Top Gun: Maverick
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Skydance Media / Jerry Bruckheimer Films / Paramount Pictures
I grew up with Top Gun – I remember seeing it at the cinema, later I inherited the RayBans (from my older brother) and the soundtrack was everywhere, one of a handful of mid/late-80s soundtrack albums that really had a huge impact on my listening – not so much on my taste as on the overall experience of taking in an album; particularly a soundtrack album.
All that said, I don’t much care for the film. And to be sure, I rewatched it in the build-up to seeing this sequel. The original has not aged well, in that way that many 80s movies haven’t. But also, I was never even that attached to it – the iconography did the work, the branding. Weirdly, it’s a drama film masquerading as an action film, and it’s not a particularly good drama. I’m not even worried about the hilariously camp volleyball scene or any of the homoerotic undertones; they might in fact be the best bits of the original film if anything.
So, there I was – still amped about the sequel. And I’m not really sure why…
I just had a feeling it might deliver.
And it sure did.
Right from the opening – replicating the look and feel of the original’s start, replete with Faltermeyer synth score, moving straight into Kenny Loggins’ Dangerzone – we are taken to the ‘world’, placed in the context. But it’s all updated – and though the movie’s plot might be corny, does contain holes and isn’t winning any awards – it also does what it should, and manages to remove the sexism and creepiness of the original, neither confirms nor denies the homoerotic overtones but certainly doesn’t play for camp, and just basically delivers a great canvas for Tom Cruise’s ‘Maverick’ to have his day once again.
What sold me, and told me this was going to work right from the opening, was the way it felt familiar and fresh all at once; the way, I’m guessing, that the influence of Cobra Kai showed how it can be done – you can pay tribute to the original without just copying it, use it as a starting point, circle it but head for new skies.
Maverick is a lifer, called back to the Top Gun to train a new set of ‘legends’. There’s a mission – of course. And it’s nearly impossible – of course. And there’s a love interest for Cruise (but it’s subtle, written rather than paraded, and charmingly acted by Jennifer Connelly).
Most importantly, there are killer action scenes. Incredible filmed, beautifully scored (Hans Zimmer is not just a safe pair of hands, here he also pays tribute to Faltermeyer without ever copying or just pasting) and say what you want about Tom Cruise but he’s a big screen player, one of the last of his generation. And so we see Tom fly, we see him run (and run really fast!) He grimaces, he laughs at himself in that aw-shucks way, he mugs, but never minces. He is Maverick once again and through and through, but there’s humility and realism in the approach. For instance, when he plays football with the youngsters he goes hard and hits into it – but he sits out as they continue, since he’s the old man of the pack. I liked these touches to the script.
But what I loved was the spirit of it: Classic action film feel. It brought back what I probably felt about the original when I very first saw it. A kid. Just enjoying the movies for the escapism that they are meant to offer.
I tried, but there’s no way I could fault Top Gun: Maverick. It was emotionally warm, it carried its story perfectly, managed to laugh at itself, hit the right notes of tribute and say something new (if never profound, because how could that happen).
It basically shouldn’t be as good as it is – but it’s not just a nostalgia trip.
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