By Elias Savada.
Old fashioned fun.”
Seemingly frozen in chivalrous time, the ever-youthful 59-year-old Tom Cruise is back in fine form 35-plus years after he scored big box office bucks with the original Top Gun. History should repeat itself for this long overdue sequel (with an additional two years tacked on due the coronavirus), with a boffo Memorial Day Weekend take awaiting. With a near-perfect Rotten Tomatoes score, most critics are in alignment with what the public will surely discover – that grand ole filmmaking is back in style in a big screen way.
You’ll have to hold on to your seat as the film unfolds, with nearly all the bone-rattling aerial action actually pushing its cast up into the wild blue yonder (as well as the $153 million budget – 10 times above the originals’ cost). Cockpit installed IMAX cameras pointed at the cast bring closeups to excruciating levels as multiple forces of gravity pull at their faces in F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets (lent to the filmmakers for a mere $11,374/hour). Masks and barf bags are optional in most areas, but be sure you’re vaxxed and have some Dramamine handy.
Maverick, of course, is the call sign for Captain Pete Mitchell, Cruise’s cocky/stubborn naval aviator who likes nothing more than defying orders when he feels the powers-that-be lack his particular insight. The actor’s swagger remains intact and his demeanor focused in the new film. His character is once again called into action to deal with a hostile situation, this time to destroy a soon-to-be-operational nuclear facility in an unnamed foreign country. There are hot young bodies in his company of trainees, and those of you inclined to ogle at well-chiseled human forms will get your chance when these young men (and a few women) relax to play a game of double-football on the beach.
Picking up about three decades after the first film, Maverick, having bucked any threat of promotion and having served his country in Bosnia and Iraq, is now a test pilot for an experimental hypersonic jet. It’s one of the more than several moments that provide shout-outs to the military industrial complex. He’s bucking the brass (again) in the opening sequence, pushing his scramjet past Mach 10, just to make a point. The results – one downed jet and one dazed flyer – would ground anyone, but this is Top Gun and instead the captain gets pushed over to train a dozen of the best graduates of the Navy’s strike fighter Top Gun school for the specialized mission being assembled by his former rival now friend Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. At least that gives you some idea of the geographic location where the future task awaits. That doesn’t matter that as far as the film’s producers are concerned, in today’s ugly geopolitical world the U.S.’s enemy is just “the enemy.” Val Kilmer, in his brief yet pivotal role here, makes an emotional connection that reverberates throughout much of the film. It’s left to Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (a very domineering Jon Hamm), as written in the screenplay by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie, to push the altitude, speed, and blood pressure of Maverick and his understudies to impossible limits.
And yes, there’s romance. Jennifer Connelly’ single mom barkeep Penny Benjamin makes amusing small talk with Maverick that offers to rekindle their off-and-on relationship with an equal dose of his own skeptical romanticism. They play cute together.
It’s a sidebar to the bigger action, of course, and among those hot shot pilots on Maverick’s training roster is Rooster (Miles Teller), the lookalike son of his former wingman Goose (Anthony Edwards), who died in the first film. That death still lingers heavily with Maverick, to the extent that he briefly sidetracked his son’s admission into the program. Animosity ensues.
Beyond Cruise and his company of merry men and women, the film is armed with well-executed direction by Joseph Kosinski, impressive widescreen cinematography by Claudio Miranda, breathtaking editing by Eddie Hamilton, and a rousing score by Lorne Balfe (and more than a few nods to the songs, including Danger Zone and Lead Me On by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock that made the 1986 film soundtrack a 9x Platinum bestseller). Lady Gaga performs a new theme song (“Hold My Hand”) during the end credits.
But if you want badass, you get that in abundance. Sure some of climactic battle scheme is ripped from the original Star Wars. I dare you not to think of the Rebel Alliance squadron destroying the Death Star (with under-the-radar flying and something that looks surprising similar to a thermal exhaust port) as the attack plays out. A precision bomb strike is mandatory.
So maybe the enemy is the Galactic Empire?
Top Gun: Maverick isn’t a great film, but it does entertain greatly as old fashioned fun. Tom Cruise, whose latest Mission: Impossible 7 (due next summer) film trailer dropped days ago, still has that magnetic quality called star power, which is stronger than any G force that Maverick can exceed. The winning spirit is abundant here, and most of the free world will cheer it on, especially on a Real Big Screen.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).