Well-blended script and story, making this feel like a much more complete experience than more modern blockbusters
Hollywood just might ruin this by forcing out an unnecessary franchise
In a time where every other movie to hit the big screens is franchise-building tentpole, the meaning of the true summer blockbuster has been diluted. No longer are event films a rarity, or is star power independent of the characters which an actor whose career has been catapulted by their fortune of looking like a comic book icon come to life.
And then there’s Tom Cruise.
The man needs no character history to elevate his already existing star power and often reminds audiences with ease why he’s more than just your average A-lister in the cadre of Hollywood elite… though that’s not to say he can’t produce some serious flops. And while he’s often all the reason needed to make a role iconic, from Ethan Hunt to Jack Reacher (though the latter not necessarily for the right reasons), his turn as Peter “Maverick” Mitchell in 1986’s Top Gun still holds true as an anomaly of not needing any form of legacy pick up over three decades to be remembered as a leading man in an action blockbuster.
Picking up in somewhat real time just over thirty years since the original movie, Top Gun: Maverick sets its sights on the now titular character as a man whose career has been stunted just by the virtue of him being the same person he’s always been. Easily pushing boundaries, Maverick’s become more than just a pilot, but also an asset to the US Navy in their journey towards building a stronger force.
In classic rebel-against-grain measure, Maverick encounters detractors and more orthodox superiors who’d much rather see him in a retirement home than in the pilot’s seat. Thankfully for the still Captain Pete Mitchell, his relationship with highly decorated Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky has kept him longer in the air than he’s had any right to be.
By all measures of story-telling, Top Gun: Maverick takes very little risk and even less liberties with the tropes of the genre. However, in the swirls of this classic Tom Cruise and Jerry Brukheimer concoction, the familiar flavours somehow standout as a refreshing revisiting of the true cinema blockbuster where the grandeur of the experience is distilled to the characters’ journeys and the sheer stakes for which they stand. Amidst decades of uber long form franchise-building and convoluted universe-building demanding the audience to be apprised of no less than trilogies and a mix of platform-exclusive TV shows alongside movies, Top Gun: Maverick is a reminder of how the movie-watching experience should be.
(You also can’t help but feel that maybe our best shot at a Green Lantern movie may have been back in the ‘80s or ‘90s.)
With Cruise’s Maverick being the only significant returning character, this sequel’s story is heavily serviced by entirely new actors and characters, all seemingly familiar but also fresh in dynamic–especially when placed along Maverick’s newly evolving role. Cruise is juxtaposed against an entire stock of fresh faces led by the more familiar Miles Teller, featuring Glen Powell, Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman among others.
These relatively young stars help ground the reality of the film’s legacy with veteran actors such as Ed Harris (arguably as Ed Harris), Charles Parnell, and Cruise’s fellow returning co-star Val Kilmer. Bridging the two generations of actors are the likes of Jon Hamm and Bashir Salahuddin, both proving to be remarkably likeable regardless of their relationship with Maverick.
But the true brilliance in the execution of casting lies in the presence of Jennifer Connelly as the much vaunted but never seen Penny Benjamin, whose legacy lies in but one mention in the original movie. Connelly’s casting and her character’s tumultuous history with Maverick seals the Top Gun sequel as a complete experience unto itself, achieving more character growth and depth than most tentpole franchises when paired with its predecessor.
While film-going and the ensuing experience have obviously evolved, Top Gun: Maverick is a reminder that maybe there is still room for the classic non-franchise submerged film which still places characters and not events or fan service at the heart of the film.
Maverick does not shy away from building the narrative on the history of this singular returning character, while also deftly using the first film’s events as the foundation of this new leg of adventure. Proving that heartfelt moments and humour need not always come at the cost of building a character just to be killed or in the form of snarky witticisms, Top Gun: Maverick is more than just a film, it’s a reminder of the superiority in character-driven storytelling of the ‘80s.
Top Gun: Maverick is slated to hit the screens on 25th May, and is one of the very few films that is actually worth the cost of an IMAX ticket.