Top Gun: Maverick

My latest foray into the world of real-life cinemas was Top Gun: Maverick–a movie which I have to admit was not really on my radar at all.

I like Tom Cruise (most of the time), but I have never seen the original Top Gun (well, almost never. I was in a room once where it was playing on a TV set, while some friends and I were studying. I have a vague memory of airplanes and volleyball), and I don’t find the subject matter to be terribly interesting.

But then with all that said, I got invited to a guy’s movie night with some men that I don’t know all that well, and so I decided to join in the fun.

And indeed, the movie is fun, even for a Top Gun novice like myself.

The story is about Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a highly experienced and decorated aviator for the US Navy who has never been able to rise up in the ranks because of his independent attitude. Thanks to the influence of his friend / former rival from the first movie, “Ice Man” (now an admiral), Maverick gets one last opportunity to prove himself when the “TOPGUN”–the Navy’s elite fighter pilot training program–needs someone to prepare the latest generation of top pilots the skills they need to pull off an incredibly difficulty and treacherous mission. One of the candidates he is training is “Rooster”–the son of his friend “Goose,” who died in the first movie. And so Maverick must face his own past even while he figures out what roll he still has to play in the modern world.

And so along the way there is plenty of high-adrenaline flying and insane aerial maneuvers. There is a fair amount of testosterone-fueled men posturing at each other. There is some intensely stressful military fighter jet action.

And again there are a bunch of fit guys playing sports shirtless, only this time it’s football.

But along with all that is good pacing and decent characterization, and even a few tastes of solid human drama, and director Joseph Kosinski pulls together these disparate tones quite well. And Tom Cruise is a good actor, and especially a good action actor–he manages to convey a lot of capability and a lot of vulnerability on the screen, all effectively mixed together. This is key in a movie like this–when Tom Cruise is taking off in those planes, he looks neither overwhelmed nor invulnerable. It’s just the right level of adrenaline to make it all feel real.

And indeed, it sort of was. Apparently, the cockpit scenes were basically done by putting the actors in real planes and having them fly around at high speeds by experienced pilots. Indeed, this seemed to be one of Cruise’s conditions for making the movie at all.

And Tom Cruise is also good with the movie’s quieter, more dramatic moments. It’s not the most intricate of dramas but the film does work hard to provide a level of depth in his core relationships–particularly with his deceased friend’s son (played by Miles Teller) and his new love-interest (Jennifer Connelly). There’s an especially nice and emotional scene with Val Kilmer (Ice Man) in a short cameo.

In real life, as you may know, Kilmer is almost completely unable to speak, a fate shared by his character. His few lines of dialogue were created by a special AI which has been created in real life to mimic his voice.

But of course the real “star” of the movie is the military flying action, and there is plenty of it. And much of it is excellent. The airplane stuff is compelling, thanks in part to the actor’s authenticity, mentioned above, but also because the high-speed motion and combat is all well directed and edited. It’s taut and exciting, but clear–we always know where we are and what is happening. And the carrying out of the primary mission that is being trained for over the entire mission is nail-bitingly intense.

Of course, after that, it all goes a bit silly, as Tom Cruise and and Miles Teller get shot down behind enemy lines and have to steal a plane to escape.

And there are other bouts of goofiness. From time to time, the movie starts looking like it was directed as a rock music video–like when Jennifer Connelly decides to pose by her Porsche and wait to be seen, rather than just going to find her guy.

And just how many times in one movie does Tom Cruise have to steal a plane just as he’s about to be grounded by an unsympathetic admiral? (Apparently, “one” is not the answer).

But even in the midst of moments like this, the whole thing is still pretty enjoyable. It doesn’t make me want to go see the original Top Gun, but it does make me happy to recommend the sequel.

Incidentally, 36 years separate the release of the original and the sequel, which I don’t think it is an all-time record, but is obviously one of the longer gaps between such films that there is. Joseph Kosinski previously directed Tron Legacy, which came out years 28 years after Tron–I think it’s a funny coincidence.

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