It seems that Hollywood may have a bit of a nostalgia problem. Top Gun: Maverick, the ‘legacy sequel’ to 1986’s Top Gun is the latest project to dip into the nostalgia well.
Like many other nostalgia driven movies, Top Gun: Maverick is confused in its intentions. The film features hollow replications of the original without any substantive recapturing of its magic. Tom Cruise, the world’s biggest movie star (and perhaps the last of a dying breed), reprises his role as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. Much of the time it feels as though this sequel is simply an excuse for Cruise to fly around in planes on the big screen one more time.
It’s undeniable that watching Cruise fly around is massively entertaining. As we ascend into the film’s climax, the camera captures Tom Cruise in the cockpit of his jet, taking off from a carrier. It’s easily the most thrilling moment in the film’s two hour plus runtime. And given Cruise’s well-known desire to do his own stunts, and his love for aviation, we can assume that it’s actually him piloting the plane.
Top Gun: Maverick’s stunt coordination is mostly mesmerizing. Training sequences are edited with adrenaline pumping precision. The aerial photography will make you wish you were right there flying along. Unfortunately, this where the movie’s fun begins and ends.
Much of what surrounds the exhilarating action leaves something to be desired. The scenes that don’t involve planes going ‘zoom zoom’ don’t appear to be shot, composed, or edited with anything that resembles intention. In one particularly embarrassing scene, involving a bar, a roll call, and a piano, characters engage in some of the driest dialogue imaginable. The scene goes on for far too and luckily ended just as I was about to fall asleep.
Much of the acting talent, including Jon Hamm (Cyclone) and Miles Teller (Rooster), in the film is wasted. It would have been cool if any of these actors were asked to make a single performance choice. Here, lines are simply read, rather than interpreted.
The only actor who appears to be having some fun here is Glen Powell as Hangman. He thrives as the overly confident hot guy d-bag. I’d love to see him cheese it up in double popped collars as a villainous classmate in a college or high school coming of age flick. Nobody else plays their role with a wink or a nod. They must have missed the memo that this is a Top Gun sequel.
Along with the new class of pilots, is the addition of Jennifer Connelly in a wildly confusing and ultimately useless role. It’s a shame that she gets brought in to simply serve as a love interest for Maverick who is never allowed the decency of her own agency or the ability to enrich the spirit of the movie.
The aforementioned spirit of the film, which I assume has something to do with letting go of the past and allowing yourself to move on (maybe?), is never fully allowed to grow. Or for that matter, is never even really established. Flimsy moments that loosely allude to some greater sense of theme are sprinkled in throughout.
The core of the conflict is supposedly the internal struggle for both Maverick and Rooster. Both men are unable to emotionally mend after the passing of Goose. Much like the original Top Gun film, Maverick forgoes an actual adversary or tangible threat for inter and intra character tensions. Where it differs, however, is in its lack of ability to make those tensions palpable.
Tom Cruise’s status as the last movie star might be catching up with him. There was a period in his career where he allowed himself to have meaningful collaborations with outstanding visionary directors. Directors who knew how to use Cruise’s appeal to both enhance their visions and add to his legacy as a screen presence.
Top Gun: Maverick’s director, Joseph Kosinski, unfortunately has no vision for Cruise. He’s simply here to do Cruise’s bidding. It’s not farfetched to think that Tommy is the one calling most of the shots on set; that this is his vision for the film.
The last decade or so has seen Cruise, now pushing 60, dive fully into “action star” mode. He has shed his vulnerabilities and his versatility. I fear we may never get another great dramatic performance from Cruise. Instead, he will keep pushing the limits of his physicality, performing even more outrageous stunts until he’s done every last one in the books.
Top Gun: Maverick, more than anything else, is a triumph of Cruise’s ego. He can still draw us to theaters in droves. He can still get us to high five and hug each other because watching real life fighter jets take part in masterful choreographies on the big screen is really freaking awesome. It’s certainly something to be celebrated, however I still have my reservations regarding the film.
Meaningful homage is tough to do in movies, and Maverick is another great example of just that. Val Kilmer’s appearance feels simultaneously heartfelt, respectful, and somewhat out of place. He shares a fairly remarkable scene with Cruise that represents the emotional journey that this film could have been; a reminder that this magic we’ve been granted can be snatched away just as quickly as it was handed to us.
At times Top Gun: Maverick feels more like a Star Wars retelling than a Top Gun sequel – someone has a great Han Solo moment, and Rooster must essentially use the force in his final act of character development. Our nostalgia hype has gotten so great that we’ve started to cross pollenate our nostalgia streams.
I left the theater pining for the weird little quirks that made the first one so enjoyable. I missed its oddly subversive politics, its sunset soaked romanticism, its willingness to actually go into the ‘Danger Zone’.
Maybe it’s not Hollywood with the nostalgia problem. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s us.