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Top Gun: Maverick

Released 2022. Director: Joseph Kosinski

IT'S BEEN 36 YEARS SINCE TOP GUN SHOT A GUY NAMED TOM CRUISE on his rise to movie-star status. I remember seeing the movie when it came out in 1986 and like so many at the time, I was enthralled by the thrilling aerial stunts of fighter jets doing crazy manouevres and Tony Scott’s high-energy direction. The jingoistic, chest-thumping and shallow characterisation smothered in glistening visuals and a Top-40 soundtrack was box-office magnet in the 80s. Lots of people liked it.

Director Joseph Kosinski obvious loved it too, for he lifted the entire opening sequence of the old Top Gun to raise the curtain on his sequel (with a small but, as he emphasises, significant tweak for gender equality). Shot for shot, as Kenny Loggins belts out his ageless hit about a highway to the danger zone, we’re taken back to where it all began, the big-bang moment of Tom’s superstardom.

Then Tom appears, enviously trim and fit in his mid-50s (and why shouldn’t he be? The man works very hard) as he slips into his leather jacket and straddles a powerful Kawasaki to ride like the wind, the glint of his aviator glasses competes with the dazzling white of his teeth.

In essence the sequel simply gives audiences what we’ve already seen in the first movie and updates it with more sophisticated stunts. This alone, however, is not enough to make a Top Gun sequel soar. So much of what follows in this movie bears a mirror image to its predecessor. What worked like magic three decades ago doesn’t always hold its grip. This is where the movie flutters because Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell's story is as thin as the air at 20,000 feet.

The man is the same ungovernable daredevil who always finds a way to piss off his superiors, sometimes in spectacular fashion, like pushing a stealth jet beyond an insanely perilous Mach-10 literally seconds before the project is grounded. Demoted from his test pilot position, Maverick is tasked to train a select team of the finest recruits in a mission to bomb a nuclear enrichment site in an unnamed rogue state.

Among these recruits is Bradley Bradshaw, codename Rooster, son of Maverick’s pal Goose who died in the first movie. Rooster has followed in his father’s career footsteps and blames Maverick for what happened to daddy. This provides a weakly manufactured reason to generate friction between the men and create opportunities to insert moments of male aggression because heaven forbid they all get along.

Apart from Goose’s son, another link to the past is Iceman, played by Val Kilmer, who returns as Maverick’s supporter but his part has little consequence to the overall action and outcome, apart from sentimental value.

What’s an even more glaring and egregious piece of plotting is the subplot involving Penny, played by Jennifer Connelly. I don’t recall seeing her in Top Gun but this movie seems to suggest she’s a returning character. The role of Penny has only one function and that’s to show good old Maverick can still charm a woman to bed.

Such a “love interest” requirement shows the thinking is not only dated but an expression of insecurity, that it’s imperative to show our hero to be a virile stud. It’d appear that in a testosterone-fuelled action blockbuster with expensive boy toys, it’s not nearly enough for the hero to overcome obstacles, survive enemy fire and return a champion in glory, the audience might revolt if he doesn’t also find time to sneak under the sheets with his lady friend. Does Tom Cruise need this sort of regressive scripting in his movies?

The rest of the movie shows the character of Maverick has evolved very little. But never mind, the main reason people see Top Gun: Maverick is for the roller-coaster ride in the high altitudes. A generous amount of time is devoted to flying acrobatics and much has been said about the cast strapped into actual F-18s for the airborne action. Even though the sequences look more dangerous and wild. for me they’ve lost the thrill that underpinned the first impression in Top Gun. What it feels like is an expensive exercise to repeat a past success but freshness is hard to duplicate.

On another level, Top Gun: Maverick also comes across as some kind of wish fulfilment on a subconscious level, now that the 20-something star cadet in the first movie is inching towards the far end of the middle-age bracket. He is just as reckless with government property as he is with his own life. He’s still great at what he does (the best!) and still as insubordinate. He chooses not to be involved in a long-term relationship and cruises by on his million-watt charm which he knows gets him anywhere. This man is born with a get-out-of-jail-free card. Who wouldn't want that?

As an example of men who devote themselves to a life of thrill seeking, there’s a striking similarity between Maverick and the guys in the Fast & Furious movies. Top Gun: Maverick tries to ground the enterprise in some semblance of creditability with its connection to the navy and air force, the people are properly trained at the best military academy, not speed demons and ex-cons who start their careers burning rubber on the street.

What they have in common though, is a lifetime membership in a muscular obsession whose prime concern is their insistence on pumping adrenaline above all else. Their favourite pursuits involve revving engines up to death-defying speed and gravity-defying manoeuvres. When they're not driving, the Fast & Furious movies are a bore. When Tom and his mates are not flying, this movie is not very interesting at all. Top Gun: Maverick follows the same formula of its original without adding imagination and gives us the same bucket of popcorn only glazed with some new butter.


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