Top Gun: Maverick, 2022, 130 mins, 4K UHD
Credit where it’s due, Tom Cruise has blockbuster movie making down to some arcane science now. There’s an old adage in Hollywood that nobody really knows what will prove a hit, and plenty of great movies have crashed and burned at the box office, but maybe Tom has sussed it out. Back when Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015) came out, I remember thinking that it pretty much defined what a great Hollywood blockbuster should be, and then he went and did it again with Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018) and lo and behold, he’s done it again with Top Gun: Maverick (to the tune of nearly 1.5 billion dollars in a post-Covid world with cinemas struggling to get audiences to return: one has to wonder where the numbers would have ended up at in a ‘normal’ world).
Top Gun: Maverick almost makes me wonder what should define Great Cinema. All these films are inherently silly, escapist entertainment, but they are clearly so ruthlessly planned out to perfection, down to character arcs, dramatic structure, through to location shooting, stunts and visual effects… its just astonishing cinema. Its perhaps wrong to care about any off-key moments, because the films are absolutely brilliant rides: they just WORK. I do wonder where the particular magic lies- these films are not subtle at all and you can sense the character beats and what’s going to happen, I could comment about the clunky dialogue, how the romance between Maverick and Jennifer Connelly’s Penny feels like it intrudes from some other movie, and while in some films it might irritate there’s something about Cruise’s deft touch (or possibly that of the people he hires/works with) that results in us not getting annoyed and instead just going with it. Lately most Hollywood blockbusters irritate with forced virtue signalling and stupid scripts awkwardly executed, while Cruises last few projects just seem to soar.
And none of them soar in quite the same way as Top Gun: Maverick. The buzz audiences must have felt walking out of cinemas after seeing this must have been something indeed.
Yes, it is silly, sometimes in the extreme. Indeed, coming into the film pretty much spoiler-free, I think the most surprising thing about the film for me was just how obvious its debt to Star Wars was. Its almost like a blatant remake of the 1977 Star Wars, the attack on a underground nuclear bunker/processing plant so total a lift of the race down the Death Star trench and the targeting of its thermal exhaust port I both admired the fact that it was a better Star Wars movie than anything Disney has done but wouldn’t have been surprised if the film had a nod to George Lucas in the writing credits. They even have computer graphic imagery explaining the attack plan to the assembled pilots where I swear someone says something about a thermal exhaust port; its like the film starts as a remake of The Right Stuff, then asides to repurposing beats from the original Top Gun (I still haven’t seen the original film, but its clear there are nods to that film and moments of fan service), and then it morphs into Star Wars, with a final sly nod to Clint Eastwood’s Firefox. It should irritate for all the repurposing but instead it feels quite glorious.
Tom Cruise may or may not be the last great movie star/Hollywood icon (I think Clint Eastwood may qualify for that although clearly some fans will have other favourites they could elect for that title) but its plain that whatever his merits as an actor, he is also a great producer. As age eventually, as it surely must, presses upon him the time when he just can’t keep defying his years (turning sixty, he looks like he could pass for forty), it seems there will be plenty of opportunity for him to impress from behind the scenes. But then again, its gotten to the point that nothing really surprises regards Cruise these days. It almost feels like he could do anything, and we’ve got two more Mission Impossible films incoming over the next two years to further prove it. There’s even talk of him actually going into orbit to film a space movie in, er, space. The mind boggles.