On March 3, 1969 the US Navy established an elite school for the top 1% of its pilots. It’s purpose was to teach the lost art of aerial combat & to insure that the handful of pilots who graduated were the best pilots in the world. They succeeded. Today, the Navy calls it Fighter Weapons school. The flyers call it…..Top Gun!!!
The original Top Gun (1986) became a certified cult classic in the history of cinema for its all-American machismo, filmy romance, epic montages, aerial dogfights & awe-inspiring soundtrack. Directed by Tony Scott & produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it not only was the highest grossing film of 1986 but also propelled Tom Cruise to stardom. His character Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell became so popular that it inspired a generation to be pilots. And now 36 years later after Top Gun, Cruise is back with its sequel. But can it recreate the magic of original?
Directed by Joseph Kosinski, Top Gun: Maverick follows Maverick as he is recalled in the Top Gun academy by Admiral Cyclone (John Ham) to train a group of best pilots that will have to undergo a seemingly impossible mission – to destroy a uranium enrichment field somewhere in narrow mountainous trench overseas avoiding enemy fighters & surface mounted missiles. And all of this just under 2.5 mins.
Maverick (Tom Cruise) still has the charismatic enigma of the first film. Penny (Jennifer Connelly) plays his love interest. He is anxious to rekindle his relationship with her but also has a bunch of Top Gun graduates to train. Those include Hangman (Glen Powell), Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), Payback (Jay Ellis), Fanboy (Danny Ramirez), Coyote (Greg Tarzann) & Bob (Lewis Pullman). But one to watch out is Rooster (Miles Teller). He is the son of Nick ‘Goose’ Bradshaw whose accidental death still haunts Maverick. He never forgave himself for that. Neither did Rooster.
Director Joseph Kosinski & cinematographer Claudio Miranda completely recreate Tony Scott’s cinematic style. The opening scene is similar to that of first film. And hearing the Harold Faltermeyer’s Top Gun anthem, it feels so motivating & refreshing as if the first film was released just a couple of years ago. To add cherry on the cake is Lady Gaga’s Hold My Hand which celebrates the crowning achievement of its sequel. Inspite of boasting such a diverse cast, Kosinski with the help of screenwriters (Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren & Cruise’s long time collaborator Christopher McQuarrie) expertly manages the movie’s pacing. There are enough characters & conflicts but no subplot overstays it’s welcome. He balances various egoistic performances with human drama while tackling real world issues of military warfare. And it’s here where the movie works; in these nuanced human elements for eg. Maverick confrontation with his students who think he is obselete & outdated, and with his seniors who are skeptical of him as he is still a Captain after all these years, his students trying to take down each other in a bar, all form an interesting dynamic. His past with Rooster forms the heart of the story.
The action scenes are breathtaking. Both Cruise & Kosinski relied on practical effects instead of cgi & the lengths they went to achieve it are unprecedented & unimaginable. Those actors have to undergo some mind-boggling training to fly those US Navy F/A-18s jets. The cameras were installed in those cockpits where the actors had to direct themselves against the G-force. Now that’s what I call pushing the frontiers of cinema! And looking at every frame all this hard work paid off. Kosinski stages every ascent & descent, inverted dives, low altitude flights, skirmishes of those blistering war machines with mounting suspense & thunderous intensity going full bonkers in the end giving us an overall immersive experience that is worth making a trip to the cinema.
Tom Cruise was just 24 when the first Top Gun came out. In the first film, Maverick was young, brash, burning with intensity & utter disregard for authority just like some of students are right now. His recklessness lead to severe consequences. Cruise embodied Maverick’s qualities in real life as well; a confident, respectful, daring, athletic, hardworking man who is willing to put his life on the line in order to achieve something incredible; emerging as a hero. He pushes himself & his colleagues to never settle for the easy way out. He went on to work with some of the most distinguished directors; consistently delivering blockbusters for four decades. Audiences go crazy when he performs those death-defying stunts & always wonder what he’s gonna do next. Maverick became the extension of Tom Cruise himself.
In the sequel, he is almost 60. He has grown older & wiser but still full of youthful energy, trying to redeem himself for what he has done while passing the torch to the future generations. With the advent of technology- computer aided weaponry, unmanned drones etc., the world doesn’t need fighter pilots anymore. Yet Maverick is persistent in his old fashioned ways emphasizing the fact that it all depends on human instinct. And he demonstrated it by outsmarting pilots who are half his age. Those young actors did a fantastic job. They portrayed their role well especially Miles Teller, Glen Powell & Monica Barbaro. But none of them were able to steal thunder from Tom Cruise. His magnetism is unrivalled. His consistent commitment to showmanship is unparalleled. In this era where people mostly watch superhero films or only franchise driven films on the big screen, Cruise remains the last superstar Hollywood needs right now; a high octane leading man whose name is enough to attract huge crowd at the box office. How does he keep on getting better & better with age is still one of life’s mysteries. Even though he realises that his time is nearing towards an end, he refuses to go down without a fight.
Top Gun: Maverick is poignant in ways, acknowledges the passage of time, the generation gap & the existential horror of growing old. But instead of running away from it, the film fully embraces it. Cruise along with Joseph Kosinski & Christopher McQuarrie have crafted an old-school adrenaline boosting legacy-quel which is unexpectedly emotional at times, a homage the original Top Gun bringing Maverick’s arc to a closure. But most importantly it’s a celebration of Tom Cruise’s star power, the one that immortalizes him as the last of his kind who always sets a near impossible standard on himself.