Movie: “Top Gun: Maverick”
Release Date: May 27, 2022
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Runtime: 2 Hours 11 Minutes
Genre: Action, Drama
Tom Cruise finally has a project that has caught up with the modern trends of the movie industry. After nearly a decade of "Mission: Impossible" sequels with standalone action movies sprinkled in-between, he took notes from the recent pattern of “legacy sequels” (see, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and brought back one of his most iconic characters, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell.
Perhaps more so than any other recent sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick” is reverent to the original in a way that borders on parody. The film opens with the classic “Simpson/Bruckheimer” production logo (a sight for sore eyes in 2022) and a montage of fighter jets taking off to the tune of Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.”
It’s miraculous that a film with an opening sequence tantamount to the original is still able to feel like a breath of fresh air. It’s because nobody is making blockbusters like this anymore, except for Cruise.
Cruise’s late career decisions can be boiled down to an overwhelming desire to one-up the previous stunt. He went from hanging off a plane in the fifth "Mission: Impossible" film to commandeering a helicopter and ramming it into another in the sixth.
All of these tricks are done almost completely in-camera, with noticeably little CGI wizardry compared to its contemporaries.
That approach is "Top Gun: Maverick’s" guiding philosophy. I can confidently say there will not be another film released in 2022 that feels as visceral, as intense, as "Maverick" does during its dogfight sequences.
It would seem Cruise knows that in today’s landscape, audiences expect each movie-going experience to up the ante from the last one (ahem … multiverses) but he’s still doing it his own way.
“I don’t like that look Mav,” Bashir Salahuddin’s Warrant Officer “Hondo,” says to Maverick every time he’s about to do something crazy. “It’s the only one I’ve got,” he cheekily responds each time. Cruise may as well look at the audience and tell them this is the only way he knows how to make movies.
That cheeky self-awareness permeates every choice the film makes. Cruise, uncharacteristically, lets his co-stars tower over him and his older age is also referenced multiple times. Upon revealing an enemy military base stores old F-14s, Jon Hamm’s General “Cyclone” looks right at Maverick and says, “Seems like we’re not the only ones holding onto old relics.”
Writer Christopher McQuarrie has put this “winking at the audience” energy into his work on the most recent three "Mission: Impossible" films as well. The most important trait "Maverick" borrows from those films, besides the death defying attitude, is actually guilt.
For example, Cruise in the new "Mission: Impossible" films is driven by a desire to protect his team because he's wrecked by the guilt of his entire team being wiped out in the first film.
In "Maverick", this guilt is rooted in the death of his co-pilot Nick “Goose” Bradshaw in the first film. This trauma comes to light when Goose’s son, call sign “Rooster” (played by Miles Teller), comes to Top Gun as one of Maverick’s students.
The conflict between them isn't about Goose’s death. It was never really Maverick’s fault in the first place, and it would feel tired to have this new film harp on that moment. It’s more so about the actions Maverick has taken to try and protect Rooster from the same fate as his father.
This relationship is what informs all other conversations in the film. A touching performance from Val Kilmer, returning as Iceman, reminds Maverick that sometimes he needs to let go, as does Cruise’s new love interest, Penny Benjamin, played wonderfully by Jennifer Connelly.
Letting go isn’t what Cruise is in the business of doing though. It’s telling that very few of his co-stars from the 1986 original have returned, and those that have aren’t involved in the action anymore. He’s passed them by, outlasting everyone else in his generation as the definitive movie star of the last 50 years.
As streaming takes a bit of a dive and Marvel and Star Wars focus more and more on television, it feels like Cruise and his crew bet on taking back the box office from franchise driven entertainment.
So far it’s paying off as "Maverick" is slaughtering the Memorial Day weekend box office charts.
"They don’t really make ‘em like they used to" is a common saying amongst film fans. It's seldom we get simple thrillers with big stars, big budgets and good scripts that aren’t worried about setting up a cinematic universe.
“The end is inevitable Maverick, your kind is headed for extinction,” Ed Harris’ Admiral Hammer says to Cruise as he’s assigned his final mission.
Cruise, with a smirk, looks back at him and says, “Maybe so, sir, but not today.”