Film review: ‘TOP GUN: MAVERICK’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Arriving on our cinema screens a mere 36 years after the original film, Top Gun: Maverick is part action movie, part military propaganda and part romance but more than anything it’s a wilful exercise in Gen X nostalgia mining. With flashbacks to the original film, scenes almost reproduced from that film, a soundtrack with some of the same songs and the ever-present motif of Tom Cruise’s grinning, seemingly ageless, visage with the famous aviator shades, this film is designed to trigger wistful memories of the 1980’s.  Based on the whooping appreciation from hardcore fans at the preview, the filmmakers have at least succeeded in that mission.

Here, Cruise’s Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, despite nominally being in his late 50’s, is still infuriating superiors with his ballsy reckless antics such as flying planes so fast they disintegrate. Much to the annoyance of Admiral Kane (Ed Harris, in a weirdly brief appearance) Maverick isn’t clapped in irons for his latest stunt but is instead assigned to a vital mission at his former top gun fighter pilot academy. An unspecified rogue nation has constructed a suspicious nuclear facility in a Bond villain-like mountain lair and to destroy it, the navy needs its most badass pilot, “Maverick”, to train a team of the best young top guns.  Mitchell discovers, however, that one of them, Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) is the son of former partner, “Goose”, whose death still haunts “Maverick”.

While this film spends alot of time indulging audiences with fan service, it’s still a fairly solid action flick. The mission, which is suspiciously, similar to the attack on the Death Star in Star Wars, looks genuinely dangerous as the pilots have to negotiate a treacherous narrow canyon and fly vertically to avoid colliding with a mountain, all the while fired upon by missiles and enemy fighter planes and being squashed by hideously powerful G force. Thankfully, most of this is realised through in-camera effects and real footage of F-18 fighter planes tearing through the skies rather than cartoonish CGI.  Consequently, there’s some genuine white-knuckle moments.

This film is, of course, gratuitous military and nationalistic propaganda and nearly every scene features the stars and stripes billowing in the breeze – one scene contains possibly the biggest American flag ever witnessed.  Also, much of the dialogue consists of cornball affirmations of service to America and its military machine.  While this aspect of the film has an undeniably unpleasant aroma, the filmmakers were probably lucky with the timing as all this feels a little less toxic than it might have if Mr Trump had still been in the White House.

As a flag waving action film and exercise in nostalgia, it should come as little surprise that this film’s attempts at interpersonal drama don’t work very well.  The conflict between “Maverick” and “Rooster” has little emotional impact and seems to mysteriously vanish at times.  Also, the romantic subplot involving Mitchell and barmaid Penny (Jennifer Connelly), while offering some amusing byplay, is hardly a love story for the ages.  The only relationship here that comes close to being emotionally affecting is the one between “Maverick” and former rival “Iceman” (Val Kilmer).  Their slightly comical alpha male clash, which was central to the first film has given way to something approaching touching respect.

Cruise hasn’t always been a convincing screen presence but he’s found his niche playing action heroes who are more thoughtful and introspective than the Sly/ Arnie/ Bruce stereotype – he’s been particularly impressive as Ethan Hunt in the Mission Impossible series.  In some ways “Maverick” mirrors Cruise as an actor: the eternally youthful, astonishingly dogged figure who’s something of an outsider even when he’s central to the action and who, despite being labelled a relic, keeps returning to show the youngsters how it’s done.  Despite the character’s impetuosity, Cruise gives “Maverick” a touch of venerable sage; he even evokes Obi Wan Kenobi when offering advice to “Rooster”.

Refreshingly, Cruise seems to genuinely have fun with the role here, that gigantic goofy grin looks to be the result of real enjoyment with this film and that will probably be the experience for audience members, at least those who loved the original Top Gun.

This is fast food cinema and those looking for intellectual and artistic nourishment will be as appalled by this film as they might expect but those who want to spend a couple of hours quarantined from a world of moral complexity will have a ball.

Nick’s rating:    

Genre: Action/ war/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Joseph Kosinski.

Release date: 26th May 2022.

Running time: 137 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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