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The ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Exit Survey

It took a painfully long time for Tom Cruise’s ‘Top Gun’ follow-up to land in theaters—but the wait may have been rewarded with an all-time great sequel

Paramount/Ringer illustration

After years of delays due to the pandemic, Top Gun: Maverick finally hit theaters over Memorial Day weekend. And buddy, was it worth the wait: Tom Cruise risking his life for the sake of the shot, a new slew of cocky flyboys (and girls), nondescript enemies, and confounding sex scenes—Maverick tapped into the greatness of its source material and then some. Below, our staff reacts after coming back to earth.

1. What is your tweet-length review of Top Gun: Maverick?

Julianna Ress: I feel the need—the need for a practically shot blockbuster action movie that doesn’t have superheroes in it!

Andrew Gruttadaro:

Katie Baker: Tommy Cruise still has that ol’ razzle-dazzle, baby!

Miles Surrey: That sound you hear is millions of dads across the country getting up from their living room sofas to watch Tom Cruise endanger himself for our entertainment. You don’t always need superheroes to bring folks back to theaters—sometimes all that’s required is a timeless (immortal?) movie star feeling the need for speed.

Megan Schuster:

2. What was the best moment of the film?

Ress: If everyone says the final action sequence, there’s a good reason for that.

Surrey: Any moment with Cruise in the cockpit is a sight to behold, especially knowing that he’s pulling real G’s in a fighter jet. He might be part of a dying breed, but he’s going out with a (potentially literal) bang.

Gruttadaro: The first sequence—from Maverick pushing a jet to the limit against orders for one last ride, to him walking into a diner in a spacesuit—is pitch perfect. Second place? Everyone’s faces when they realize that the guy they were calling old at the bar is their flight instructor. I really missed movies that use classic tropes without feeling the need to ironically call attention to them!

Schuster: The training montages. Watching Mav take over the roles of Viper and Jester had me all misty-eyed, and seeing him routinely best Rooster (Miles Teller), Hangman (Glen Powell), and Co. was the icing on the cake.

Baker: Tom Cruise flopping around on the boat deck. I presume after shooting that scene he went out and became part of an Ocean Race crew, or kidnapped Jimmy Spithill or something.

Paramount Pictures

3. What was your least favorite part of the movie?

Baker: I was upset we didn’t get more Ed Harris!

Gruttadaro: Are we gonna talk about how the mission was literally the end of Star Wars: Episode 4—A New Hope?

Schuster: Did we need quite so much internal Navy politics? I adored Val Kilmer’s inclusion, so I understand that Maverick once again needed to be walking a tightrope so Iceman could save him. But Jon Hamm’s character was so by-the-book, and not in a fun way—I miss Commander Tom “Stinger” Jordan. And I feel like much of the movie was more focused on whether Mav was going to get discharged than his relationship with Rooster.

Ress: I mean, the military propaganda is pretty hard to ignore. But another thing that stuck out to me was Jennifer Connelly’s character being played for nostalgia despite not appearing in the original film. It only made the decision to not even ask Kelly McGillis to reprise her role seem all the more bizarre.

Surrey: While I appreciate that Maverick continued the Top Gun tradition of bizarre sex scenes, I’m starting to believe that this franchise takes place in an alternate universe where humans aren’t actually conceived through intercourse because clearly nobody in these movies knows what sex is.

4. Finish the sentence: “Tom Cruise is …”

Baker: … currently working on Top Gun: Hangman and Top Gun: Phoenix. (This is me manifesting.)

Surrey: … the undisputed action movie GOAT, in spite of his questionable beliefs. We need to cherish him while we can.

Schuster: … still a goddamn movie star! I’ll be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve lined up to see a Cruise movie on opening weekend. Mission: Impossible isn’t totally my thing, and he’s been making … a lot of those lately. But to my surprise, the smile is still there; the emotional depth has only gotten deeper; and directors keep getting better and better at working around the height thing. All in all, Tom Cruise has still got it.

Ress: … a rich freak who inspired American Psycho—and also one of our last real movie stars.

