Home > Reviews > TOP GUN: MAVERICK – Lorne Balfe, Harold Faltermeyer, Lady Gaga, and Hans Zimmer

TOP GUN: MAVERICK – Lorne Balfe, Harold Faltermeyer, Lady Gaga, and Hans Zimmer

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In the summer of 1986 the world fell head over heels in love for Maverick, Goose, Iceman, and the men and women of Top Gun – the Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program of the United States Navy, which trains some of the best military combat pilots in the world. With its combination of intense jet fighter action, macho camaraderie, and steamy romance, the film was a massive box office blockbuster, and cemented its star Tom Cruise as one of Hollywood’s premiere leading men – a position he continues to hold, more than 35 years later. Fans of the film have been clamoring for a sequel for decades, and production on it finally began in May 2018, with an intended release date of July 2019 – but it was pushed back and back and back, initially to June 2020, then December 2020, then July 2021, then November 2021, due to the combined impact of re-shoots, the COVID pandemic, and then a clogged schedule. It eventually hit cinemas at the end of May 2022 – almost four years to the day since they started making it – but it was more than worth the wait: reviews were stellar, both from audiences and critics, and at the time of writing it has already grossed $291.6 million at the US box office alone.

The film sees Cruise returning to one of his iconic roles as Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, who is now working as a test pilot on a top secret hypersonic jet program codenamed Darkstar, thirty years removed from the events of the first film. When the program is threatened with shutdown by military top brasses – mostly because of Maverick’s continued recklessness – he is unexpectedly recalled to Top Gun by his former rival and long-time friend ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer), who is now an Admiral and the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Iceman wants Maverick to train a group of elite pilots to undertake an incredibly risky mission to destroy a uranium enrichment plant developed by a foreign adversary; one of the pilots is ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s former co-pilot and best friend Goose, who died during the events of the first film.

The film goes on to explore the contentious relationship between Maverick and Rooster and the other pilots involved in the mission, while also rekindling a relationship between Maverick and Penny (Jennifer Connelly), the daughter of an admiral, a single mother, and the owner of a bar on the base. These plot lines are interspersed with some absolutely astonishing action footage of aerial dogfights, dangerous maneuvers, and high-speed supersonic jets, many of which were piloted for real by the actors themselves; the end result is a hugely enjoyable, old-fashioned action blockbuster – whatever else you say about Tom Cruise, the man knows how to entertain movie audiences. The film co-stars Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, and Ed Harris, and is directed by Joseph Kosinski from a screenplay by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie.

The original Top Gun had one of the most iconic soundtracks of the 1980s. “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin won the Oscar for Best Original Song that year, “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins was an enormous hit on the Billboard Top 100, and Harold Faltermeyer’s “Top Gun Anthem” – featuring a legendary performance by Billy Idol’s guitarist Steve Stevens – is one of the quintessential pieces of 1980s score. The sequel leans heavily into the same nostalgia factor as the film by directly appealing to those who still love that sound and that period; the soundtrack features the Loggins classic, and a new rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire,” performed in character by Miles Teller, just as Anthony Edwards did as the character’s father in the original, plus brand new songs by Lady Gaga and OneRepublic, the latter of which underscores this film’s unashamedly homoerotic ‘glistening abs on the beach’ sports montage.

The score, however, has some oddity: the film’s opening credits read “Score by Harold Faltermeyer, Lady Gaga, and Hans Zimmer; score produced by Lorne Balfe,” while the end credits crawl also mentions additional music by David Fleming, Andrew Kawczynski, and Steve Mazzaro, and arrangements by Steve Davis, Sven Faulconer, Stuart Michael Thomas, Max Aruj, and Steffen Thum. It also lists Jason Bentley, T-Bone Burnett, Kathy Nelson, and Ryan Tedder as ‘music consultants,’ and Guthrie Govan as a ‘score consultant,’ plus Tina Guo, teenage guitar phenom Lexii Lynn Frazier, and Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers among the featured musical soloists. How this musical cocktail all came to be is unclear, and I’m not going to give in to speculation, suffice to say that delays and re-shoots likely led to numerous changes to the music being required – but, whatever the case may be, the end result is just as crowd-pleasing as the original.

