Welcome to the danger zone. You might not think you need a sequel to the most 80s movie, but Top Gun: Maverick is way more entertaining than it’s got any right to. Entering theaters now, Top Gun 2 reboots the original film’s heart-pounding aerial action, infectious character drama, and mindless military fetish in a winning spectacle of cinematic escapism.
It’s been over 35 years since the release of the original Top Gun, in which Tom Cruise used his widest smile as a US Navy aviator with a point to prove and childlike fun playing with toys at high speeds. (which happen to be built to kill people, but whatever).
Cruise would have resisted a sequel for decades, but it turns out that if you wait long enough, a story comes along. He returns to the cockpit as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, always feeling the need for speed no matter what the higher ups say. And now, enough time has passed since his co-pilot Goose died in the original film for Goose’s son to be a grown man.
Played by, the son is a flea from the old hold, flying under the call sign Rooster. When Maverick is called in to train the next generation of cocky kids for a Dambusters-meets-Death-Star suicide mission, the duo are stranded on an intercept course. “Here we go,” one character observes wryly of Maverick’s anti-authoritarian antics, but he could be talking about completely recreating the brilliant thrills of the original film.
From the moment you hear the instantly recognizable tinkle of the synth bell in Harold Faltermeyer’s stirring Top Gun anthem, it’s as if the last 30 years never happened. The opening credits describe Maverick, like the original, as a Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer production, even though Simpson died in 1996. The opening text caption explaining the concept of the US Navy’s Fighter Weapons School uses the same wording as the first film. And all along, directorand cinematographer Claudio Miranda faithfully recreate the cinematic style of the late Tony Scott, from an animated backlit cockpit to stick-straight silhouettes arranged in a hangar. This new version even starts by dropping you into the controlled chaos of an aircraft carrier flight deck with a shot-by-shot recreation of the first film’s (probably) iconic intro.
This cockpit sequence bears no relation to what comes next, but it’s still a great intro, instantly immersing you in the familiar feel of a movie you may have seen many times or you may not have seen in years. More importantly, he feels real, the film presenting its stand from the very beginning: it’s about real things, like fighter jets and sailboats and real old fashioned stunts, not fake stuff like drones and phones and generated shows by computer. The marketing makes a big deal of how the actors really got on the planes, and while there’s undoubtedly a ton of unseen CGI —— almost all shots at least feels like it was done for real. Unlike recent blockbusters (ahem, the Marvel movies) that take you away from the action with clearly impossible camera angles and over-the-top CG effects, Top Gun: Maverick uses the visual language of the original, the camera stuck claustrophobically in a cockpit or shaking as it struggles to follow a screaming jet past.
Making this explicit connection to such a beloved film is of course a risk. The first movie was full of iconic moments and quotes, and the sequel does little more than rearrange the planes on the flight deck. However, it is quite restricted with the slogans and reminders. Yes, Maverick’s leather jacket and motorcycle have their own theme. But fighter jets and aircraft carriers supplied by the US Navy weren’t the only fearsome weapons subsequently deployed: the best gun in Top Gun’s arsenal is Cruise’s ever-explosive charisma.
While the film again pokes credulity with its deification of Maverick and godlike flight abilities, Cruise’s secret weapon is still his willingness to look silly. Thus, the over-the-top action is balanced with appealing and even slightly pathetic humor in Cruise’s relationship with young travelers and his rekindled romance with a bar owner. She’s played by Jennifer Connelly, another star who rose to fame in the 1980s (find out who’s singing on the jukebox when she first shows up). With Connelly as his former flame and Teller as his surrogate son, Cruise’s aging Maverick provides just enough heart to get things done as he struggles with the prospect of keeping his feet on the ground all the time. A bittersweet scene reuniting Cruise with the original film’s co-star, an ailing Val Kilmer, is also a touching and surprisingly funny moment.
There’s no doubt that much of the story is a retelling of the original. For example, Cruise takes on the role of Kelly McGillis, just for fun. But somehow, despite everything being geared towards a life-and-death mission, the stakes don’t seem as immediate as they did the first time around. The original film was fueled by a sense that Maverick was genuinely dangerous to the people around him, but this new model doesn’t capture the same headlong rush into the danger zone. Partly because young models look more like models than warriors. But the main problem is that the mission is so improbably specific to the needs of the plot. The G-force of narrative silliness will start to crush your brain, especially when a late twist triggers afterburners and jets into absurdity that might make you eject.
There are certainly reasons to dislike a film like this, whether it’s Cruise’s personal life or the film’s hardcore attitude toward war. Matthew Modine and Bryan Adams were among the 80s stars who declined to participate in the original due to its chauvinistic tone, which was a post-Vietnamese reassertion of American military (and male) power. Even Cruise dodged a sequel because he didn’t want to glorify war. Oddly enough, Top Gun: Maverick is so bloodless and unambiguous that it barely looks like a war movie. It’s just boys with toys.
There’s a vague subplot about Jon Hamm’s pencil neck in the tower ensuring the pilots complete the mission and not so much when they return alive, but that only makes the film’s explicit disregard for drones explicit. somewhat confusing unmanned fighter. In fact, a much truer Top Gun sequel was made a few years ago: Good Kill, in which Ethan Hawke plays an exiled Cruise-esque fighter pilot in drone service, losing his mind in a metal box in the Las Vegas desert as it.
Top Gun: Maverick, meanwhile, doesn’t even tell us who Tom is fighting. There is an anonymous, faceless adversary, bogeys and boogeymen in black helmets, stripped of sovereignty or even humanity. The eternal enemy, somewhere out there, doing vaguely defined things that sound bad and must be destroyed by missiles, helicopters and aircraft carriers. Your taxes at work.
But who cares ? It’s not saving Private Ryan, it’s Top Gun. Don’t ask who the synth bell rings for, because the synth bell rings for anyone who loves a great popcorn action movie that’s as enjoyable as it is ridiculous. Top Gun: Maverick is awesome. The film continues to insist that this is Maverick’s final post, but this polished action movie powerhouse is a fun way to fly into the sunset.
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