TOP GUN – MAVERICK
now in theatres
Any fears that Top Gun – Maverick will feel like a very expensive video game can be cast aside. The film is a huge entertainment machine with every department involved in making the film firing on all cylinders.
The two-year wait for this film’s release, delayed over and over due to COVID, Top Gun – Maverick thunders into cinemas with the force of a fighter jet engine. This is a big, muscular MOVIE, an event that we once expected and wanted from summer movies. An epic-sized sequel to Top Gun (1986), the film that launched Tom Cruise as a major super star comes 32 years after the original, and surpasses it in every way. Top Gun, directed by Tony Scott, was as much about testosterone, machismo, friendship, loyalty, patriotism, good looking men in cool uniforms flaying kick ass jets, the need for speed, and beautiful MTV shots and cuts as much as it was about anything else. Scenes were cut to the beat of the bass on the score, typical of music videos at the time, and to be honest the film resembles a big two hour music video.
And the camera worshipped Cruise.
And to be truthful, as much as anything, Top Gun – Maverick is about the Tom Cruise legend and mystique. Nearing 60, he looks 20 years younger, is in incredible physical condition, insists on doing most of all, often all, his own stunts, and still carries a blockbuster effortlessly on his shoulders. He expressed doubt about a sequel but finally was approving of the screenplay, so they shot the film two and a half years ago, and there it has sat awaiting COVID to end.
Is Top Gun – Maverick a work of art? Well, not like The Godfather Part II (1974), the greatest sequel ever made is a work of art, but it is a splendid entertainment, a huge popcorn film that will help bring audiences back into theatres. Beautifully made, a handsome film with impossibly good looking stars, it should easily surpass $1 billion at the box office and re-ignite the ever burning bright star of Tom Cruise. And none of this baloney that Cruise is a lousy actor, he most certainly is not. Three time he has been nominated for an Academy Award, and should have won, for both Jerry Maguire (1996) and Magnolia (1999). Further nominations should have come for The Color of Money (1986), Rain Man (1988), A Few Good Men (1992), The Last Samurai (2003), Collateral (2004) and Tropic Thunder (2008). His performance in Rock of Ages (2013) was drop dead brilliant, Oscar worthy, but the film was so poorly reviewed it sank without a word about Cruise. He will land back in the Academy Awards race sometime soon, not for this, though it is a glorious performance, so cool, confident, so Cruise.
Peter “Maverick” Mitchell was scarred after the death of his best friend, Goose, in the previous film, and became a loner, retreating into himself to deal. Still flying jets, still a daredevil, he is naw threatened with being grounded after a stunt in the desert. Told he can retain his wings by teaching, he agrees, though is none too happy about it. His students will be established pilots, not kids, and they are the very best of the best. Given this position by his former nemesis Iceman (Val Kilmer), the two have a single scene together. Kilmer’s throat cancer has been incorporated into the film, and the actor is no longer the gorgeous young blonde god he was in the first film. He looks ravaged, and it works for the film. I think this was an extraordinarily generous bit of casting.
The pilots know who Maverick is and know his reputation for risks, just as they know his best friend died working with him. In fact, one of the pilots is Goose’s son, Rooster (Miles Teller), and he is unimpressed with Maverick’s heroism. In fact, as one of the hotshots brought to train with Maverick, he makes it very clear Maverick has nothing to teach him. He blames him for his father dying, and wants little to do with him. The other pilots may be in awe of Maverick, but Rooster could care less.
Much has changed since 1986, including the fact there is a female pilot among the macho boys flying the jets. All “feel the need….the need for speed,” and it remains like a drug to each of them.
The movie is engineered to be a massive entertainment, with shots in the heavens that are truly breathtaking and give an idea of what it is to move at Mach 10. The actors did many of the scenes in the jets, so reactions are real, and they must be commended for handling the gut punches of super sonic speeds.
Needless to say, Maverick has been brought back to train them for a very dangerous mission, and his methods are rather unorthodox, but will of course work like a charm…eventually. After he learns a thing or two about humility. The group eventually is fighting a faceless villain with some of the same skills as they have. Count on Academy Awards for Film Editing, Cinematography and Sound next year, maybe Visual Effects, too.
Once the story is set up, something about taking our a functioning uranium plant in a hostile country (never named), the jets thunder to life and the action explodes across the screen. Edge of your seat action, awe-inspiring scenes (no kidding), the sequences are thrilling and truly remarkable. I am sure some cgi effects were used, but I could not tell when and where, the effects men really did their jobs.
Cruise is playing a version of himself, or rather the Tom Cruise he wants to know. His Maverick has matured from the cocky warrior he was in 1986 to a quieter, still wildly confident but not as brash man. What he understands better than his young charges is that death is very real and can happen in an instant. The weight of Goose’s death hangs over him like a pall, and Iceman knows this, which is why he chose him for this mission. Cruise has always been a much better actor than critics give him credit for being, and he fills in the character here nicely, finding nuances not written for him.
Miles Teller does a great job as Rooster, whose lack of respect for Maverick is seen a mile away, but the two grow to admire one another, even respect each other’s gifts in the air. Goose hangs over the film like a haunting presence – Anthony Edwards’ fine performance in 1986 remembered in flashbacks and still photos.
Ed Harris is as always terrific as the tough old commander who sees a not so distant future with jets flown without pilots, drones taking their jobs. Though he longs for a time free of the massive egos of his fliers, I suspect he would mourn the lack of men in the jets too. I could watch Ed Harris read the phone book.
And Val Kilmer, a single scene, realistically not shying away from his throat cancer. Iceman has been ravaged and it shows, but Kilmer does not back away from that, nor do the filmmakers. It is a bold, gutsy move that elevated the film for me, moved away from the god-like good looks of the cast for a short time.
Top Gun – Maverick is a big old fashioned MOVIE…the kind that draws audiences in by the millions and rack up substantial summer dollars. It is a knockout.