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Despite What Tom Cruise Says, It's OK to Watch Top Gun: Maverick at Home

The best movie of 2022 is still the best movie of 2022, even without an IMAX sound system

Allison Picurro
Top Gun: Maverick

Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick

Paramount Pictures

If you saw Top Gun: Maverick in theaters, you might remember that it opened with a pre-recorded message from the film's star and Hollywood's most dedicated showman, Tom Cruise. It played before every showing of the film and featured an out-of-costume Cruise speaking directly to the camera, briefly educating the audience on all that went into making this long-awaited sequel to 1986's Top Gun a reality. He concludes by saying, "We're so happy you're here in this theater, and seeing it on the big screen," and you know he meant it, since getting Maverick a proper theatrical release was famously very important to him. It paid off: The film has spent more than half of the year raking in a truly mind-boggling amount of money, effectively bailing movie theaters out of a financially dire post-pandemic situation.

Cruise was so insistent on his commitment to saving movie theaters that he went on record saying he never even wanted Maverick on streaming platforms. But no one, not even Tom Cruise, is more powerful than streaming, and as of Thursday, Dec. 22, the film officially becomes available to watch on TVs, phones, and laptops via Paramount+. I'm going to say something that might mean losing cred among film nerds and movie theater purists (though, to be fair, this is TV Guide, not Movie Guide): It's totally fine to watch Top Gun: Maverick at home.

I'll wholeheartedly back Cruise up and agree that I don't think you should watch Maverick on your phone, at least not for the first time. I can't tell anyone what to do, of course, but speaking as someone who's seen this film four separate times in a movie theater, it does deserve to be seen on the biggest screen you can get to, just for the sake of immersing yourself in the scale and spectacle of it. And what a spectacle Joseph Kosinski's film is, a thrilling and moving work that's as much about aging and the pain of the passage of time as it is about muscled-up guys in planes doing cool aerial tricks.

Maverick catches us up with a now 50-something test pilot Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Cruise), who's still causing problems for the U.S. Navy and has never really moved on from watching his co-pilot, Goose (Anthony Edwards), die all those years ago. A meta narrative runs throughout as he's repeatedly served reminders that his age leaves him at a disadvantage as the world continues to move on around him. Still, he gets called back to the Top Gun program (by a scowling Jon Hamm, no less) to train a newer, younger group of graduates for a dangerous mission that the screenplay keeps purposefully vague in order to maintain a non-controversial absence of politics. (Honestly, it's better this way.) One of those graduates happens to be Goose's son, Rooster (Miles Teller), who's still angry about, among other things, the role Maverick played in his dad's death. Every time they're in the same room they're forced, however reluctantly, to understand that they need to start letting go of the past. 

It's the strained relationship between Maverick and Rooster that supplies the film with its big beating heart, creating an emotional core and propelling the story forward. The confrontations of daddy issues are padded by breathtaking flight sequences — the use of actual jets gives Maverick a crisp visual texture, while each dogfight is fresher than the one that came before — and a sweeping score by Lady Gaga (!), Hans Zimmer, and Harold Faltermeyer. It's corny military propaganda that panders directly to your dad, but it's also the most vividly constructed action movie we've had in years. It takes all the upcoming projects on the never-ending conveyor belt of harebrained reboots and lazy franchise sequels to task by actually being a, you know, real movie. I'll admit that I had no attachment to the original Top Gun, and still, nothing I watched in 2022 electrified me the way Maverick did. It's hard to oversell something when it really is that good.

Maverick's delayed release was a consequence of COVID, but we're still very much in a pandemic. Mask regulations have become so lax they're almost entirely obsolete, and people are still getting sick. If you can't imagine anything worse than paying a ton of money for a movie ticket and snacks just to potentially risk contracting some sort of virus, no one could really blame you. It's why you shouldn't feel any shame or wistfulness about hitting play on Maverick the day it drops on Paramount+. You don't need a booming IMAX sound system to get sucked into the film's potent combination of action and sentiment. The best movie of the year is the best movie of the year not because of how or where you see it for the first time, but because of how it makes you feel when you watch it. And also because of that beach football scene. OK, yeah, maybe mostly the beach football scene.

Top Gun: Maverick Watch on Paramount+