I saw the original Top Gun for the first time the night before I saw Top Gun: Maverick. So, I’m not part of the massive wave of nostalgia currently washing over film fandom. But, I can say, the new film was the most sheer fun I’ve had at the movies since Twister — and that wasn’t even in this century.
Top Gun: Maverick Makes Movies Fun Again
Something happened to movies after the ’90s. With the notable exception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films — most of which I love, but that’s another post I’ve been meaning to write — an increasing number of films prefer to wallow in darkness.
The flood of exhilarating, feel-good action/scifi/fantasy films that began with Star Wars in 1977, running through Die Hard, Ghostbusters, Speed, Demolition Man, Jurassic Park and so on, petered out to a trickle in recent decades.
Instead, we’ve gotten plenty of post-apocalyptic dystopias, ultraviolent splatterfests, depressing slogs through the basest impulses of the human psyche, and, worse yet, movies that want to Make a Very Important Statement.
This is a gross generalization, of course, but films that celebrate love, family and friendship, along with offering up big thrills and chills, laughs and even a tear or two, are challenging to find.
Have to confess that I wasn’t all that fond of the first Top Gun, in part because early-20s Tom Cruise, as Navy fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, comes off as cheeky and annoying (and the makeout scenes with Kelly McGillis are just, yuck), but I get the appeal.
Did You See Goose’s Necklace?
I even took note of a cross necklace worn by Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, Mitchell’s flight partner. There’s also a mention in the script of him going to church — and we do know that he’s a married father of a son (whom I just realized is named Bradley, like in Bradley Bradshaw, or Brad Bradshaw. Screenwriter in-joke, maybe?)
When the stellar official and friend reviews started to come in for Top Gun: Maverick, I decided to take a look. Fired up Netflix, watched the original (I think it leaves the service on May 31), and off I went to the theater the next day.
Here are my thoughts on Top Gun: Maverick, in no particular order (mostly spoiler-free, but I do point out a few things that you may want to just be surprised by):
At 59, Tom Cruise looks AMAZING, even 10 feet tall in close-up. Kudos to his skincare regimen, and, whatever plastic surgery he may have had (or some incredible work in post). I couldn’t see a scar.
But, speaking of scars, I did see Miles Teller’s — who plays now-grown fighter pilot Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw — quite easily. I’ve been watching him in The Offer on Paramount+ (a scripted mini on the backstory of making The Godfather), so I’d already Googled about his scars (apparently they’re from a car crash).
At 51, Jennifer Connelly looks AMAZING. While fans might have enjoyed seeing McGillis, it’s notable that Cruise’s love interest in this film is still close to his own age, rather than her 30s, which is how it usually goes. And often, it goes that way because the leading man insists on a much younger leading lady. Pretty sure that if Cruise had indeed insisted, that’s how the role would have been cast. Kudos to him for apparently not doing that.
Also, kudos to Cruise for holding off doing a sequel to his first iconic film role until there was more reason to do it than just to mine existing studio IP (which is all it usually takes these days, with less-than-stellar results).
The way Cruise tells it, that’s at least partially why he waited nearly four decades to return to the cockpit.
“I wasn’t ready to make a sequel until we had a special story worthy of a sequel and technology evolved so that we could delve deeper into the experience of a fighter pilot,” Cruise told the media while promoting the sequel.
There is no hint of anti-military or anti-American sentiment. And, despite the film having a more diverse cast — which does realistically represent the modern military — there is zero wokeness.
A memorable football-on-the-beach sequence gives appreciative female viewers something to enjoy. And yet, while it’s obviously putting a lot of pecs and abs on the screen (including Cruise’s), it felt spontaneous and natural, not like just beefcake on display.
Val Kilmer returns for a cameo appearance, despite barely being able to talk after multiple health issues. The film handles that with grace and dignity.
If you loved the Death Star attack sequence in Star Wars, you’ll love it all over again in Top Gun: Maverick. When the target was described as being two meters, I commented to my seatmate, “It’s a womp rat.” He knew exactly what I meant. ‘Nuff said.
While there is romance and premarital sexual activity in the film, it’s more restrained even than the original. There is rough language, though, but it’s not excessive (and probably a whole lot less than heard among real hotshot fighter pilots).
The film takes the best bits of nostalgia from the original and blends them with cutting-edge visuals and just the right amount of cheese. If I had been a true Top Gun fan, I would have been beside myself with joy. As it was, I think it was way better than the original.
BTW, fun little Paramount Easter egg: note the typeface of the callsign on the helmet of the pilot nicknamed Fanboy — it’s from the original Star Trek series. Of course, it should be spelled Fanboi, but I quibble.
As Top Gun: Maverick burns up the box office and brings elusive older audiences back to theaters, there are a lot of theories about why it’s succeeding. I don’t think it’s that complicated.
The filmmakers knew what their audience wants, and they deliver that with quality, panache, heart and pure entertainment. The film also avoids cynicism, nihilism, or any of the other many -isms out there ruining so much entertainment these days.
Good for Paramount, good for Cruise, good for all of us.
And yeah, it’s one of those that you really need to see on the big screen — and I say that as someone who goes out to see very few movies. I might even see this one again.
Image: Paramount Pictures
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