LOS ANGELES, May 13 — It took Tom Cruise 36 years to head back to the danger zone, and movie critics said Thursday it was worth the wait to see Top Gun back on the big screen.

The sequel to the 1986 blockbuster, called Top Gun: Maverick, earned a 96 per cent positive rating from 76 reviews collected on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

The film is set to debut in cinemas on May 27.

In the movie, the 59-year-old Cruise reprises his role as Pete Mitchell, the cocky Navy pilot who has never risen through the ranks because of his penchant for bucking authority. Mitchell, whose code name is Maverick, is asked to train a group of young fighter pilots for a specialised mission.

Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press called the new film “a textbook example of how to make a sequel.”

“The movie satisfies with one foot in the past by hitting all the touchstones of the first film,” Kennedy said, “and yet stands on its own.”

Box office analysts project the movie will rank as one of the biggest box office hits of the summer. It had been scheduled for release in June 2020, but distributor Paramount Pictures PARA.O delayed the release multiple times during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice Pro, estimated that ticket sales would hit US$100 million (RM440 million) over the Memorial Day weekend in the United States and Canada. That would make it the highest-grossing debut of Cruise’s career.

The actor is promoting the movie at events around the world. At a premiere in San Diego, he made a grand entrance by piloting a helicopter onto an aircraft carrier. Next week, he will attend a screening at the Cannes Film Festival in France.

Critics said the movie offers thrilling flight scenes, an emotional story and strong performances by the supporting cast, including Miles Teller, who plays the son of Goose, Maverick’s partner who died in the original film.

But most of the praise was showered on Cruise.

“It’s a fresh-faced gloss on the original ... powered, like the original, by a star who’ll simply never stop being a star,” wrote K. Austin Collins of Rolling Stone.

Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly said the movie “belongs in almost every scene to Cruise.”

“At this point in his career, he’s not really playing characters so much as variations on a theme — the theme being, perhaps, The Last Movie Star,” she said. “And in the air up there, he stands alone.” — Reuters