Top Gun Maverick Review: Tom Cruise’s Movie Elevates the Original, With Caveats
Top Gun Maverick Review: Tom Cruise’s Movie Elevates the Original, With Caveats
Top Gun: Maverick – out Friday in cinemas around the world – is a real Tom Cruise movie. For one, his character, the know-it-all Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, is right there in the title. And the two much more important, it’s Cruise’s wattage that’s responsible for Top Gun: Maverick’s existence. Here’s a sequel, more than three decades later, to a much poorer film than most are willing to admit. Top Gun hasn’t aged well either, but Cruise definitely has. He is the biggest actor of his genre currently in Hollywood. Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) understands both of these sides – the charm and power of Cruise and the failings of the original film – and offers a better follow through in most departments. Admittedly, Kosinski crosses a low bar.
For example, unlike the original where a ridiculous mission was thrust upon newly graduated fighter pilots to form the film’s explosive third act, Top Gun: Maverick is a ridiculous mission. From the start. Maverick and his superiors at TOPGUN dig again and again into the smallest details, involving not only their students, but even the audience in a certain way. By the end of Top Gun: Maverick, we know exactly what the mission is, though we’ll never have a clue what it’s like to fly it. This shows that Kosinski knows what Top Gun: Maverick is about, although the laser focus hurts him in other sections as well.
Of course, many are here for the action. And the new Top Gun movie delivers in spades. In fact, Top Gun: Maverick does not start with its star Cruise, but with a naval demonstration. Kosinski basically sets the mood. And when we take to the air with Maverick and Co., the camera doesn’t cut into Cruise’s face as we take off. As with Mission: Impossible, it’s a testament to Cruise’s dedication to performing his own stunts. Even with the other cast – all of whom had to handle the lighting and cinematography themselves, as there’s no room for anyone else – it’s clear that Top Gun: Maverick shot the most , if not all, of its action in real cockpits and with real skies as backdrops, rather than stumbling upon CGI footage that most movies are guilty of.
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As a result, the high-flying action is both readable and impressive. (If you’re going to watch Top Gun: Maverick, I’d recommend doing it on the biggest screen possible. Preferably an IMAX screen.) Although to be technically accurate, I’d have to say low, given the nature of the big assignment. Much of the propelling force of the action sequences is due to the planes flying so close to the ground and to each other – I’m pretty sure that would shoot them in the real world – in combination with endless rotations, twirls and other exciting maneuvers. Kosinski transfers his eye for flair and kinetic energy, as seen on Tron: Legacy, to Top Gun: Maverick, imbuing the film with pure joy and a rush of adrenaline.
But outside of the cockpit, Top Gun: Maverick is a much trickier balancing act – and it doesn’t always land. Kosinski is directing a script that has been worked on by three acclaimed screenwriters, including Ehren Kruger (Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Age of Extinction) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle) as the lead team, with Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) – whom Cruise now trusts for the M:I franchise – also lending his talents alongside him. Top Gun: Maverick feels caught between being a summer blockbuster American escapist movie and a heartfelt film with high stakes and deep emotions.
The new Top Gun movie is a very different movie from the original, which belonged to an earlier era and spoke to a different America. There are no shower scenes, no men walking around in towels, and therefore no involuntary homoeroticism. The volleyball scene is transformed into an American football game, and although there are many shirtless men, it has a narrative function. Top Gun: Maverick isn’t a traditional Tom Cruise movie either, where he runs (a lot), throws punches, and flashes his smile. Although his scenes with Jennifer Connelly – who plays the new love interest – offer a bit of the latter. (As well as a blatant placement for a fairly famous car brand.)
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Thirty-six years after graduating TOPGUN as second best in class, Maverick (Cruise) – having always wanted to be in the sky – did everything to sabotage his career and stay at the captaincy. As his superior Cain (Ed Harris) points out, he should be at least a two-star admiral, if not a senator by now. Failed by Cain for a stunt he performed to keep his team on the job – Cain thinks human pilots are history – Maverick is given his new and final mission. After that, he left. But to his surprise, he’s not supposed to pilot it. Instead, his new superior Cyclone (Jon Hamm) wants him to teach the best of the best, who have been called back to TOPGUN by the squads they’ve been assigned to.
