Top gun maverick tom cruise

Tom Cruise rules the game in Top Gun: Maverick

A back to the basics sequel you didn’t know you needed, showcasing Tom Cruise as one of cinema’s last real movie stars.

In a sequel over 30 years in the making, Top Gun: Maverick showcases Tom Cruise as one of cinema’s last real movie stars. It’s almost eerie how little he’s changed in his nearly 40-year career. He plays the same kind of roles, and has the same twinkle in his eye. While he does look his age, albeit very fit and healthy, he embodies a fresh boyishness that initially helped propel him to fame. As he returns as Maverick in the long-awaited sequel, delayed indefinitely due to the pandemic, even the character seems lost in a kind of paralysis — never really able to grow up or evolve.

Refreshingly, the plot of Top Gun: Maverick is ridiculously simple. Troublemaker Maverick is sent to teach a new batch of Top Gun recruits to go on a near-suicidal mission. He trains them. They do the mission, and the movie is over. Aside from the ridiculous challenge that requires not one but two “miracle” manoeuvres, the conflict is rooted in Maverick’s cowboy attitude that puts him at odds with the order and restrictions of the American military. The film’s action is split between military aircrafts and bars or beaches. It’s an action movie occasionally interrupted by hangouts. 

At its best, the movie channels the devil-may-care attitude of a great Howard Hawks movie. It’s a world where respect is earned through hard work and daring life or death sacrifices. Characters are hardened by violence, but they’re not haunted by trauma and maintain a pep in their step. The more sinister machinations of the military-industrial complex are cast aside in favour of macho ideals embodied in close male friendships and personal sacrifice.

Top Gun: Maverick treads a careful balance as it revives the American jingoism of a bygone era within a new context. The perceived enemy is never named, and any individuals we ever see are wordless, anonymous bodies behind a tinted glass helmet. Maverick, three decades later, is still a captain. His love interest, an unfortunately flat Jennifer Connelly as Penny, mentions that he’s served in Afghanistan and both Iraq wars, but we don’t feel the burden of those experiences. He’s only really hung up about the death of his buddy Goose, and that he’s now forced to train Goose’s son Rooster (Miles Teller), in what might be a suicide mission. 

There’s something very purely American about the whole thing. It’s a sugarcoated film that only vaguely hints at more complexity around the edges. It’s obvious though that Maverick is a by-product of an older era. He doesn’t quite belong anymore, even if he has the skills and the passion for getting things done. While the film retreads a lot of nostalgia, particularly for fans of the original, it all seems infused with impenetrable melancholia; an understanding that things were maybe always dark and complicated, but everyone was more accepting of the illusions that upheld the fantasy of American supremacy. What is lost is not exactly an old way of life but a dream that never existed. 

So people sing, and they play sports on the beach. It reminds me of fighter pilots singing at the piano in Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings so they can forget the pain of those who are lost. But, more integrally, I couldn’t help thinking of the revisionist lens of John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance — a movie about myths and movie stars. It’s not entirely clear if Tom Cruise has that same awareness that he’s part of a bygone era. Still, he certainly embodies in his physicality and control over his characterizations a world that belongs to the past. It’s not that he’s too old. His presence itself lacks the sickening irony that has poisoned everything. He remains elusive and mysterious, inscrutable and perhaps even somewhat blank as a person. He only really exists on-screen. 

Top Gun: Maverick stands apart in a blockbuster landscape overtly dominated by movies that feel run through many computer programs. It feels like a “real” movie primarily driven by Tom Cruise’s star power and his mysterious honour code. The nostalgia feels faithful to the original without being saccharine or cheap. Even for people who haven’t seen the original, the movie sticks to the basics and delivers. ■

Top Gun: Maverick, directed by Joseph Kosinski

Top Gun: Maverick is playing in Montreal theatres now.

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