‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Sticks the Landing


Tom Cruise in “Top Gun: Maverick” (Courtesy Paramount Pictures)

By Megan Fisher, Arts Writer


After the 2022 Cannes Film Festival premiere of his new movie “Top Gun: Maverick,” Tom Cruise was asked by an interviewer if there was any chance that the movie could have gone straight to a streaming service. Cruise’s answer was an emphatic “no.”

“That was never going to happen. Ever,” he said with a laugh, as though the very idea was ridiculous. At another point in the retrospective he maintained that he makes “movies for the big screen” and spoke with great emotion about his love of cinema and going to the movie theater.

At screenings for “Top Gun: Maverick,” a message from Cruise plays after the trailers. He thanks everyone for coming out and states the filmmaker’s intention to make the movie as cinematic as possible. This is a movie that was intended to be watched “exclusively and only in theaters.”

Makes a Case for Movie Stars and Movies in the Theater

Tom Cruise’s defense of movie-theater-going in the face of streaming services adds an interesting meta element to “Top Gun: Maverick.” There’s a moment toward the beginning of the movie when Cruise’s character, Lt. Pete Mitchell, is chewed out by a Naval Admiral (Ed Harris, grumpy as you could want him) who wants to shut down the program and replace fighter pilots with drones. “The future is coming,” the admiral growls, “and you’re not in it. Your kind is headed for extinction.”

From the introduction of the television to family homes in the 1950s to the rise of cable and HBO in the 1980s, doomsayers have long been foretelling the death of cinema. These prophecies have been more frequent since the rise of Netflix in the mid-2010s with a healthy side of “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

There has also been a shift in movie stardom over recent years. While there are celebrities with twitter stans and high engagement on social media such as Zendaya, Ryan Reynolds, Chris Evans and Dwayne Johnson, all of them are tied to a movie franchise. None of these actors have been successful in getting original, mid-budget films to No.1 at the box office by virtue of their charisma and star persona alone. They are only as big as their action figures. People want to tweet about actors, not watch their movies. With blood, sweat, tears and sonic booms, “Top Gun: Maverick” makes a case for movie theaters and old-school movie stars.

With “Top Gun: Maverick,” it was as though Cruise took a look at the contemporary movie landscape and lack of movie stars and, like the Supernanny meme, said, “You guys are in a crisis. I’m on my way.” He pushes everyone else aside and gives a Masterclass in being a movie star.

When Cruise is on screen there is nowhere else you could possibly look, so much so that one of my major gripes with the movie is that it should have been a torch-passing, like the one that Cruise himself got from Paul Newman in “The Color of Money.” Unfortunately, there is no current working actor who could be the next Tom Cruise. Miles Teller and Glen Powell have talent and charm, but I cannot see them ever reaching that level of movie star fame.

Improvement on the Original

“Top Gun: Maverick,” directed with confidence and verve by Joseph Kosinski, is a significant improvement on the 1986 original, a movie that I find to be a piece of entertaining and dumb kitsch.

Thirty years later, after defying authority during a test flight, Lt. Pete Mitchell is sent back to the United States Navy Strike Fighter Instructors Program, or TOPGUN — this time as an instructor. He is given the assignment to prepare a select group of aviators to fly an urgent, dangerous mission. Among the pilots is Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Mitchell’s late wingman Goose, who holds Mitchell responsible for the death of his father. This relationship provides the movie’s emotional backbone.

In between macho jockeying and death-defying stunts Mitchell rekindles his romance with Admiral’s daughter and bar owner Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), a weakly written character who is willed into some semblance of dimensionality through Connelly’s sheer force.

Perfect Summer Blockbuster

“Top Gun: Maverick” is a Hallmark Movie for dudes. I mean this in the best way possible, and not as a pejorative. It’s a movie that’s not about the characters or plot, but about the emotions that it is able to conjure and the experience of sitting back and watching a fighter plane fly over your head in a crowded theater. “Top Gun: Maverick” is an exhilarating piece of Dudes Rock Cinema with its vividly directed, “holy crap how did they do that!” aerial sequences and cacophonous soundscape.

“Top Gun: Maverick” is not a perfect movie, the human dramatics are rather rudimentary and the dialogue is rather hokey, but it is a perfect summer blockbuster.


[email protected]