Among them we have Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s best friend, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, who died in Top Gun. It’s clear that Maverick still feels guilty for Goose’s death – his actions had a part to play in the accident that claimed Goose’s life – and it forever impacted his pseudo-father relationship with Roost. The youth team also includes the arrogant Hangman (Glen Powell), an equivalent – or you could say a mixture of – of both Maverick and his old rival Iceman (Val Kilmer), now a four-star admiral who is Maverick’s only friend. in the navy. There are a bunch of other drivers, played like Lewis Pullman, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis and Danny Ramirez, but none of them have defining characteristics or an arc beyond a point.
Speaking of barely written characters, Connelly plays Penny, a single mother and bar owner, who we’re told has a romantic history with Maverick. There’s no sign of Top Gun’s original love interest, played by Kelly McGillis, who was also Maverick’s instructor. In fact, women have a negligible role in positions of power on Top Gun: Maverick. For what it’s worth, Penny drags Maverick into an unexpected sailing scene. But beyond those two minutes, her character doesn’t really have any meat, and their relationship continues to beat the same pace and is very predictable in its direction. Despite Connelly’s best efforts to make Penny a true 3D woman, she lost Top Gun: Maverick.
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What the new Top Gun movie does well to depict is the TOPGUN stuff. Not only does Kosinski and Co. have a grip on the action and how it’s put together, there’s an undercurrent of tension at the root of everything about Top Gun: Maverick. There is understandably tension between Maverick and Rooster, though the latter despises him more than anything else. There are tensions between Maverick and his superiors. (Hamm and Cruise’s character relationship — Cyclone says what he wants, then Maverick gets what he wants — sounds like a commentary on Cruise’s relationship with Paramount.) Although Maverick is on the phone, there is a grudging respect or admiration from almost everyone, once they see him piloting a jet.
On top of all that, they’re working against the clock on Top Gun: Maverick. Not only must they complete the mission in less than three weeks before a uranium enrichment plant is commissioned, but they must also move in and out within minutes to avoid perilous dogfights with a highly equipped enemy force. . Maverick doesn’t feel qualified to teach – his last stint as a TOPGUN instructor was 2 months, he tells us early on – and he’s the kind of guy who’d rather put himself on the line than send someone another on a deadly mission. As he struggles to limit some of his excesses, Maverick grows elsewhere. For example, when his trainees mess up and try to explain themselves, he berates them, reminding them that they will have to confront the families of the wingers they fail.
Although it improves on the original in many ways, Top Gun: Maverick is also completely similar in one. As with the original, this is a movie where the enemy doesn’t matter. Their pilots are faceless, and while their planes and terrain offer clues, Top Gun: Maverick is careful never to name them. Their jets are repeatedly referred to as “fifth generation fighters” although that’s a mouthful. Attentive viewers have already understood that they are designed on the Russian Sukhoi Su-57. The specifics of the mission – and the involvement of other jets – suggest that the target could be Iran. But Top Gun: Maverick chooses to be completely apolitical. That said, the missing flags of Japan and the Republic of China on Maverick’s jacket, replaced early in the film to appease Chinese interests, have been reinstated now that those interests no longer matter.
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The biggest question for this Tom Cruise movie, however, might be entirely off-screen. The two Top Gun films — 36 years apart — were released in very different theatrical markets. At the start of Top Gun: Maverick, Ed Harris posits that the likes of Maverick are dinosaurs, with technology ready to take over. In the same way, movies on the big screen are dinosaurs. Since the first Top Gun, technology has invaded films in all sorts of ways.
Not only how they are made and how the actors’ performances are incorporated, but also how they are delivered. Cameras are also now everywhere. As Kosinski has noted before, if audiences can get footage of fighter jets, captured by real US Navy pilots, on YouTube, then their film should go way beyond that. (He madly ended up filming 800 hours of footage, more than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.) Top Gun: Maverick delivers in this regard, though it also stumbles outside of its pace.
In some ways it’s a miracle. A sequel to a decades-old movie no one asked for could have easily crashed and burned – and it could still be ignored, as it turned out to be for Blade Runner 2049. This Top Gun: Maverick works as well as it does, for the most part, kudos to Cruise and Kosinski for figuring out the mission. It’s a bet that pays off handsomely, even if it’s nothing compared to the dream Top Gun: Maverick sells you.
Top Gun: Maverick hits theaters worldwide on Friday, May 27. Paid previews began on Wednesday, May 25 in India and elsewhere. In India, Top Gun: Maverick is available in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.