Monday, January 30, 2023

Return to the Danger Zone

Film: Top Gun: Maverick
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen

I’m not going to lie; Top Gun: Maverick had a real uphill climb for me. I’m not a fan of the original film at all. I don’t care that the original Top Gun is the gayest thing I’ve ever seen, and that includes Brokeback Mountain and Cruising. My problem with Top Gun is that you could not ask for a better advertisement for the military-industrial complex. Want a collection of young kids you can send off to war? Show ‘em Top Gun and get ‘em ramped up on patriotism and the desire to go fast, and you’ve got your lambs for the slaughter.

Top Gun: Maverick picks up multiple decades after the first movie—as the original took place when it was filmed, so too does this sequel. Our boy Peter “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is still flying for the Navy, and still at the rank of captain since his frequent insubordination keeps him from getting further promoted. His old friendly rival Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) now commands the entire Pacific fleet, and is the only thing that keeps Maverick still flying.

When the film opens, Maverick is working on a project to get a plane to break Mach 10. However, the project is losing its funding in favor of drones. So, naturally, just before the funding is pulled, Maverick takes the jet up and hits Mach 10, and then shatters the plane trying to go just that much faster. He has a Chuck Yeager from The Right Stuff moment, and then he’s shipped off to Top Gun, this time as an instructor, a job he held before until he was booted out of it. And, we learn, it’s still Iceman saving his career for him, but this stint at Top Gun is going to be it—once he’s done there, he’s done.

This time, he’s been recruited specifically to teach a group of pilots for a specific mission. An unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant is going up in an unnamed country and it needs to be destroyed before it goes online. Maverick is given a team of pilots who he needs to train to knock out the target in what looks to be an impossible mission. And, of course, there’s going to be some history of the pilots between each other. And, of course, one of the pilots is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Goose, Maverick’s original wingman/co-pilot/gunner, who was tragically killed by plot device in the first film.

Look, you know all of the beats that are going to happen with this. You know that there’s going to be tension between Maverick and Rooster. There’s going to be a hotshot asshole pilot who is there specifically to mess with Rooster even further, and we get that in Hangman (Glen Powell), who is the sort of asshole lovechild of Maverick and Iceman from the original film. And of course, Maverick is going to run afoul of the man in charge of the mission (played by a stone-faced John Hamm) and there’s going to be a love interest as well, played by Jennifer Connolley in this case.

To be fair, Top Gun: Maverick is a hard film not to like on some level. It’s written by someone who clearly knows how to write a movie screenplay to pus all of the right buttons at the right time. We’re going to get the angry fights, the shirtless beach volleyball equivalent scene, and moments of both bonding and emotional breakdowns. Maverick is going to do things that in the real world would not merely get him grounded but would get him sent to whatever the Naval equivalent of Leavenworth is. And, of course, when it comes down to the mission, who do you think is going to be leading the way? If you’ve seen more than a couple of movies in your life, you already know the answer.

The big sell of Top Gun: Maverick is the flight sequences, which are truly spectacular. These are the main reason to watch the film, without question. The secondary reason to watch is specifically for people who loved the first film. Top Gun: Maverick is absolutely filled to burstin’ with fan service for the original film. Want flashbacks? Pictures of Tom Cruise with Anthony Edwards? Moments of Miles Teller desperately trying to look like Anthony Edwards? It’s all here.

The blunt truth is that Top Gun: Maverick is a better film than the original in a lot of ways, but it’s also a film that feels very derivative and also like it was directly funded by the Pentagon. It deserves a bunch of its Oscar nominations in the techie categories, but Best Picture? Best Adapted Screenplay? It's really the screenplay nomination that bothers me, because the vast majority of the characters in this are cardboard cut-outs. There are twelve new pilots brought in to fly the mission in question. I challenge anyone who has seen this to name half of them and to tell me something interesting about any of them who aren't Rooster.

And, like it or not, good or not, this is still an advertisement to make young men and women want to go fly planes to kill people and get themselves killed.

Why to watch Top Gun: Maverick: If you’re a Top Gun fan, there’s a lot of fan service for you here.
Why not to watch: It’s a lot of military bukkake.


  1. Completely agree. It really irritates me when a character stupidly destroys a billion dollar aircraft because of his own psychological deficiencies and is let off the hook because he's just too cool to punish. As you said, in reality, he'd be in the equivalent of Leavenworth. Sheesh.

    1. So much of this movie is faceless. I get that people really liked it, but virtually all of the characters could have been replaced by holograms and no one would notice.

      But, yeah--that "Imma blow up our own tech cuz I'm a man!" thing is just...stupid.

  2. I'm still on the fence on this as I do love the first film despite my absolute disdain towards Tom Cruise both as a person and as an actor though I've heard great things about this film. Especially for Val Kilmer's appearance as I still love Val Kilmer.

    1. Val Kilmer is fine in this. No objection to his presence here at all. It's really everything else.