It appears that the bulk of the score was written by Zimmer and Balfe, while Lady Gaga’s contribution is based on the melody of her song – but more on that later. Harold Faltermeyer appears to have had some direct influence on the score in terms of him writing a little bit of new material, and he worked with Zimmer at the latter’s Santa Monica studio off and on through 2019, but his iconic Top Gun Anthem is the foundation of the whole thing. In fact, Faltermeyer’s fingerprints are all over it, from the famous ‘clong’ of the Yamaha DX7 tubular bells, to the Moog modular synthesizer he used to add bass, to the wailing electric guitar melody that carries the emotion of the piece. Elements of the Anthem are embedded deep into the score’s fabric; sometimes it is just hinted, just the chord progressions and the overall vibe, whereas at other times it is presented as an almost near-identical statement of the full melodic line.

Full statements of the theme appear in “Main Titles – You’ve Been Called Back to Top Gun,” which is brought up to date with a slick electronic wash and more prominent live percussion, while the subtle references play all throughout. As I wrote in my review of the original 1986 score: yes, the sound has dated somewhat, and those who did not grow up during the era often find the sound clichéd and cheesy by today’s standards, but this music is a reflection of the taste and sound of a specific period in time, and even now I still get a nostalgic thrill from it.

Lady Gaga’s contribution to the score comes from her original song, “Hold My Hand,” which she co-wrote with record producer and songwriter Michael Tucker, also known as BloodPop. The song is great, a powerful rock anthem with belter of a chorus that has terrific echoes of Cher’s collaborations with the late great Jim Steinman, but she gets her score credit because the melody of the song is the basis of the score’s recurring love theme for Maverick and Penny, as heard in cues such as “The Man, the Legend/Touch Down” and especially the lovely “Penny Returns”. Gaga worked closely with Zimmer and composer Dave Fleming to turn her melody into score, so this isn’t just some vanity credit – the three of them actually sat down and wrote proper score pieces together, and so her credit is earned.

In an interview with Variety, Balfe said that he considers the song the movie’s love theme in more ways than one. “We start using that theme when it’s to do with the love of two people, but also when it’s an emotional moment, embracing the sacrifices that these pilots go through,” he says. “The love of flight was always a subject we talked about. At the end of that first sequence, when Maverick’s trying to beat the speed record, we hear a nod to that theme.” The piece is actually really nice, a little dream-like and ambiguous, a wash of electronic tones behind a light, pretty piano melody, and string chords that come across as yet another step-child of “Journey to the Line” from The Thin Red Line.

The rest of the score is mostly action, and has a great deal in common with several earlier Zimmer action scores. “Darkstar” is a terrific piece of action scoring, accompanying the film’s first set piece sequence of Maverick trying to break Mach 10 in his prototype spinjet, all before Ed Harris’s weirdly sinister Admiral Cain shuts the whole thing down. The cue owes quite a bit to Zimmer’s score for the Formula One movie Rush, with its increasingly insistent cello ostinati, dramatic string figures, rapidly descending glissandi, and increasing sense of intensity; it’s light on melody, but heavy on high-octane action, and also has a mischievous glint of danger and daring, especially when the three notes of the Top Gun anthem peek through the percussion on hopeful brass.

“You’re Where You Belong” is soft and moody, a bank of synth strings and soft piano chords, again referencing the Anthem, subtly coupled with a few nods to Goose’s theme from the first movie. “Give ‘Em Hell” is mostly understated tension, shifting string patterns and keyboard textures, which rises to become bolder and more rousing in the brass-led conclusion, stoic heroism in the face of desperate odds.

