‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Review: Tom Cruise Is Back

YouIt doesn’t matter if you like Tom Cruise or not: no mater how great he looks with his super-moisturized skin that deals-with-the devil, Cruise has gone beyond the bounds of middle age. Always a performer desperate to be liked, Cruise has entered a new era, one of potential irrelevance, which could be the best thing that’s ever happened to him. In a world where we’re all either captivated or annoyed by TikTok, freaked out about global warming and the loss of a woman’s right to choose, and trying to coax recalcitrant relatives into getting vaccinated, it’s not even worth the effort to dislike him. And that, if you’re a person who has never liked Tom Cruise, frees you to enjoy the myriad over-the-top pleasures of Maverick: Top Gun

Maverick: Top GunJoseph Kosinski directed the film. It is much more successful than its predecessor and far better overall. Tony Scott’s 1986 jockstrap of a movie about hotshot Naval pilots—produced by fast-lane Hollywood players Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, who perhaps bear more responsibility for its numbnuts machismo than Scott does—is a caveman relic that has achieved enduring popularity, a high-fiving fantasy populated with dude bros before we even had a name for them. In the ’80s, we went to Jim Jarmusch movies to get away from these guys.

Yet it’s easy to make peace with the 2022 version of these men, Cruise included. Maverick is the Top GunIt takes place in an environment where modern masculinity is not under threat. One of the pilots in the current gang happens to be a woman (she’s played by Monica Barbaro), but even if that’s a significant departure from the 1986 movie, made at a time when women weren’t allowed to fly in combat, it’s still beside the point. These pilots are not to be mocked or minimized. Maverick is the Top GunAllows its male characters to doubt and feel insecure, fearing that they might be mistaken. can’tTo be the best and not worry about getting old. Ed Harris played a classic cameo as a crusty admiral. You Need the Right Stuff one of the truly great movies of the ’80s, practically snarls at Cruise, playing aging whippersnapper Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, for disobeying orders: “The future is coming, and you’re not in it.” Even if this is cartoon anxiety about being sent out to pasture, it still counts. Each generation has the creeping obsolescence that it needs.

Maverick feels it. Never having achieved a rank higher than Captain, knowing that climbing the ranks would only ground him, he’s been working as a test pilot for the Navy: in an early sequence, he gets his Chuck Yeager moment, climbing into a plane that’s like a space bird and pushing both it and himself to the limit. He has nothing to lose. It turns out, that he has one more job: Iceman, his old rival (Val Kilmer’s inability to talk has been cleverly written into this role), has asked him to help train some youngsters in a nearly impossible task. They’ll have to guide their planes through—not above—a twisty canyon, flying at dangerously low altitudes, with the goal of taking out an enemy airstrip and bunker. Jealous Navy dude and uptight authority figure Cyclone (Jon Hamm) doesn’t think Maverick is up to the task, which of course means he can’t turn it down.

Maverick makes his return to Miramar, also known as Top Gun, where it all began. Fightertown U.S.A. The man moves on his bike, wearing only his signature patch-adorned leather jacket and his helmet. Why bother with an U-Haul full sofas, T-shirts and toaster ovens when you can jump unhelmeted on your bike? go?Before his first day, he meets his twelve recruits at the local watering place. Penny, an old friend, is now the owner of the establishment. Her daughter loves sailing and she has one. Maverick is taken out of her boat by her, and she guides her steadily along the tiller. Maverick follows her tentatively behind her railing. Isn’t he supposed to be in the Navy, she asks him? “I don’t sail boats, Penny,” he informs her. “I land on them.”

Thar she blows—wit! Cruise does the talking. But Maverick is dead-serious when he’s training his pilots, a group he must narrow down to six for the mission. The crew of eager aspirants include Phoenix (Barbaro), whose presence the guys accept, correctly, as no big deal; arrogant Hangman (Glen Powell), toothpick hanging from his mouth with the devil-may-care insouciance of a guy who saw a movie once; and, most significantly, Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s old flight partner and best friend Goose (played in the earlier movie by Anthony Edwards), who died during a training maneuver—a loss Maverick has never gotten over, and one he still feels responsible for, even though the Navy has absolved him.

There’s understandable tension between Maverick and Rooster. Rooster would like to take his life on the sand; Maverick can’t help but feel that he needs to be protected. This is the core conflict in Maverick: Top Gun one that’s resolved in the movie’s multilayered and, typically for Cruise, over-the-top climax.

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If you haven’t already read a million things about how Maverick is the Top Gun was made, and how solemnly Cruise accepted this mission, don’t start now. It’s not really worth it, and it could dull your joy in the fact that this is, at the very least, a feat of old-fashioned action moviemaking, light on CGI, and favoring human beings actually moving and planes actually flying. (Bruckheimer is, incidentally, one of the film’s producers. Simpson died in 1996.) The flying sequences are divine, sometimes tense and sometimes rapturously freeing, and they feel realistic because they’re minimally touched by CGI. Cruise, who is an accomplished pilot, received extra training through the Navy; his co-actors also learn to fly. Even its casual sequences have a distinct flair. Cruise and his younger crew members, dressed in batiks, frolic in the ocean during an intense game of dogfight soccer. The sun glints off the men’s water-dappled pecs; their aviator sunglasses hide their inevitable squinting. Bruce Weber could have done it better, but Kosinsky—who has made two previous features, the 2010 Tron: LegacyAnd the sci-fi drama of 2012 Oblivion, also starring Cruise—pulls it off even so.

Cruise might be too laudatory to admit that he is tolerable. Maverick: Top Gun But even if he’s just playing at the indignity of aging rather than truly feeling it, he’s at least attempting to be less of a hologram and more a facsimile of a human. In the early stages Maverick: Top Gun he sits at Penny’s bar by himself, looking on as the younger pilots swig their beers, taunt one another, argue with good or ill humor about who’s the best pilot. His gaze—affectionate, a little wistful—signals that he knows what’s coming for him, sooner rather than later. But first, to show these kids he’s still got it. Love Tom Cruise or hate him, he’s the only one we’ve got; his particular set of qualities have no equal. He will cease to need to prove himself. It will be similar to the day that a lion stops roaring. Only a cruel person could rejoice at that.

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