The task for the elite group of young pilots brought together in “Top Gun: Maverick’ is to fly an impossible mission into a hostile foreign country and perform a Luke Skywalker-style maneuver to blow up a target at the end of a long canyon run. But, that mission is child’s play compared to what director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”), a trio of writers and action star extraordinaire Tom Cruise faced with this sequel that was 36 years in the making.

Hollywood’s cherished young demographic of moviegoers weren’t even born when Cruise first entertained us with the exploits of Navy fighter pilots who “have the need for speed.” Cruise himself almost aged out of the project as he is now flirting with turning 60.

Just like the young heroes in the original “Top Gun” and now in the sequel, the mission to make a movie that found the perfect blend of nostalgia, flag-waving patriotism and sexual tension has been accomplished. “Top Gun: Maverick” is a pure adrenalin rush of excitement with just the right amount of heart-touching sentimentality.

Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) is continuing to do what he loves – flying. He’s logged plenty of time in the air but his career has not gone as high or fast as the experimental planes he pilots. Despite being a pain to Navy’s top officers, Maverick’s skills are needed to train a group of hotshot pilots for a mission to blow up a secret facility.

The biggest problem with the mission is that one of the young pilots, Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), has been assigned to the group. Rooster is the son of Maverick’s former wingman who was killed on a mission. Rooster blames Maverick for his father’s death and for stalling his career as a pilot. Their history is a major complication in a mission that is already deeply complicated.

Just like in the original “Top Gun,” the rest of the young pilots are self-assured and thrill-seeking. They range from the cocky Lt. Jake “Hangman’ Seresin (Lewis Powell) to the take-no-prisoners Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (Monica Barbaro). All they need is to learn the kind of fearless approach that has made Maverick a legend.

The basic structure of “Top Gun: Maverick” is the same as the original film. There are loads of flying sequences that are only interrupted for some banter between the pilots and romantic moments for Cruise. In this case, it is bar owner and advice giver Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) who has captured Maverick’s heart.

A new element is the relationship between Maverick and Rooster. Maverick has been overwhelmed by grief over the years because of the death of his flying partner. His efforts to protect Rooster has only created hatred in the young pilot. Give Kosinski credit for making Teller’s character so interesting because in most cases Teller’s performances are more annoying and off-putting.

The emotional moments are really only fillers for what makes “Top Gun: Maverick” fly so high and fast. It is all of the flying sequences that are shot in such a way that it makes the moviegoer feel like they are a passenger that gives the movie its energy and makes it so much fun. The action sequences are so intense this film – just like “Top Gun” – ends up being a multi-million dollar recruitment film for the Navy.

Those too old to enlist can bask in nostalgia that starts with the first notes of the Kenny Loggins tune “Danger Zone” and continues through every twist and turn in the sky. There’s even a shirtless athletic event that harkens back to the first film.

If nothing else, Kosinski earns huge points for having Val Kilmer in the film. His character of Iceman was a huge part of the first film and his return provides another link to the past. It is a limited role because of Kilmer’s battle with throat cancer but still very powerful.

“Top Gun: Maverick” is loaded with action and nostalgia. The only real problem with this sequel is that it took so long to get made. It was a long wait but pays off big for fans of “Top Gun” as well as anyone who loves action on a supersonic level.

Movie review

Top Gun: Maverick

3 1/2 stars

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Val Kilmer, Miles Teller.

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Rated: PG-13 for action sequences, language

Running time: 131 minutes.