“Dagger One Is Hit/Time to Let Go” underscores part of the film’s conclusive mission attack on the uranium enrichment facility, and builds on the sound of the earlier action sequences with more heavy strings and percussion patterns. A moment of tragedy is again scored with emotional strings that have clear allusions to Goose’s theme – the sense of anguish in the scene in context is helped immeasurably by the emotion in the music, especially when solemn horns take over as the key instrumental texture. This is followed by the triple-header “Tally Two/What’s the Plan/F-14,” which follows Maverick and Rooster as they attempt to escape in a jet stolen from a hostile airbase, them both having been shot down behind enemy lines. The music here is initially darker and more menacing, with more ominous percussion sounds and whining, twisting horn figures. The thrilling Darkstar motif returns during the piece’s middle section, a clever nod to the ‘recklessness’ Maverick showed earlier, and the fact that the same recklessness and ingenuity is going to save their skins when it matters the most, and it climaxes breathlessly.

The score’s three main ideas – Faltermeyer’s Anthem, Gaga’s love theme, and the new Zimmer/Balfe contributions – weave through “The Man, the Legend/Touch Down” in a way that is very impressive, and it offers a supremely satisfying and crowd-pleasing conclusion to the entire score. Everything is performed with a sense of major key heroism, sun-kissed and evocative, and with a sense of both relief and redemption that is quite palpable.

Fans of the original Top Gun, or of 1980s throwback synth scores in general, will find a lot to enjoy in Top Gun: Maverick. The whole thing trades heavily in period nostalgia, even down to the makeup of the commercial soundtrack album, which combines just a few score selections with a handful of popular songs, but to diminish the project to pure wistfulness would be to do it a disservice. Parts of the score are really very impressive indeed – the “Darkstar” motif will be especially appealing to contemporary Zimmer fans – and the action music in the score’s second half often picks up a heavy head of steam, driving the movie along. The moments of catharsis and redemption– of which there are many, especially towards the end of the film – feel earned, and have their emotional content bolstered by the score’s easy charm. This is fun stuff, from top to bottom, and if you still feel that same need for speed that you did in 1986, you won’t want to miss out on this effective blast from the past.

Note: this is a review of the commercial soundtrack album that contains just 30 minutes of score, including the reprise of the Anthem. A longer score-only release of the music is scheduled to be released at some point in the future, and this review will be revised to reflect that album after it comes out.

Buy the Top Gun: Maverick soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Titles – You’ve Been Called Back to Top Gun (2:30)
  • Danger Zone (written by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock, performed by Kenny Loggins) (3:36)
  • Darkstar (3:01)
  • Great Balls of Fire – Live (written by Jack Hammer and Otis Blackwell, performed by Miles Teller) (1:55)
  • You’re Where You Belong/Give ‘Em Hell (5:46)
  • I Ain’t Worried (written by Björn Yttling, Brent Kutzle, John Eriksson, Peter Morén, Ryan Tedder, and Tyler Spry, performed by OneRepublic) (2:28)
  • Dagger One Is Hit/Time to Let Go (5:06)
  • Tally Two/What’s the Plan/F-14 (4:34)
  • The Man, the Legend/Touch Down (3:54)
  • Penny Returns (2:47)
  • Hold My Hand (written by Stephanie Germanotta and Michael Tucker, performed by Lady Gaga) (3:45)
  • Top Gun Anthem (written by Harold Faltermeyer) (4:13)

Running Time: 43 minutes 35 seconds

Interscope Records (2022)

Music composed by Lorne Balfe, Harold Faltermeyer, Lady Gaga and Hans Zimmer. Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler, Walt Fowler, David Giuli, Jennifer Hammond, Yvonne Suzette Moriarty and Booker White. Additional music by David Fleming, Andrew Kawczynski, Steve Mazzaro, Steve Davis, Sven Faulconer, Stuart Michael Thomas, Max Aruj and Steffen Thum. Recorded and mixed by Al Clay and Stephen Lipson. Edited by Cecile Tournesac and Ryan Rubin. Album produced by Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer.

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