Top Gun: Maverick
(Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, et al / PG-13 / 2h 11m / Paramount Pictures)
Summary: After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him.
When he finds himself training a detachment of Top Gun graduates for a specialized mission the likes of which no living pilot has ever seen, Maverick encounters Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), call sign: “Rooster,” the son of Maverick’s late friend and Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Nick Bradshaw, aka “Goose”.
Facing an uncertain future and confronting the ghosts of his past, Maverick is drawn into a confrontation with his own deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.
Verdict: As I was watching Top Gun: Maverick this weekend, I couldn’t help but think of the Bollywood star Salman Khan.
Like Cruise, Khan makes monstrously successful blockbusters that appeal to the masses while being sniffed at by the elites.
Khan’s action movies invariably include utterly implausible scenarios in which the hero performs superhuman feats, sometimes on motorcycles. He doesn’t care about the critics; he’s there to thrill his many devotees. And Khan does it again and again with effortless sincerity on-screen, despite regularly ending up in the news for the wrong reasons between his films.
In a similar vein, Cruise is delivering the goods to his fans in Top Gun: Maverick, which is packing theaters around the world. The story line is laughable; the action scenes are riveting; and in the end, Cruise’s sincerity on-screen somehow overcomes the movie’s campy scenes and his off-screen controversies, leaving admirers thirsting for his next movie.
In Top Gun: Maverick, Cruise also likes riding his motorcycle at high speeds without a helmet, just like Khan.
There’s not a ton of chemistry in the G-rated romantic subplot between Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and Jennifer Connelly’s Penny Benjamin. But that doesn’t really matter in a film about American exceptionalism intended to draw in viewers from red and blue states.
For the red-state crowd, director Joseph Kosinski provides dollops of bravery, honor, and antihero nose thumbing at deep-state elitists, as reflected in the characters of Adm. Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm) and Rear Adm. Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris).
For the blue-state crowd, there’s a diverse case of buff young pilots who, while acting like hot shots from time to time, show no evidence of sexism or racism. Connelly’s appearance as a strong and independent single mom also helps in this regard — she, after all, has appeared in several movies that appeal to liberals, like A Beautiful Mind, House of Sand and Fog, and Blood Diamond.
While this is Cruise’s movie, Miles Teller, as Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, still manages to upstage him on the odd occasion as the son of Goose from the original Top Gun film.
Cruise has clearly improved as an actor since the first Top Gun in 1986. He’s no longer the cocky young kid who tried to steal every scene he was in.
Perhaps life’s tribulations have enabled Cruise to better convey the subtleties of what his characters are experiencing as he ages — and show more generosity to his fellow performers on-screen.
But the real star of Top Gun: Maverick is the dizzying aerial acrobatics, which are more than worth the price of admission for those not overly concerned about simplistic dialogue, far-fetched reconnections, and a silly plot. But hey, this is Hollywood, not real life.
In the end, Cruise is giving his fans what they want — a short respite from COVID, inflation, mass shootings, and increasingly freaky weather events. And who doesn’t need a break from that? [CS]