Unexpected, spectacular and surprisingly poignant, Joseph Kosinski's Top Gun: Maverick delivers to audiences something we didn't know we wanted, a genuinely heartfelt sequel to Tony Scott's 1986 action drama while simultaneously reminding us of the breathtaking joy of watching practical effects and real-life white-knuckle action sequences. The marvelously thrilling and moving sequel soars on 4K Ultra HD with a striking, flawless Dolby Vision video and an equally stupendous, reference-quality Dolby Atmos track, a presentation that can be confidently declared as the best disc of 2022. With one exclusive featurette making up for the rather disappointingly small supplemental package, the massive box-office hit is nonetheless the Must Own UHD package of the year.
The most impressive and praiseworthy accomplishment in Top Gun: Maverick is director Joseph Kosinski proving to moviegoers why they needed a sequel to Tony Scott's 1986 action drama. The film that skyrocketed Tom Cruise to A-list superstardom told a complete, self-contained story and didn't leave audiences with any unanswered questions. Yet Kosinski, working from a script that included Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Mission: Impossible – Fallout), gives us something we didn't know we wanted: an opportunity to work through a traumatic experience. At heart, he exposes an old wound that never healed properly or better yet, has been neglected for the last thirty-five years, festering in the back of the mind, ignored and pushed aside as if were no big deal. And that's precisely what Cruise's Navy Captain "Maverick" has been doing, as we find him rebuilding a classic P-51 Mustang and working as a test pilot where he continues pushing the limits, along with his long-distinguished career while also risking his life.
Essentially, Maverick is back to his old cocky, insolent ways but in an era where that attitude no longer flies and is a one-way ticket to a permanent desk job instead of into the danger zone, if not grounds for the "Big Chicken Dinner." The welcomed twist in all this is that "Iceman" (Val Kilmer) has moved up the ranks over the years to Admiral while always protecting his formal rival from being grounded. He's been constantly defending Maverick's recklessness behind the scenes and once more, saves his friend's career by personally requesting Maverick for a special assignment back at the elite training school known as Top Gun. These opening moments are truly worth admiring from a plot structure perspective as exposition is cleverly and concisely delivered. We learn about the specifics of the story and the route planned ahead along with Maverick, and the mission to destroy an unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant makes for a great MacGuffin. It's not until Jon Hamm's Vice Admiral points out Maverick's true assignment that we realize what is actually at stake and at the heart of this unexpected and previously unasked-for follow-up.
Working with cinematographer Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Kosinski's talent behind the camera can be fully appreciated at this moment. The image of Lt. Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (Miles Teller sporting a mustache similar to Anthony Edwards) suddenly blows up on the monitor as Maverick turns to attention. The picture hovers behind our hero's back, occupying a large amount of the frame like a painful memory that is easier to ignore than to look back at. In this one brief moment, Kosinski reveals the power struggle with Hamm's "Cyclone," intentionally enlarging the image to not only claim his dominance but also to test Maverick's breaking point — that he's a damaged souvenir of a bygone era. And Cruise's performance in that scene makes clear how uncomfortable it makes him while straining to disregard what he's feeling, to dismiss the past and only look forward. And that's the beauty of bringing back Penny (Jennifer Connelly), another memory that has haunted him but which he represses, and she's the only one who notices.
Yet, in spite of all that, I think my favorite aspect of Top Gun: Maverick is the film ultimately being a commentary on the current state of big-budgeted studio-backed filmmaking. And again, the opening moments are where Kosinski, the director of Tron: Legacy and Oblivion and whose career has been primarily in CGI, makes this sentiment most clear. Ed Harris's Rear Admiral vehemently announces that fighter pilots like Maverick are relics, outdated tools of the past that have no place in the present-day forms of aerial combat, and drones are the real future. Basically, old-school, physical practical effects caught on camera are no longer needed in Hollywood blockbusters, and CG imagery is where the industry is headed. Much like Kosinski and his team justified this sequel through their storytelling, the filmmakers just as effectively demonstrate that we needed this film — that practical effects still have a place in modern Hollywood because seeing real fighter jets piloted by real fighter pilots joined by real actors in the cockpit is far more breathtaking and thrilling than anything a computer could ever produce. Simply put, Top Gun: Maverick is a phenomenal film and a remarkable feat in contemporary filmmaking.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Paramount Home Entertainment brings Top Gun: Maverick as a single-disc 4K Ultra HD edition with a flyer for a Digital Copy. When redeeming said code, owners are granted access to the UHD version in Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio. The triple-layered, Region-Free UHD100 disc containing all the special features is housed inside the standard black, eco-elite keepcase with a glossy, slightly-embossed slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken to a static screen, the usual selection along the bottom and music playing in the background.
Flying at 10Gs, the unexpected sequel hits its target on Ultra HD with stunning results, striking screens with a breathtaking, reference-quality HEVC H.265 encode that amazingly improves on its Blu-ray counterpart. Shot on IMAX digital cameras in 6K, the freshly-minted, native 4K transfer showcases razor-sharp definition from the opening moments to the closing credits. The stitching and fabric of the uniforms are distinct, and the individual leaves in trees from a distance are striking, even during the fast-flying sequences from inside the fighter jets. Every object decorating the background is discrete, and every nook and cranny in either Penny's home or her bar is plain to see. During close-ups and mid-shots, we can clearly make out the individual pores, faint wrinkles, negligible blemishes and the tiniest whiskers in the five-o'clock shadows of the male cast.
