Top Gun: Maverick is top fun

Director: Joe Kosinski Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Connolly, Glen Powell Running Time: 121 minutes

The original Top Gun is the kind of capital-A Action Movie that ruled the 80s and early 90s, a kind of visual hair metal and a perfect fit both for its director Tony Scott and for star Tom Cruise. The energy and emotion were suitably amped up to pair with the chaos in the cockpit, Peter ‘Maverick’ Mitchell a tightly wound terror of tenacity, ambition and ego, the best of the best whose desperation and desires frequently threatened to see him flame out completely. Cruise was much the same as many of his leading roles at that time, hungry and in a hurry, and in movies like this and Days of Thunder , Scott channeled that dynamic screen presence and combined it with his own mastery of frantic action cinema, providing a pathway to scenes that crackled with the energy of the unsafe and unknown. A highway to some sort of, unsafe area, if you will.

We all know that the action movie landscape is very different now. So much so that a movie where one of the most famous actors of all time leads a legacy sequel with an enormous budget, and sticks to a well-established formula, it nevertheless serves as a refreshing breath of fresh air. Top Gun: Maverick is a conscious throwback, its aim is clear, concise and expertly delivered, thanks in large part to Tom; a man whom Hollywood may frequently have worried is a loose cannon, and a pain in their ass, but who nevertheless gets results. Dammit.

Maverick sets its stall out immediately as a hark back to its predecessor by opening with the same text explaining its elite school for “lost art or aerial combat”. Cruise’s character is still the same ace pilot and hot head that he was some 35 years ago, still career-wise pretty much exactly where he was when we last saw him, but everything else has moved forward. Technology threatens to leave men like him behind, old friends and flames are at different phases of their lives. To move forward, Maverick has to go back, and so he finds himself back at Top Gun, preparing a younger generation of pilots for an elite and seemingly impossible mission behind enemy lines. Heads are butted. Sports are played in slow motion on the beach. Tom romances a beautiful woman at a bar who takes his breath away. Can Maverick overcome the odds? Can he win over a wingman who hates his guts (Miles Teller as ‘Rooster’, the vengeful son of Maverick’s dearly departed best friend Goose)?  Can he take us right into the Danger Zone? Well he’s done it all before so, yes.

Where this play-the-hits approach works is that Maverick is aiming more to emulate the feel of the original, rather than literally going beat for beat. Gun for hire director Joe Kosinski and his team wash the screen in saturated sunsets and slo-mo. They make sure that the masculine melodrama is all the way pumped up too, whether it’s Rooster and Maverick’s “you’re not my real dad” routine, the clashes between Rooster and arrogant school chum (a wonderfully sneery Glen Powell) or the general dick-measuring over how best to reach these kids between Maverick and Vice Admiral Jon Hamm. It’s endearing and well delivered cheese, rooted in character and conflict rather than gloopy CGI. When we do see our heroes in the sky, those scenes inform the story, they’re technically efficient, easy to follow and all the more exciting for it. And they make for great training montages, the hallmark of any great 80 style blockbuster.

What hasn’t carried over quite so well since 1986 though, is the notion that Tom Cruise is an actual human being with feelings. The romance between him and Jennifer Connolly here is flat and unfocused, reliant on the faint memory of the idea that Cruise is charming as opposed to impressive but off-putting. His refusal to slow down is what makes him so compelling to watch, but it keeps him at a distance from co-stars, and while the Scrubs: Med School angle works reasonably well, with a charming crew of hot-shot pilots, they can only flourish insofar as they can survive in Cruise’s orbit. Tied to the meta-narrative that its hero can still do these kinds of movies as well as ever and will Never Die, Maverick tries to have its cake and eat it too in telling a story both about moving on and keeping on, building to a finale that stretches credulity to breaking point. It’s hard to begrudge that too much though, when the aerial scenes deliver as well as they do.

You feel the pressure and the power of these jets, the camera planted in the cockpit, the dialogue all frantic commands and panicked exclamations. Filmed in IMAX, its big, loud and imposing, pulling the viewer in even though the script rarely provides a believable sense of danger. Perhaps its fitting that Cruise and co are more comfortable in the skies, where they belong, reliant on instinct and not emotion.

Talk of a masterpiece seems a bit much, but up where the air is rarefied its easy to exaggerate, and Maverick certainly serves as a top blockbuster. its a true big-screen experience, and is crafted accordingly, the ‘they don’t make em like that anymore’ moral gets louder in Cruise’s movies, but its counterpoint rings loud and true; he does. Hollywood has successfully cordoned the little weirdo off in his own corner to pump out hits, and Maverick is another example of how that’s best for everyone. Its the best of the best when its at its best; speedy, stupid and strong-willed, an Ace of an experience that makes a more than worthy follow up to Top Gun.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Where to watch Top Gun

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