Gruttadaro: the King of Hollywood. Don’t get me wrong, Top Gun: Maverick is great, and Cruise’s dedication to the moviegoing experience is a major reason. But I also think its greatness is maybe a tad overstated, an exaggeration stemming from our desperate collective desire to be freed from the Superhero Industrial Complex. We’re all so ready for a new era of blockbuster that we’re willing to compartmentalize Tom Cruise’s, uh, Cruise-ness.

5. Take a guess: What unnamed country are the bad guys in Maverick?

Surrey: Much like I’m pretty sure actual sex doesn’t exist in Top Gun, the vaguely defined enemies are from a nation that isn’t part of our universe. Our minds simply aren’t ready for the geopolitical implications of this alt-universe.

Schuster: I was thinking about this a lot in the movie and the only answer I could come up with was Russia. That feels really unimaginative on my part, but I also don’t know which other snow-laden countries: (1) border major oceans, (2) have military budgets big enough to have such impressive fighter jets and SAM systems, and (3) would logically be in conflict with the U.S.

Baker: First of all, I really appreciated that this movie was so oriented around one big bad mission, because I could actually understand what was going on! I’ve seen the original Top Gun dozens of times, and never once have I ever grasped what the plane men were actually doing up there. Anyway, in my mind the whole time it was Iran, but thinking about that snowy, mountainous landscape I also like to imagine that the adversary is, like, a newly-evil Slovenia.

Gruttadaro: Major North Korea vibes, IMO.

Ress: I prefer to imagine that Tom Cruise is fighting against the streaming services who wanted to rob us of the Maverick theatrical experience.

6. What is the most homoerotic moment in Top Gun: Maverick?

Gruttadaro: When Tom Cruise’s plane penetrates the space between two other planes.

Ress: Football, volleyball—doesn’t matter what sport it is as long as it’s played on the beach in jeans.

Schuster: The obvious answer is Dogfight Football, but I low-key think the introductory billiards scene at Jennifer Connelly’s bar might give that a run for its money.

Baker: When Hangman is shooting darts and his buddy covers his eyes for effect. So tender! (Also, I loved this quote from Powell about the film: “In the days leading up, there was more male insecurity than you’ve ever seen on any set ever … and probably more coconut oil than even on Magic Mike.”)

Surrey: This is my only real gripe with Maverick: the homoeroticism is at a minimum. Perhaps the sequel would’ve been hornier with the guiding hand of the late Tony Scott, but as it stands, Maverick doesn’t bring the goods. This could be attributed to supply chain issues from Dwayne Johnson hoarding all of the world’s baby oil.

7. Using professional athletes, draft a four-person team for Dogfight Football.

Schuster: Josh Allen (big, burly, and athletic), Myles Garrett (also big, burly, and athletic), Diana Taurasi (field general, ultra competitive), and Ja’Marr Chase (burst, speed, catch radius). Try me.

Surrey: Michael Jordan (takes everything personally), Tom Brady (can throw a mean spiral and is ultra competitive when he isn’t kissing his son on the mouth), Zion Williamson (imagine trying to tackle this guy), and Percy Harvin (I’m still a believer).

Baker: Serena Williams, Connor McDavid, Lamar Jackson, and Tom Cruise.

Ress: Aaron Donald, Josh Allen, Rod Tidwell, and Tom Cruise.

Gruttadaro: Josh Allen, Josh Allen, Josh Allen, and Josh Allen. (My call name is Buffalo.)

8. Does Top Gun: Maverick rise to the level of all-time sequels?

Gruttadaro: I initially reacted to this question like, “Pfft, no way does it touch Empire Strikes Back or The Godfather Part II or [insert legendary sequel here].” But then I remembered that it’s maybe the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in several years. And then I remembered that it broke Memorial Day records at the box office … It’s gotta at least be mentioned in the conversation, right?

Ress: With stunning action, a heartfelt story, and sad dad energy everywhere, I’d say yes. Hard to mess up that formula.

Surrey: This is Mad Max: Fury Road levels of great: a sequel that surpasses the original in nearly every respect, aided in large part by breathtaking stunts and practical effects. That Maverick just so happens to have the silliest plot imaginable only makes it more iconic.

Schuster: I never thought I’d be glad they waited this long to make a second Top Gun, but they did it so perfectly that I am.

Baker: Top Gun was miracle no. 1. Top Gun: Maverick? That’s miracle no. 2.