Welcome back to the danger zone. You may not think you need a sequel to the best movie of the ’80s of all time, but Top Gun: Maverick is a lot more fun than it has a right to be. Now heading to the cinemas, Top Gun 2 restarts the heartbreaking aerial action of the original film, a contagiously kitschy drama with the characters, and don’t think of military fetishism in a winning spectacle of film escape.
It’s been more than 35 years since the release of the original Top Gun, in which Tom Cruise used his widest smile as a US Navy pilot to make sense, and the childish joy of playing with high-speed toys (which just happen to be built to kill people, but whatever).
Cruise has reportedly resisted sequels for decades, but it turns out that if you wait long enough, a story will emerge. Returning to the cockpit as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, he still feels the need for speed no matter what the chief executive says. And now, since the death of his co-pilot Goose in the original film, enough time has passed for Goose’s son to become a fully grown man.
He’s playing, the son is a chip from an old lap and flies with the Navy under the call sign Rooster. When Maverick is called in to train the next generation of conceited children on the Dambusters-meets-Death-Star suicide mission, the pair is blocked on a detention course. “And let’s go,” one character ironically notes Maverick’s anti-authoritarian antics, but he could talk about the full re-creation of the shiny excitement of the original film.
From the moment you hear the immediately recognizable ring of a synthesizer bell in Harold Faltermeyer’s captivating Top Gun Anthem, it’s as if the last 30 years have never happened. The introductory captions describe Maverick, as well as the original, as produced by Don Simpson / Jerry Bruckheimer, although Simpson died in 1996. The introductory text caption explaining the concept of the US Navy’s Fighter Weapons School uses the same wording as the first film. And all the time, Directorand cameraman Claudio Miranda faithfully reshape the late Tony Scott’s film style, from a backlit busy flight deck to straight-pole silhouettes grouped in a hangar. This new version even begins by plunging you into the controlled chaos of an aircraft carrier’s flight deck and recreating the iconic intro of the first film (probably) frame by frame.
This flight deck sequence has zero connection to what comes next, but it’s still a pretty great introduction that immediately immerses you in the familiar feeling of a movie that you may have seen many times or may not have seen in years. More importantly, he feels it real, the film sets up its stand from the start: It’s real things like fighters and sailboats and real old-fashioned stunts, not fake things like drones and phones and computer-generated spectacles. Marketing makes a big deal out of how actors actually got on the plane, and even though there are undoubtedly a lot of invisible CGI –– At least almost every shot he feels as if it was really being done. Unlike recent blockbusters (er, Marvel movies) that take you away from the action with clearly impossible camera angles and exaggerated CG effects, Top Gun: Maverick uses the visual language of the original, the camera claustrophobically stuck in the cockpit or shakes. how he tries to keep up with the jet screaming around.
Of course, creating this explicit connection with such a beloved film is a risk. The first film was packed with iconic moments and quotes, and the sequel does little more than regroup the aircraft on the flight deck. Still, it’s quite restrained with passwords and callbacks. Yes, Maverick’s leather jacket and motorcycle have their own themed touch. However, fighters and aircraft carriers provided by the United States Navy are not the only formidable weapons used in the sequel: The best weapon in the Top Gun arsenal is Cruise’s still explosive charisma.
While the film once again inspires credibility with its deification of Maverick and his divine flying abilities, Cruise’s secret weapon is always his willingness to look silly. So the exaggerated action is balanced by the appealing humor and even a bit of pathos in Cruise’s relationship with the younger pilots and his fanned romance with the bar owner. It is played by Jennifer Connelly, another star who rose in the 80’s (see who sings in the jukebox when she first appears). With Connelly as his old flame and Teller as his surrogate son, Cruise’s aging Maverick provides just enough heart to keep things moving as he struggles to stay on his feet permanently. A touching and surprisingly entertaining moment is also the bittersweet scene, in which Cruise meets again the representative of the original film, the sick Val Kilmer.
It cannot be denied that much of the story is a repetition of the original. Cruise, for example, takes on the role of Kelly McGillis, just for fun. But somehow, despite the fact that it’s all focused on a life-and-death mission, the stakes aren’t as immediate as the first time. The original film was driven by the feeling that Maverick was indeed dangerous to the people around him, but this new model does not capture the same headless onslaught in the danger zone. Partly because younger models look more like models than warriors. But the main problem is that the mission is so unlikely to be specific to the needs of the plot. The G-power of storytelling stupidity will start to crush your brain, especially when a late-stage reversal detonates additional combustion and jets into an absurdity that could tempt you to extrude.
There are certainly reasons not to like such a film, whether it’s Cruise’s personal life or the film’s unquestionable attitude to war. Matthew Modine and Bryan Adams were among the stars of the 1980s who refused to join the original due to its jingoist tone, which was a Vietnamese confirmation of American military (and male) strength. Even Cruise avoided continuing because he did not want to glorify the war. Surprisingly, Top Gun: Maverick is so bloodless and unafraid of ambiguity that it hardly acts like a war movie. They’re just toy boys.
There’s a vague plot about Jon Hamm’s pencil neck in the tower, which makes sure that the pilots complete the mission, not make them come back alive, but that only makes explicit contempt for drones, somewhat confusing. In fact, a much truer sequel to Top Gun was filmed a few years ago: Good Kill, in which Ethan Hawke plays a Cruise-style fighter pilot who was banished to the service of a drone and lost his mind in a metal box in the Las Vegas desert..
Top Gun: Maverick won’t even tell us who Tom is fighting. There is an unnamed faceless adversary, bogeys and boogeymen with black helmets, deprivation of sovereignty or even humanity. The Eternal Enemy, out there, does vaguely defined bad-sounding things that need to be blown up by rockets, helicopters, and aircraft carriers. Your tax dollars at work.
But who cares? This is not Private Ryan’s Rescue, this is a Top Gun. Don’t ask who the synthesizer is ringing for, because the synthesizer bell plays for anyone who loves a great popcorn action movie that is as fun as it is ridiculous. Top Gun: Maverick is a stone. The film still insists this is Maverick’s last post, but this polished action movie superpower is a fun way to fly into the sunset.
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