What can I say? Cinema at its finest, here. No question.
Now, some advance caveats:
1: Another movie whereby it is impossible to avoid SPOILERS when writing about it, albeit mild ones. Apologies in advance /look away, now, etc?
2: I was never a huge fan of the original. It was glossy and competent but TOP GUN also created an entire generation of aviator shade wearing, military wannabe pups. There was little to no substance in that first film and unlike everyone else, I really saw no room for sequels. So I did not approach MAVERICK with any great expectation or sentiment, so much as a mild case of Cruise control curiosity about how Tom might execute such a belated part 2.
That said? I am happy to report that this latest effort is yet again, proof that Mr Cruise knows how to please a crowd, via impeccable craft. You will laugh, cry, be enthralled, amazed and feel the zero G endurance just as though in an actual cockpit. There is a real joy on display here. In aviation, in team work, motivation, self improvement and above all, in film at its very best.
In a sense, therefore, TOP GUN: MAVERICK is a perfect representation of everything that is admirable about Tom Cruise. A man who has been a star in every decade of his career. Looking forward, always, yet honouring the legacy of the movies through which his power was built and consolidated.
The film’s plot is simple enough. A rogue state that might be Russia but is never named, is developing WMD. Cue a need for the finest of finest, best of best pilots to go in and take out the baddies. The catch is that they must somehow evade radar and surface to air missiles, thereby necessitating both the highest of high and lowest of low navigational genius and old school bravery to match.
That is where Cruise comes in: coaching the team of the titular ‘Top Gun’ elites, just as he once had to graduate that same school, 30 plus years, previously. The problem is that the top brass, (with the exception of ‘Iceman’ Admiral Val Kilmer) do not quite trust or believe in Cruise’s Captaincy. They have reluctantly allowed him to take on the job and yet spend many a scene doubting his instincts and bringing him down in every sense. Matters not helped by the fact that one of the cadets is the son of a pilot who was killed, while flying, with Cruise’s Maverick (you might recall Anthony Edwards from the first film; Miles Teller is brilliant here, as his son).
And that is it. Or IS it? Because, funnily enough? Though yes, I enjoyed the air based action and the banter and so on, I was more moved by the very human stories at work here. Val Kilmer has a scene with Tom Cruise that made me cry. I cannot avoid talking about that, though I will omit the details. You will know, when you see it.
Many have remarked, too, that the the love story subplot does not work and that the chemistry between Cruise and Jennifer Connelly is somewhat tepid. NO! It is, in a way, the best thing in the film. Because nobody, at least as viewer, can doubt that Tom’s character can fly well and will win /save the day. The hero needs a bigger hurdle to face.
And so it is: His real struggle here, is in the acceptance of love. To just embrace the domesticity of a kitchen, talking to a child, letting a woman hold him and not sabotage that by fighting battles that ought be passed to a new generation. THAT is the heart, soul and wit that elevates TOP GUN: MAVERICK. And arguably, makes it a finer film than the original; enabling the mature civilian to learn from it every bit as much as any Walter Mitty or adolescent will fantasise about being a fighter pilot.
Is it perfect? No. And I hesitate to call the film ‘great’ or sing its praises quite as loudly as more dedicated fans. Pace lulls on occasion; there are some Star Wars references which defeat the object of a real world thriller setting. Seems a shame to write Meg Ryan out, too, off-screen. Why is Ed Harris in a cameo at the start? Score lacks punch and the GaGa song is no ‘Take my Breath Away’.
And yes, there is that ever looming danger of becoming a love letter, by the leading man, to himself. But frankly? He has earned that right, as surely as his character deserves the ‘Top Gun’ mantle. And in this latest effort, Cruise has helped model a dignified respect for military endeavour; an ode to defence technology; a platform for practical effects over CGI overload; and provided hope for growing older without accepting redundancy. That commands respect and indeed some gratitude, because we are lucky to have anything like that on cinema screens, today.
A must see. 8/10. Cleared for duty. Flies high. Go see it. Well done again, Mr Cruise. We salute your endeavours.