color of Money, a sequel to Top Gun, which came out the same year. He is now in the role of Paul Newman. The socially awkward Bob, steely boys-club crasher Phoenix, and the cowboy antagonizer of the team, Hangman, are some of the egotistical hotdoggers.

Miles Teller stews.

There's also Rooster, who has shades and a haircut that betrays his identity as the son of Anthony Edwards, who was tragically killed in the original. The kid, offspring of his dead wingman, was tried to keep out of the sky. The film's savviest dramatic choice was to build the entire emotional conflict of the story around our hero's guilt and shock waves from his freak accident.

Kosinski's aerial action is amazing. Like Scott, he knows how to convey altitude and speed in a way that will make every training exercise into a group show. The script was written by Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie and it was about an attack on a uranium plant that was similar to the Death Star operation. In the first film, the enemy was a faceless international state, and in the second, it was a rogue state.

Tom Cruise and Jennifer Connelly embrace on a runway.

The blueprints of an old blockbuster are too much for Maverick to ever fully emerge as its own movie. It is a better scene than Top Gun. Scott used to queue up the same two songs ad nauseam. Bromance was more important to Top Gun's popularity than romance. Charlie, the civilian love interest of the first movie, is absent. We're told that Maverick wooed a lifetime ago, so he fills the void by courting fellow '80s kid and cocktail waitress, Jennifer Connelly. There is a brief mention of her character in the first film. The chemistry between the two stars is easy to spot, but none of their scenes are as touching as the one Cruise shares with Val Kilmer, which is a real-life battle with throat cancer.

The true love story is between Cruise and the camera. He's relaxed and intense, bringing some of his signature charismatic determination, while also taking stock of how he's changed since the days of Reagan. It can be difficult to tell where the fictional daredevil ends and the real one begins. Kosinski basks in the contradictions of Cruise's star power as an elder statesman of multiplex cool, even as he leaps into each stunt with a vain.

It's an act of anachronistic wish-fulfillment to place Top Gun in modern times, because its characters are analog relics in a digital world. At a time when dogfights were becoming a thing of the past, it applied a kind of Greatest Generation romanticism to the shiftier goalposts of the Cold War, and its pitch to prospective recruits was a vision of military life. That makes a mirage of a mirage, nostalgic for a world that never really existed. Which is why it is a perfect vehicle for Cruise, a Tinseltown Dorian Gray with its own organic de-aging technology. He is a movie star out of time, shining brightly in a dream America.

Top Gun: Maverick opens in theaters on May 27.

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