WarningMight contain spoilers.

As far as the movie itself goes, this was a perfect theatrical experience; probably my best since Knives Out in 2019. I’ll admit I had the Covid-19 jitters, though: I expected the theatre to be empty, found the back half very full, moved forward in the big hall, moved further forward to find a completely empty row, and finished my popcorn in a rush so I could pull my mask back up. 10 minutes later, though, I’d forgotten all of that.

Granted, we’re talking about blatant military propaganda and Tom Cruise is a 60-year-old cult leader playing the action hero. Women are mostly props whereas men posture, ooze machismo, look grim, and make decisions. On a less significant note, there’s a strangely disjointed transition from the music of the opening credits to the classic ‘Danger Zone’, and the Lady Gaga song at the end is lousy.

And yet… what a brilliant film this is. Crucially, Maverick isn’t invincible or a superhero: he continually struggles to keep up as the high-stakes flights take a toll on him, in an understandable and believable fashion. The entire basis of the movie is that Maverick is a man out of time who self-avowedly refuses to move forward. It nicely balances the fact that he’s ultimately made team leader. He genuinely doesn’t know when to shut up, either, as Warlock reminds him.

I liked Jennifer Connelly more than I expected to. Penny could easily have been bland and forgettable, just going by the role on paper, but instead she’s reasonably smart, charming, and compelling. The cast is good all-round except for the never-ideal Miles Teller, who’s merely adequate. It was nice to see Monica Barbaro again for the first time (for me) since UnREAL . It was also very nice to see Val Kilmer doing something so different, although I had no idea that, sadly, he himself has throat cancer; it’s not just his character who has difficulty speaking.

In spite of some repetition (ejections, last-second interceptions as someone’s about to be killed), the film abounds with triumphant, rousing moments. The best sequences are, obviously, Maverick flying the stealth jet at the start and him demonstrating the feasibility of the run later on. The visuals of and in the planes, the stunt flying, the dogfighting: all of it is phenomenal. Even knowing how they did it

Since Tom Cruise was already a pilot and had actual extensive experience filming aerial sequences, he created a Navy-approved boot camp for the actors to go through to prepare for their roles. This boot camp lasted for three months to help prepare them to be in a Super Hornet and be comfortable enough to perform these highly ambitious aerial sequences.

Once in the air, many of the reactions of the actors were completely real. They range from passing out, to puking, to just being exhilarated. And they were flying up there all the time to get their shots. Kosinski told Empire in the new issue, "Out of a 12- or 14-hour day, you might get 30 seconds of good footage. But it was so hard-earned. It just took a very long time to get it all. Months and months of aerial shooting. We shot as much footage as the three Lord of the Rings movies combined. I think it was 800 hours of footage.”

…I don’t know how they did it. It’s a filmmaker’s nightmare:

The actors playing pilots not only had to film themselves, turning the camera on and off, they also had to touch up their own makeup, adjust their lighting and handle their own sound. The director had to wait on the ground for hours sometimes for the actors to come back with the footage. Adjustments would be made after viewing the footage and the actors would have to go back up for another take.

I can’t overstate how impressive it is that they not only put together a coherent movie but made something as spectacular and well-constructed as this, which even someone like myself, who hasn’t seen the first one, is quickly invested in Maverick’s success.

The score is a good one too. I don’t know whether it reuses pieces from the first one in any way. I only know that it skillfully complements the visuals, and the resurrected motif is a classic.

Now, as I mentioned, this is a film about men, testosterone, and posturing, but it would have been extremely interesting, for instance, to swap Miles Teller and Monica Barbaro’s roles, making Rooster a girl. (And, as an added benefit, potentially dispensing with Teller entirely.)

I certainly didn’t see Manny Jacinto.