Published on May 26th, 2022 | by Craig Silliphant0
Top Gun: Maverick
Is Top Gun a useless money grab nostalgia sequel or is it a fun return to characters we love with a big screen summer blockbuster?
It’s easy to be cynical about unnecessary sequels, especially in the age of IP franchise filmmaking that’s constantly trying to dunk into the yolk of nostalgia and fan service. Heck, some sequels are so lame or needless that they reach back and make you realize the original movie wasn’t that great to begin with. A sequel to 1986’s blockbuster Top Gun could have easily been on the highway to the danger zone of falling into that trap.
But let it be known, that no matter how weird we think Tom Cruise is, the man knows how to put butts in seats and show us a good time.
In other words, Top Gun: Maverick delivers the goods. I’ve found that loving feeling.
Full disclosure: while I’m not normally into big, dumb action movies, I have always loved Top Gun. Yes, it’s a weird, jingoistic military recruitment video. But I can appreciate it on its own level and it created the template for a lot worse action movies that came later. It wore its heart on its sleeve with somewhat cheesy, but genuine characters, relationships like Maverick and Goose. And since I was in grade 7 when it came out, there was nothing cooler than fighter jets, except maybe ninjas. Top Gun has not only aged fairly well, but it’s also one of the most quotable movies of all time.
Now it’s 36 years later and Cruise returns as Captain Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell. He’s managed to avoid being promoted (and thusly, grounded from flight) by staying in trouble and continuing to push the envelope. His guardian angel, Admiral ‘Iceman’ Kazansky, keeps him from being thrown out of the Navy altogether. But when an impossible mission comes up and they bring back a bunch of young graduates from the Top Gun program to fly it, Admiral Kazansky calls in Maverick to train them.
They managed to make it worth our time to step back into this world; turns out they did have more story to tell. That takes the form of a career winding down, where ‘ol Mav, not happy unless he’s going Mach 2 with his hair on fire, is now painted as being a dinosaur, fast becoming obsolete in a world of drone fighting and new ideas. It was a particularly vulnerable performance, both in terms of Maverick as a character, but also The Action Hero Tom Cruise, who still looks like they crammed boy DNA into a man’s body. But now that boyish face is starting to show lines and wrinkles that he managed to stave off for years through a combination of diet, exercise, surgery, and weird sacrificial Scientology rituals. Either way, it works for the character.
Some of this new story is still looking at old wounds. Miles Teller plays Rooster, the son of Goose, Maverick’s long dead best friend from the original film. Rooster and Maverick are estranged and this relationship provides much of the heart of the film. While it’s a little on the nose that just like his father, Rooster has a lame bird call sign, a goofy moustache, and wears Hawaiian shirts while singing Great Balls of Fire, Teller is a great actor and the right guy to play the role.
The stunts and flying scenes are amazing. This isn’t a bunch of CGI planes. Like the first movie, these are real pilots doing real aerial stunts. They shot more footage than all three Lord of the Rings movies combined, because they’d shoot for 12 hours a day, but you only get 30 seconds of useable footage. Nothing in this world puts a shit-eating grin on my face faster than watching Maverick jam the stick into overdrive to defy the odds while that amazing Faltermeyer/Stevens score blasts in the background.
If I had a quibble with the movie it would just be that it blasts through some things at Mach 10; so quickly that it glosses over major plot points or character building. Jennifer Connelly has a fairly useless romantic subplot. One major character dies and the moment is cast aside quickly. So fast that you can see the scaffolding; they had to die because the story needed it to happen. The movie has a lot of heart and spins a good yarn, but it easily could have dug deeper on some of these moments and characters, as the original did, for more emotional resonance.
That said, I do appreciate that the movie zips along quickly. I took my 8-year old son to the screening. He had watched the original with me and he loved all the action scenes, but he got pretty squirmy when anyone tried to have any kind of friendship or relationship. Less talk, more dog fighting! He loved part deux; it didn’t go deep enough to cause too much seat squirming.
Does Top Gun: Maverick offer anything new? Well, not really. Does that matter? Well, not to me it didn’t. If you hate these kinds of movies, you’ll hate it. If you like them, you’ll have a really fun night at the movies.
All you really need to enjoy the movie is to feel the need for speed. Tom and company will take care of the rest.