Highway to the geezer zone
Maverick is unquestionably the best case scenario for a 36-years-later sequel to a loopy, delightful blockbuster that simply did not need one. This is not only a good old throwback movie, it is very much about being a good old throwback movie. The layer of meta-film reflection, in which this is a movie about being a movie, is so obvious I think I have read it in every single review of the film: Tom Cruise wants to make ‘em like they used to, so here’s a story about the Tom Cruise’s character wanting to make soldiers like they used to!
Honestly, it’s hard to find things to complain about in Top Gun: Maverick. This is a great piece of blockbuster action. Perhaps its middle act is a bit flabby, but never to the point of boredom. Its emotional beats are hit and miss. I really like Miles Teller as an actor, and I think he’s doing good work here, but there’s not much potency in his surrogate daddy issues arc. It’s also odd of the film to cast Teller as a pensive, closed character, when unfiltered acerbic verbosity is his default mode. Much more effective on the heart-tugging front is Val Kilmer who delivers one of the best performances in the film by simply typing on a computer.
But I suppose my biggest complaint is that it doesn’t really feel like Top Gun to me. Sure, we hear “Danger Zone” in the opening minutes, and there’s a shirtless beach sports scene. But it’s not the same. I suppose it would have been impossible to recreate the original’s vibrancy — the aggressively colorful, stylishly horny refraction of a 1980’s young male id into a shimmering piece of film. Perhaps a true sequel in spirit would have been all about Maverick’s impotence and sexual obsolescence as the generation he represented starts qualifying for social security checks. To be fair, there are moments where the film dips its toes into Maverick’s decaying masculinity, but Jennifer Freaking Connelly falls into Tom Cruise’s lap within the first few scenes and never leaves, so his Alpha dominance is never in doubt.
Moreso than the original Top Gun, Maverick feels a lot like a Mission: Impossible. I admit this is a bit of a lazy comparison given that this is a Tom Cruise and Chris McQuarrie picture, but the cinematic DNA is certainly there, most of all in the practical stunts. This movie has huge, fantastic, set pieces, all refreshingly tactile. The film’s obsession with showing real actors in real planes pays off big time; perhaps Joseph Kosinski could have recreated the boxed-in, flesh-crushing G-forces without actually flying a fighter jet around, but there’s no way it would be so visceral or tense as it is here.
Mostly, Maverick is a refreshingly polished and competent motion picture. It is a good movie in every way most people would use the phrase: Entertaining, well-plotted, well-acted, terrific spectacle, excellent execution of stock plot devices, visually engaging.
In particular, the climax is thrilling, with all the requisite training and set-up scenes behind us and everything on the line. You can really feel the stakes, and the scenes are so exciting you won’t notice how implausible a few of the twists are. Having such a great ending makes Top Gun: Maverick easy to love, as you walk out of the cineplex in a good mood.
Aerial photography has never looked better, at least that I’ve ever seen, and so you get the sense that your inflated ticket price was actually worth it. Enjoy those billion dollars, Cruise and co. You earned it as much as any movie can.
- Review Project: 2022: Year in Film