If hero-worship is your thing, you’ll enjoy the film that pushes authenticity in action filmmaking to its limits.

If hero-worship is your thing, you’ll enjoy the film that pushes authenticity in action filmmaking to its limits.

Joyce Glasser reviews Top Gun: Maverick (May 27, 2022) Cert 12A, 131 mins.

The thoughts of many people approaching 60, if not those of their employers, turn to retirement, or at least slowing down and cutting the travel for a part-time office job. Try telling that to Tom Cruise, 59, who with a few tweaks, resumes the role he made his own thirty-six years ago when he, and the late Tony Scott, turned a $15 million budget into a $357 million blockbuster. Insurance be damned, Cruise still does his own motorcycle racing and gravity defying dog-fighting in an F/A-18E/F supersonic combat jet. On the basis of the action sequences alone Top Gun: Maverick is a knock-out sequel. The film is dedicated to Tony Scott, and this review is dedicated to the late critic Roger Ebert, who, while praising the 1986 action scenes warned viewers to ‘look out for the scenes where the people talk to one another.’

Not much has changed for Top Gun Pete Mitchell (Cruise). He is a Captain, but, as one character points out, “should be a two-star general by now, if not a senator.” This isn’t quite arrested development. Why become a senator when you look so good throwing a heavily decaled black leather jacket over a muscle revealing t-shirt, and -zooming off on a Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle?

The truth is, Mitchell, moniker Maverick, bears a resemblance to T.E. Lawrence (of Lawrence of Arabia fame), and not just for their mutual love of fast motorcycles. After his exploits in WWI, Lawrence, under a false name, enlisted as an ordinary aircraftsmen in the Royal Airforce. He got pretty good at speedboats too and we even see Maverick taming the waves of Penny Benjamin’s (Jennifer Connelly’s) yacht in the film. Lawrence’s subterfuge was discovered, and he was sacked.

Maverick’s trademark insubordination drives the plot here, too, as we see in a myth-making prologue. Informed that the funding for the test pilot unit Mitchell leads is going to be cut because no one has broken the 10.0 barrier, Maverick “borrows” (‘You know what happens if you go through with this’) a plane and reaches 10.03 before disappearing off the communication systems. We are meant to believe that he has sacrificed himself for his colleagues’ jobs (‘I know what happens to the others if I don’t’). A cut later he wanders into a packed roadside diner where the stunned customers look up at Cruise like they have witnessed the Resurrection of Christ.

Maverick’s career in the Navy is saved by a timely transfer to a top secret job at the request of “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer, 62), Maverick’s old Top Gun buddy. Now a four-star Admiral of the Pacific Fleet and dying of some plot-driven illness, Maverick is no longer a rival. Kazansky becomes his protector, much to the chagrin of by-the-book Vice Admiral Beau Simpson (Jon Hamm) Head of the stealth mission.

Maverick flinches at the mission, not because of the near impossible challenge, but because he is hired not to fly, but to teach and prepare a group of elite, younger pilots for the job. The mission is to fly dangerously low – to avoid radar – into a hostile mountainous nation that has started to make facilities for enriched uranium and “eliminate” them from the air.

Note: The script was clearly not rewritten for the current war in Ukraine situation and these weapons of mass destruction really exist! There are all kind of time constraints for there is one chance to hit the target, and multiple surface-to-air missile sites protecting the facility that will be activated in minutes. Climbing back out of the bottom of the mountain valley (where the facility is) at speed is the equivalent of having 1,500 pounds of G-force crushing into the plane and one’s body. The teams’ rehearsals do an excellent job of creating the suspense for the actual run.

Having little choice between unemployment and teaching, Mitchell settles in and immediately recognises old flame Penny Benjamin behind the bar from where he can check-out the elite flyers, now busy drinking what we trust is Coca-Cola. There are two subplots in the film. The first is that Maverick broke Penny’s heart years ago and her now teenage daughter (Liliana Wray) resents him for it, so their new affair is clandestine. (Just don’t ask what an Admiral’s beautiful daughter with a nice house and magnificent sailboat is doing working in a pub in the middle of nowhere). The romantic scenes are primarily awkward silent montages with little suggestion of sex until one interrupted bedroom scene (she clothed; he, showing a bit of chest).

The second subplot looks to the past and revives the low point in Maverick’s career, when he and Lt Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (played by Anthony Edwards in 1986) eject from their F-14 Tomcat, and only Maverick survives. As a result of the accident, Bradshaw’s widow asked Maverick to protect their son, Lt Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. Maverick pulled Bradley’s academy applications, delaying his career. Maverick assures Bradley he did it because Bradley was not “ready” – and Bradley holds Maverick responsible, if not for his father’s death, then for his derailed career.

There is a fabulous sequence – a post-mission extra – in which Rooster “comes of age” by saving the self-sacrificing Maverick’s life. He then proves his worth as Maverick’s wingman when they audaciously hijack an enemy plane to escape.

While the production notes tell us there were sessions chez Cruise to evaluate the chemistry with Miles Teller (Whiplash and The Divergent Series), it doesn’t seem the same was done with Connelly. She’s a beautiful 51-year-old, but anyone who has seen the 1986 film will remember the steamy relationship with Kelly McGillis, now 64, and presumably too old to resume an affair with a 59-year-old.

So what’s the verdict? The musical theme and flying sequences are glorious, as are the technical feats behind them: 27 specially-rigged cameras capturing the shots; the actors doing their own flying and the Navy lending the filmmakers its aircraft carriers, for starters. The problems arise when the characters are on the ground.

Unlike the 1986 film, here the elite squad is as diverse as possible, and Lt Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (Monica Barbaro) makes the cut for the mission. With the exception of Rooster, none of the characters are developed. For their role is to acknowledge Maverick’s awesomeness – reluctantly, as with Vice Admiral Simpson’s man-nod, but repeatedly with “how did he do it?” reaction shots and crowd cheering receptions. There are four shots of Connelly, sitting on the side-lines, beaming with admiration and lust. If rip rousing hero-worship is your thing, you can skip Ebert’s quibbles and marvel at the film that has pushed authenticity in action filmmaking to its limits.