IT WAS, let’s not forget, a breathtakingly stupid film. Striking as a parlor poodle immersed in power pop, Tony Scott’s Top Gun was the highest-grossing film of 1986, a year not known for good taste or restraint.
More of a pop artifact than a real film, it blended hugely impressive flight sequences with a healing script, wildly over the top.
While Kelly McGillis’ bleach blonde “astrophysicist” Charlie Blackwood was the rumored love interest, Pauline Kael was from The New Yorker spied homosexual undercurrents.
Her pen, always acid-soaked, she wrote: “When McGillis is in the off, the film is a gleaming homoerotic commercial: the pilots strut about the dressing room, towels hanging precariously from their hips. It’s as if masculinity has been redefined as the look of a young man with his clothes half removed, and as if narcissism is what warriorship is about.”
A bad movie then, but everything gets a remake these days, and if 36 years is a long time in showbiz, it’s even longer in the high-performance world of fighter aviation. Once upon a time, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) was an arrogant daredevil, star student at the US Navy’s elite fighter pilot school, Top Gun, a magnet for women and disasters.
Now he’s a wise but not-so-chastened veteran who lives alone but is still on duty and still flies very fast planes to make a living. He’s been testing a new prototype Mach 10 stealth fighter, and just as the program is about to be shut down, Pete breaks all existing speed records in the thing before crashing it. He survives and is about to be discharged from the Navy when an old friend comes to the rescue.
His one-time rival Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer) is now a two-star admiral, and under his orders, Maverick is relocated to North Island, San Diego, home of his old Top Gun flight school.
“I can’t teach!” Pete grumbles in protest, and his new commanding officer Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm) agrees. He thinks Maverick is loose canon and wants to get rid of him, but there is work to be done.
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An unspecified enemy (I suspect Iranian) has begun enriching weapons-grade uranium at an underground site surrounded by high and heavily fortified mountains. The only way to take it down is to fly in Dambusters-style at low altitude, avoiding slanting missiles and enemy fighter planes.
It appears to be a job tailor-made for Maverick, and one he expects to fly himself. Instead, he must stay grounded and brief a group of cocky star Top Gun alumni in the finer details of what smells suspiciously like a suicide squad. And there’s another problem: Among those young pilots is a Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), son of Maverick’s best friend and wingman “Goose” Bradshaw, who was killed during a training exercise.
Maverick always blamed himself for Goose’s death, and apparently so did his son. As the group prepares for their seemingly impossible mission, tensions arise.
I went to the cinema with low expectations and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised Top Gun: Maverick. It’s not as dark as the original film, not half as high-spirited and chaotic.
Everyone still has the stupid identifying nicknames, of course, but when pilots like Lieutenant “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell) say things like “I’m good — I’m really good,” their boasts sound oddly hollow, as if they’re aware of themselves aware of its own essential ridiculousness.
As expected, the flight scenes are spectacular and the story direct and simple: that’s a good thing, because the viewer can fully engage in this nonsense without getting too tired.
Of course, Maverick must have a girlfriend. No sign of Kelly McGillis, now 64, or her character. Instead, Maverick respectfully flirts with Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connolly), a personable and conveniently single bar owner.
In fact, of the original cast, only Val Kilmer survives, sharing a brief scene with Cruise that manages to be genuinely touching, a poignant reflection on the passage of time.
This film would not have been made without Tom Cruise’s consent. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, because from start to finish he dominates this endearingly goofy, endearingly nostalgic action hustle, filling a massive screen with his impressive star power. And whatever you think of him, Tom is a movie star, maybe the only person you can honestly say that about anymore.
Top Gun Maverick hits theaters on May 25th.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/movies/movie-reviews/top-gun-maverick-tom-cruise-flies-high-in-long-awaited-sequel-that-defies-low-expectations-41647227.html Top Gun: Maverick – Tom Cruise flies high in the long-awaited sequel that defies low expectations