Friday, June 24, 2022

Top Gun: Maverick, a review

From Mustangs to modernity... looking forward, and back.
I had more fun watching Top Gun: Maverick than I had any right to.

I trekked to the theater the other night to catch a viewing and am so glad I did. You could not wipe the grin off my face. Not from the moment Tom Cruise delivered a classy, simple, direct, pre-movie thank you message to the audience, to the end credits, where I said to myself, damn, that was fun.

This film was just what I needed at the moment, and I think a lot of Americans did as well.

I cannot begin to express how much I enjoyed the absence of political messages. The cast is diverse, but naturally so. There is no demoralizing, divisive moralizing. No 50 shades of gray, everyone is shit including the heroes-type messages. 

And yet, this film has a heart, and more complexity than the original. It is pro-American but without being jingoistic. Just optimistic. 

Optimism … remember that? We all could use some of that right now, in this torrent of daily negative news, and divisive nastiness. The film delivers it. I suspect it’s part of the reason for its smashing box office success. A needed message, at the right time.

Top Gun: Maverick could have gone in a different direction. The broad lines of the plot are that the Navy calls upon an aging Cruise/Maverick to instruct a group of young pilots, who are needed to fly a dangerous, low altitude bombing mission to destroy a nuclear enrichment plant. This naturally raises some questions. Who is the country that wants to enrich uranium? Shouldn’t a sovereign country have this right? Why should the U.S. be the world’s police? Etc.

The film avoids asking them.

These are fine questions … but they don’t belong in a film like this, which served a different purpose. That Top Gun: Maverick doesn’t dwell on them not make it a bad film. Just a film with a different lens. You can say that this simplicity is a fault, but I disagree.

So, is this just a simple, dumb action film? Surprisingly, no. It is a commentary on aging gracefully. Letting go of the need to control everything, and accepting help—which is not a weakness, but rather a sign of growth and maturity. Tom Cruise’s character was finally able to do this, completing an arc which began in the first film when he famously abandoned his wingman.

I loved the commentary on the role of humans in an increasingly technological age. The drone revolution is coming, unmanned planes are on the horizon. We can all see this, and wonder what it will mean. But as Cruise says in the film—that time ain’t yet. Bravery and ambition still have a place, people have a role to play in the fortunes of the world. You can feel that same sentiment at a meta level, in the film goer experience too. Leaving your house and watching a movie on a big screen with a group of people in all their messiness, still has value, still delivers something that a solitary Netflix viewing on a computer cannot replicate.

Top Gun: Maverick acknowledges that the world has changed in the last 35 years, and that more changes are on the horizon, but also acknowledges there is still value in the old ways. If that makes the film conservative on some level, then so be it. But without any tradition, shorn of our old stories, what do we have? There is value in looking forward, and back.

I’m not afraid to admit that I enjoy nostalgia. I understand it can be manipulative, even harmful if the intent is to obscure the truth. In large, heavy doses it becomes cloying, even sickening, like eating too much sugar. This movie struck the right balance. A love and respect for the original film, many nostalgic callbacks and references but not obnoxious.

It is far-fetched? Of course. [MINOR SPOILER ALERT] When Cruise and Goose’s son find a fueled up, fully operating enemy F-14 to effect their escape, it nearly broke the third wall for me. Nearly, but not quite. And hell, was it ever fun.

Speaking of fun… the jets are a marvel, but then again I'm smack-dab in the target audience. My dad used to take me to air shows as a kid and I have seen the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels fly. I have seen F-14s and F-16s and F-18s up close, felt the roar of their afterburners in my chest. I’ve been to the Air Force National Museum in Dayton, OH. I have a deep respect for military aircraft. Fighter jets are impressive, their raw power and maneuverability. And in Top Gun the F-18 is on full, glorious display. The film contains very little CGI compared to most modern action films and as a result felt entirely convincing. The stunts are real, performed in real planes flown by highly skilled pilots with the actors filmed in the same planes, experiencing the same G forces. 

This is one you should catch while it’s still in the theaters. The studio held this until the pandemic subsided and I can see why. The medium, the message, factored in the decision to get people back in the flesh in real theaters, enjoying the experience together. It worked, at least for this guy.


jason said...

When I was stationed on Okinawa, I lucked into a temporary assignment on Kadena Air Base. Our little Marine outpost was just off the runways--our job was prepping Marine equipment and gear for transport on the Air Force planes. Like many military duties, there was a lot of waiting, so we watched the jets take off. F-16's and F-15's were the main fighters and occasionally, we'd see a Japanese F-4 taking off. It was cool. So loud.

Peter Nealen said...

While it is one of many SOMEWHAT far-fetched elements to the movie, the F-14 isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility, since the Iranians still have some and still fly them. The "rogue state" was noticeably unnamed, so it COULD have worked.

Brian Murphy said...

Jason: Thank you for your service man. As noted I've seen F-16s and F-15s, but never an F-4 fly.

Peter: Yeah, I could see that. It was more of knowing that somehow, someway they just had to shoehorn in an F-14 to pay homage to the original. Not that I minded.