The Dolby Vision HDR presentation also boasts a remarkable array of full-bodied and vibrant colors. While primaries, like the animated reds in the patches and the energetic blues of monitors, are sumptuous and fuller throughout, the secondary hues continuously bathe the visuals with life and warmth, supplying the many aerial shots of the sky with vivid reddish oranges, warm golden yellows and light hints of violet that bleed into lovely cerulean blues. Facial complexions also appear more natural with lifelike textures and healthier, photorealistic rosy-peach tones in the entire cast.
A pitch-perfect contrast balance showers the action in immaculate, resplendent whites with brilliant luminosity and daylight exteriors often dazzle to brighten every frame. Specular highlights deliver an enthusiastic, true-to-life radiance, furnishing metallic objects, various light sources and explosions both big and small with sparkling realism, and we can better out the individual puffy clouds as they glow against a bright, sunny day. Brightness levels are equally outstanding and terrifically dynamic, bathing every scene in luxurious, velvety blacks with spotless gradations between the lighter and darker portions of the frame. Deep, penetrating shadows consistently allow for the finer details to remain distinctly visible, and this beautifully provides nearly every scene with a remarkable three-dimensional, looking-through-the-window effect and a stunning cinematic appeal that is simply unforgettable.
Overall, the 4K HDR presentation earns perfect marks across the board with one demo sequence after another and is a phenomenal visual feast, that is, hands down, the best disc of the year. Also, the video arrives with alternating aspect ratios, switching from anamorphic 2.39:1 for the more character-driven moments and IMAX 1.90:1 for the action sequences. For CIH owners, I found that a 2.00:1 aspect ratio was a good comprise that worked great with the IMAX sequences. (Dolby Vision HDR Video Rating: 100/100)
Maverick soars into home theaters with a stupendously awesome, demo-worthy Dolby Atmos soundtrack that absorbs viewers with the emotional drama of the characters as effectively as it does throwing them into the thick of battle.
Much of the character-driven drama takes priority with precise, clear dialogue that remains that way above the commotion, allowing audiences to enjoy every emotional moment and hear every inflection in each of the performances. Impressively, those quieter, dialogue-heavy sequences are nonetheless layered with the commotion of people chattering all around in Penny's bar, or the busy commotion of military activity can be heard in the distance and from above while at school. Other such scenes taking place indoors even have a natural light echoing effect from the characters talking to each other. Imaging continuously feels broad and spacious with an exceptional sense of presence, as an assortment of noises fluidly travels between the three channels and into the front heights, creating a highly-engaging half-dome wall of sound that's sustained to the very end. At the same, an outstanding mid-range exhibits superb detailing and distinction in the upper frequencies during the loudest segments while the score delivers striking definition in the orchestration with warmth and amazing fidelity while bleeding all around.
As expected, the object-based lossless mix suddenly erupts during action sequences with complete pandemonium, filling the entire room with gunfire whizzing in every direction, jet fighters flawlessly panning overhead, and debris convincingly raining down directly above the listening area. Both the training exercises and battles with the jet fighters practically employ every speaker with the rumble, hiss and hum of the air moving outside the fighter, making us feel as though we were inside the cockpit with the characters. The loudest, most turbulent but also best demo moments are in the climactic battle of the last quarter, which maintains remarkable clarity and detailing while the sonic boom of the fighters encircles the listener, generating a stunningly immersive, realistic 360° hemispheric soundfield. All the while, a thunderous, authoritative low-end provides a robust, wall-rattling impact to every explosion and boom, digging as low as 10Hz and 12Hz on several occasions (bass chart).
In truth, and much like the video, this Atmos track is easily the best lossless mix we've heard in a while, earning a perfect score and making this the best UHD disc of the year. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 100/100)
For this UHD edition, Paramount grounds the film with the same selection of bonus material but throws in one exclusive featurette for 4K collectors.
From director Joseph Kosinski, Top Gun: Maverick is an unexpected marvel and spectacular accomplishment, as the filmmakers not only justify the need for a sequel to Tony Scott's 1986 action drama but also demonstrate that this follow-up was something we didn't know we wanted. Sporting breathtaking, white-knuckle action sequences that were done practically and outstanding performances by the entire cast, the production is grounded by a genuinely heartfelt and moving plot that gives its predecessor's story a fitting conclusion and surprising resolution. The sequel soars on 4K Ultra HD with a striking, flawless Dolby Vision HDR presentation and an equally stupendous, reference-quality Dolby Atmos soundtrack, earning a perfect score across the board that can be confidently declared as the best disc of the year. Although the assortment of supplements leaves something to be desired, one exclusive featurette thankfully makes up for it. In either case, the massive box-office hit is nonetheless a Must Own UHD package.
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