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‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ starring Tom Cruise, takes to the skies and sticks to the formula.

The long-awaited aerial extravaganza “Top Gun: Maverick” knows its audience well and wastes no time getting down to business, which includes blasting Kenny Loggins’ classic “Danger Zone” and blasting the sweet sounds of fighter jet engines.

Tom Cruise looks out for the 1980s kids who have been waiting 36 years for this thing, while Gen Xers are occasionally forgotten. In the first few minutes of director Joseph Kosinski’s excellently macho sequel (12 out of four; rated PG-13; in theatres Friday), you’re not sure if you’re watching the original 1986 “Top Gun” or a new one.

Unlike its title character, “Maverick” follows through on its promises, doling out quality man hugs, shirtless beach sports, bar singalongs, snappy one-liners, an endless supply of Ray-Bans, and Cruise reaffirming his status as an ageless wonder.

The iconic action hero reprises his role as Pete Mitchell (call sign “Maverick”), an ace aviator and Navy captain who has been reminded that he should be at least a two-star admiral by now but hasn’t changed his rogue attitude much in the last three decades. When his test pilot programme is cancelled and he’s reassigned to San Diego’s Top Gun flight school as an instructor, we’re reintroduced to Maverick pushing the boundaries of physics and his bosses’ buttons.

Immediately, he irritates his new commander, Cyclone (Jon Hamm reprising his irritable Don Draper persona), despite the fact that there is an important task at hand: An enemy uranium facility is about to go online, and Maverick must test and weed out the best of the best young Top Gun graduates in order to find a team to take it out. (And, as in the first film, it’s intentionally unclear which country we’re attacking.)

The gravity of this seemingly impossible mission is heightened when one of the flyboys turns out to be Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s late wingman Goose. Rooster has reason to be irritated by Maverick’s presence, and the only thing that takes Maverick’s usual smirk away is the guilt he still feels over the death of his best friend, so those two need to work out a lot of their feelings.

As cool as the original’s aerial dogfight scenes were, the sequel’s action sequences take them to the next level with unreal camera angles and nonstop tension. Kosinski wants viewers to experience what it’s like to have your head squished by gG-forces and wonder where the bad guys are coming from. With the unmistakable Harold Faltermeyer theme, you’ll feel like you’re 10 years old again, watching Maverick rule the air for the first time.

Without sacrificing any of his essential qualities, Cruise finds new ways to add depth to his signature character (sorry, Ethan Hunt). Teller, in his best performance since “Whiplash,” plays Maverick’s love interest, Penny, an old flame who grounds our hero, and Jennifer Connelly plays Maverick’s love interest, Penny, an old flame who grounds our hero, though the film falls probably one Maverick/Rooster conversation short of truly nailing that core relationship.

The film’s spiritual successor is the delightfully cocky Hangman (Glen Powell), a tanned and toothpick-chewing piece of work aspiring to be mission leader. The rest of the young aviators, including Phoenix (Monica Barbaro) and her co-pilot Bob (Lewis Pullman), are a mixed bag of character development, but everyone gets a moment in the air dogfighting and on the sand with a game of beach football, which is more of a parade of sunglasses and ripped abs than a team-building exercise.

Initial thoughts on ‘Top Gun: Maverick’:

In 2022’s ‘best film,’ Tom Cruise is dubbed “our greatest movie star.”

Sure, “Maverick” would be better if it wasn’t so formulaic – and, for the record, it doesn’t quite match the magic of the original “Top Gun.” At the same time, this type of film is no longer made, making it a novelty to younger eyes who haven’t experienced the gung-ho patriotic pleasure. But the template works, even when a Lady Gaga song is thrown in for extra dramatic flair.

The Danger Zone is still a pretty spectacular place to visit, whether you’re feeling the need for speed for the first time or haven’t lost that loving feeling since ’86.

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