Ads say “Top Gun: Maverick” is a film 35 years in the making. At least 5-10 minutes of that was spent writing it.
The point of the long-delayed, oddly hyped sequel appears to be that everything Tom Cruise says or does is cool and right and everyone else is lame and wrong and can suck it. Xenu only knows if accepting that premise on screen is dangerously enabling in real life… Hey, at least the fighter planes do that thing where they flip upside down and Miles Teller doesn’t talk a lot, so it’s fine?
The film picks up with Pete “Maverick” Mitchell still just a captain 30 years later. This is apparently an embarrassing thing for people who understand military ranks beyond the ones held by beloved cereal mascots. Back in ‘86, Cap’n Pete was an arrogant young hotshot who thought rules were for dumb babies. By the end of his journey in this installment, he is an arrogant hotshot who thinks rules are for dumb babies and has crow’s feet. #Growth
In a genuinely awe-inspiring bit of global marketing, the threat here is from an unidentified group of bad guys who fly no flag, claim no nation, and wear masks that cover their entire face. This was done to ensure Cruise could go to big premier events on every continent, raking in the dough, but is also an oddly delightful sidestepping of racist, nationalist bigotry. The generic evildoers must constantly update a very public Google calendar, as the US military gets routine updates on just how close they are to building a “secret” uranium enrichment facility.
That facility must be blown up by human-flown pew-pew machines and not drones for…reasons… This could have been an opportunity to say something about the moral perils of further automating the machines of war. But if they had done that, they couldn’t have put a cool US Navy sticker on the poster. At any rate, no drones allowed, so Mav has to teach Instagram influencers how to fly jets better and faster. He does this by routinely showing them how much better and faster he is than they are. This is basically just escapist authoritarian porn for white dads. If it were a sports movie, the 60-year-old coach of the football team would be called out of retirement to quarterback the Super Bowl.
The fighting is cool. Very cool! They refused to use CGI, so everything you see is real. Weird that they killed so many people and blew up multimillion dollar planes, but you try telling Tom Cruise no. The weirdly warm reception that the film has gotten is likely because it’s so very James Cameron-esque. Absolutely no original story idea whatsoever, just a Jenga tower of cliches decorated in banging, rah-rah action. Doubt me on the unoriginality if you want, but in his first scene as a “rogue teacher,” ole Mavvy Rick literally throws a textbook in the trash.
Beholden to its predecessor, “TG:M” works through every single beat from the original. You like the lightly homoerotic volleyball scene from the first movie? Pansexual shirtless football. Remember “Danger Zone?” Plays before the opening credits even roll. Miss Anthony Edwards? Cruise mumbles “talk to me Goose” so many times, you’ll honk at him. The film is the opposite of everything its titular character embodies: It’s by-the-book cinematic red meat for dudes who have to watch their cholesterol.
Even setting the violent patriotism and militaristic propaganda aside, the callous narrative is corrosive from multiple angles. We’re not supposed to think about it, just cheer when the missiles lock, but what’s really happening here? Maverick is infallible. He’s never, ever wrong. Actually, he did do something kinda wrong once, but it was secretly a woman’s fault. Instead of passing the torch to the next generation, he clings like a boomer to fossil fuel. At a time when a whole bunch of Americans could really stand to learn a thing or two about humility and community, the final thesis seems to be someone taking “Stay cool” written in a yearbook as a genuine life motto.
Anyway, to stress again, Miles Teller doesn’t talk a lot. Many planes go boom. Sweaty abs touch pigskin. Let the eagles screech and Goose honk.
Grade = C
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Weinlei Ma at News.com.au says “If you think the 36-years-later sequel to Tom Cruise extravaganza ‘Top Gun’ is going to dial up the cheese and fetishise the American military, you would be correct.”
Kristy Puchko at Mashable says “Nostalgia is one thing, but rerunning the same plotlines, resuscitating the same archetypes, and coasting on the relics of pop culture past makes for a movie that feels sanitized instead of sensational, safe instead of sexy.”
Catalina Combs at Black Girl Nerds says “There are these archetypal characters that seem to lack depth and a true connection to the present. It unfortunately feels as if no one can move on. Everyone is stuck in the past whether they know it or not.”