Top Gun: Maverick – 2022

Director Joseph Kosninski
Screenplay Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie
Starring Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer

One thing about Tom Cruise circa 2022 vs 1986 is that the current version of movie star sure knows how to act. He’s had plenty of time and several blockbusters to hone his craft. It hasn’t been wasted time. I am not a fan of the first film. Outside of the outstanding aerial visuals, the film plays like a cologne advertisement. This time around, we have some character development. Some is forced. Some is a beautiful symmetry of age and wisdom. Some of it is touching beyond stated words.

There is also an understandable mission this time around. In fact, they spend so much time going over this mission in the 2nd act, I think I might be able to complete the mission, if it weren’t for all of the speed, G-force and enemy missles. There’s also more of a mixed bag of recruits this time around. Several different shades of personnel. There’s even a woman ace pilot. It may be intersectionality for sale, but they pull it off without making it feel like it’s only a cheap ploy (“…she’s never been alone…”) meant to appeal politically. And they’re still fighting an unnamed bad guy this time, which helps make it more universal.

The essence of the story is Maverick is a 36+ year veteran, who never made it past Captain. He’s just broken Mach 10 and because he couldn’t stop there, he’s busted down and nearly out. Saved by an unlikely ally, he is given a chance to teach a team of Top Gun recruits up for a very important mission. There’s a steep downside though. While back at the school, he strikes it up one more time with…the admiral’s daughter (Connelly, because McGillis looks too much like someone who hasn’t acted in a while).

The teaching sequences go like one might think. The final mission has some suprises in how good your accurate plot predictions look. Even if you know what should happen, you will never forget how it looks.

Kosinski runs circles around the late Tony Scott’s original. His pacing, dialogue and macho moments are all much more smooth and coherent than the first film. He knows when to close up, but he also knows how to let scenes breathe a bit. There is a tender moment in the second act that has more resonance than Scott had in the totalilty of his career. Scott was not in it so much for the introspection as he was in for the action. His whole career kind of felt like this scene.

To Scott’s credit, his film is economical and astounding if you want to follow the credo Cruise’s Maverick tells one of his recruits:

“Don’t think, just act!”

Criuse has come a long way doing both things in his career. He still has that winning smile, but he’s learned to take the butt of the joke once in awhile. He’s learned the strength in being vulnerable while still having heart enough to take risks. What felt two dimensional in 1986 feels more like 3 and 3/4 today. Smart enough to leave room to grow.

(**** out of *****)

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