Readers Write In #466: The Thrill of Top Gun and Tom “Maverick” Cruise

Posted on June 10, 2022

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By Aman Basha

A slightly spoilery and wholly praise filled ream of prose on the summer Hollywood movie of the year

The double tragic whammy of 2020 and 2021 were supposed to alter the world in ways unrecognizable to anything we had seen before. Interviews involving studio heads, trade analysts and other people in the movie business went into the length of infinity about how we would soon see the demise of the theatrical medium with streaming from our homes being a strong alternative. The time for the end of the movie theater, it seemed, had come.

The time for the end of the movie star was something we had supposedly long gone past, with new IPs and franchises being launched relentlessly, swamping the movie market like a bunch of dinosaurs let loose on a park (all the best, Jurassic World: Dominion 🙂 ). Yet here I am, out of a theatre typing, trying but not wholly succeeding to express what I felt as I stepped out of Top Gun: Maverick.

Perhaps those are the two words that describe this movie best: “wholly succeeding”, wholly succeeding in being a great spectacle filled with heart, humor and entertainment, wholly succeeding in creating a old fashioned blockbuster with chemistry, star power and practical effects, wholly succeeding in being the only reboot/sequel of a long ago blockbuster that satisfies everyone and most amazingly, wholly succeeding in being a far better sequel to its iconic predecessor after 36 years.

Top Gun Maverick is wholly aware that the original Top Gun, for all its box office success and fandom, is nothing but a very random collection of some very popular scenes in typical Tony Scott style-overpowers-substance. It’s a giant music video, but what songs, what visuals. The sequel sidesteps the problem of having to be a follow up to an okayish original through a strong melodramatic core that seems almost masala in some aspects, what with mother’s wishes on deathbeds and all. The homoerotic subtext of the original was pure movie magic that couldn’t be replicated and isn’t, replaced with a highly touching scene involving a keyboard between Maverick and Iceman.

The masala-ness of Top Gun Maverick is further reaffirmed as each scene seems like a clever echo of a scene from the first Top Gun, only to subvert expectations. The film overcomes the problem of following up an iconic mediocre film by constantly reframing scenes and characters, such as the one where you expect a death as in the first film, but the death that actually happens is both unexpected, deeply touching and serves to move the plot forward or even better, Maverick flirting with a beauty in a bar and the next day at the base where the instructor is introduced. The romance track with Jennifer Connelly may lack a Take My Breath Away, but is lended enough gravitas by both Connelly and the actress playing her daughter to make it feel important with the least effort and dialogue. Maverick’s daddy issues are inherited by a familiar character, but the characterization of Hangman (played by an actor doing his best Brad Pitt impression) is surprising at various levels. 

One aspect where Maverick obviously scores is its action and special effects. I felt transported from a theater seat to a F18 cockpit, feeling Gs on my lungs and face. The first flight scene is an absolute banger, but the flight training scenes slowly seem to get repetitive till a superb sequence of 2:15 minutes which is just a prelude followed by some absolutely insane action stretches that surpass the predecessor in every which way possible, mainly since the original’s action finale felt tacked on while here there is a constant buildup to it almost like a thriller where you have full awareness of the space of and participants in combat. The sound (a small scene where radios seemingly intermingle), the visuals, a missile dodge move, the callbacks, everything is absolute perfection and only my humility over my lack of film knowledge stops me from declaring this film as the greatest aviation action movie of all time.

Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay, much like his terrific Mission Impossible films, has a minimalism, taking the least amount of time for character development, repartee and more. It was only when I saw the end credits that I realized how diverse the movie was compared to its original without being in your face about it. This minimalism is endearing, as is the simple plot which often blurs and mixes with its more complex subtext. 

This complex subtext has been pervasive in all of Tom Cruise’s movies at least since when I think about it, Valkyrie. Even when he’s playing a Nazi planning on killing Hitler, the real life allusions are completely unmistakable as were recent entries of Mission Impossible increasingly autobiographical, painting the Actor as an Autuer. Top Gun Maverick is no different. Each Tom Cruise character is a charming, highly skilled loner, trying to do the best thing, saving the world one step at a time. Here Maverick takes the metaness to a further level, when you hear lines like “your kind is headed for extinction” or “time is your greatest adversary”, or even the subplot about drones replacing pilots. The Peter Pan-ness in Cruise seems like a neat reflection of Maverick’s non promotion. It is thus wholly appropriate that Lady Gaga’s fabulous “Hold My Hand” seems like a cry from the heavens, for where else will a star shine but in the sky, taken to heights anew by the same old F14.