Faced with the most cocky flyboy in naval aviation history, Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris) doesn’t mince his words. “Your kind is on the brink of extinction,” he tells the one and only Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. The admiral discusses the obsolescence of fighter pilots at a time when bombs are being remotely dropped from a mall outside Las Vegas. But he also talks in a metatextual way about the legend playing that legend: Hollywood’s aging but timeless golden boy Tom Cruise, who’s approaching 60 but is still climbing into cockpits at a time when his “kind” — the movie star , which plays a role regardless of the film – has actually been listed as an endangered species.
This kind of wink is common in so-called legacy sequels, a very self-aware strain of the modern franchise sequel. There is hardly a hint of irony here Top Gun: Maverick, a decades later sequel to one of the most unlikely hits of the 1980s. As the film begins, Cruise rips a tarp off the old motorcycle he rode around on in 1986, and the moment is so awe-inspiring that you almost expect it to be accompanied by a 21-gun salute. This is a film deeply in love with its title character, and with the film star who is reprising that role, and perhaps even with the fantasy of America that he is reviving.
It’s a bit amusing to see such a muted reverence being applied top gun, all box office sensations. Shot in conjunction with the US Navy and final script approval, this film was a glorified (and fairly successful) recruiting ad, backed by the skillful artistry of its director, the late Tony Scott, and the sweaty faces and bodies became his occupation. It was popcorn propaganda with all the depth and soul of a Pepsi commercial. top gun has mostly survived as a kitsch object, an antique of the superficial patriotism and excesses of the 80s. but loner takes it seriously, which is a key to its sparkling romantic charm.
Director Joseph Kosinski, who continued to work with Cruise oblivionbut more relevant directed Tron: Legacy (another expensive, loving upgrade from a one-off ’80s film) fills Scott’s big jackboots by fully committing to his Magic Hour aesthetic. The first few minutes go from shot to shot within striking distance of remake territory, as the same opening line fills the screen in the same font, while the same Harold Faltermeyer synthesizer score rises majestically on the soundtrack. A bar later, it’s replaced by the familiar sounds of Kenny Loggins and the familiar sight of massive metal birds taxiing across a runway and flying through clouds of music video smoke. The film is ritualistic in its iterations.
loner faithfully accepts a top gun property too. That means it hardly has one. After decades of dodging promotions, as any die-hard rebel must, Cruise’s veteran aviator will be reassigned to his old stomping grounds outside of San Diego, where he’ll take a roster of young pilots under his wing. The actor is remembered to have starred in a Legacy sequel that same year top gun came out playing the Hotshot protégé in Martin Scorsese The color of money. Almost four decades later, he now plays the role of Paul Newman. His crew of selfish millennial hotdogs with colorful callsigns includes the socially awkward Bob (Lewis Pullman), the steely boys club crasher Phoenix (Monica Barbaro) and the team’s cowboy antagonist Hangman (Glen Powell).
There’s also Rooster (Miles Teller), whose sunglasses and haircut reveal his secret identity as the son of Goose, the character of Anthony Edwards who was tragically killed in the original. Rooster boils with resentment toward Maverick, who has long tried to keep the child, his dead wingman’s offspring, out of the sky. It’s the film’s wisest dramatic choice, building the story’s entire emotional conflict around our hero’s enduring guilt and the shockwaves of Goose’s freak accident sent down the generations.
Kosinski’s aerial action is breathtaking. Like Scott, he knows how to convey altitude and speed, and move coherently between cockpits to turn each training exercise into a group show of interlocking dilemmas and volleys. The script, co-written by frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, outlines an urgent rite of passage for the new class: an assault on a uranium facility akin to Operation Death Star crossed with the daunting odds of a Impossible Mission set piece. Of course, the real enemy remains edgy, strategically undetected, just like in the first film – a faceless international “rogue state”. As always, top gun exists in a geopolitical Bermuda Triangle that abstracts the war into a kind of “big game” at the end of a sports movie, free from larger global stakes.
loner is too fetishistically devoted to the blueprint of an old blockbuster to ever fully emerge as a film in its own right. But scene after scene, it’s a better time than top gun — faster, more exciting, more emotional. It breaks Scott’s self-parodic habit of stringing the same two songs together ad nauseam. And the film seems to realize that bromance was always more important top gun‘s popularity as romance. Notably absent is Kelly McGillis’ Charliethe civil love interest of the first film. loner fills the gap with a more sideline commercial starring Jennifer Connelly, a fellow ’80s star who plays a cocktail waitress whom we learn Maverick wooed a lifetime ago. (Her character is briefly mentioned in the first film.) The two stars have lighthearted chemistry as old flames who reignite the flame, though none of their scenes are as touching as the one Cruise shares with Val Kilmer and made for a cameo stops by, who works down the latter’s battle with throat cancer.
The true love story is between the camera and Cruise here. It’s kind of intense and easygoing, brings with him some of that characteristic charismatic determination while also delving into the slight melancholy of Maverick’s journey down memory lane and taking stock of how he’s changed since those halcyon days in Reagan’s America. (That’s really him in the jet, of course – as with Impossible Mission‘s Ethan Hunt, it can be difficult to tell where the fictional daredevil ends and the real one begins.) Kosinski basks in the contradictions of Cruise’s star power as the Elder Statesman of multiplex cool: What We’re Seeing is a Summer Movie Adonis Acknowledging his advancing years, he endures vintage crackers even as he jumps into every stunt with a futile defiance of aging.
loner granted, as legacy sequels so often do, that its characters are analog relics in a digital world – that’s to be placed top gun in modern times is an act of anachronistic wish-fulfilment. But frankly, the original was also quite anachronistic: it picked up at a time when dogfights were fast becoming a thing of the past, and applied a sort of Greatest Generation romance to the more fickle goalposts of the Cold War; His proposition to potential recruits was a vision of military life (and glory) that bore little relation to contemporary reality. That makes loner a mirage, nostalgic for a world that never really existed. That’s why it’s such a perfect vehicle for Cruise, a Tinseltown Dorian Gray whose incredibly preserved body is his own organic de-aging technology. He’s a movie star from the era, shining brightly in a austerely dreamed America.
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