People have been raving about this film, heralding it as a tremendous cinema experience and hailing it as a masterwork of the medium. Certainly the crowd I saw it with last night were feeling this; whooping and clapping with great abandon. Well, this might be true if you’ve not seen a movie since the first Top Gun but otherwise I have to say it feels a lot like blockbuster film making hasn’t really moved on in the last thirty six years.
This is deliberate to some considerable extent. Director Joseph Kosinski and his writers have clearly decided to update rather than reinvent Top Gun and this is one of those belated follow ups that is a little bit of a sequel and a little bit of a remake. At the start I even thought they had put in the wrong DCP cartridge and that we were watching the original Top Gun, something I quickly came to realise was entirely the intention.
I have to say that if you are planning to sit down with Top Gun again before seeing this, don’t. You don’t need to and I fear it might effect your enjoyment, so similar are the beats of the two films. Also, Top Gun Maverick is entirely built on its warming sense of familiarity and you need a bit of distance to enjoy this. It is hard to feel the comforting glow of nostalgia if you only have to think back as far as a day or two.
This is what Top Gun Maverick mostly has going for it; it’s like revisiting a venue you’ve not been for some years and it’s nice to return. Sure, they’ve spruced it up a bit but it’s the same really, and they’ve still got that one guy on staff that you liked back in the day. You can still take people with you who don’t have your memories of the place, they can enjoy the views and the atmosphere for themselves and they’ll like meeting good old Tom, but they won’t get the same from it that you do.
So, it would have been nice if the plot had had a few surprises and a little bit of characterisation among the supporting players wouldn’t have gone amiss but you’ll definitely enjoy the flight. The action scenes are excellent, even if they are still going up against some nondescript faceless foreign enemy. I did wonder why jet fighter technology hadn’t apparently moved on in three decades until they went to great pains to show me how it had. It is interesting that the aerial action and dog fights feel so reminiscent of Star Wars now, when those film’s similar scenes were originally based on contemporary combat planes – but here we are.
In terms of that ensemble cast, once again we have a gang of the best of the best pilots all with their own call signs which are things like Hangman, Phoenix and Cyclone but might as well be Arrogant, Nerdy and Woman. A few of them leave a mark but mostly they are there to turn up, get the job done and make a hasty retreat. The one main exception to this is new hotshot Rooster who is the son of Goose from the first film. It is a bit of a shame that they felt the need to give junior the same very un2022 moustache as his father though. It’s smacks a little of those cartoons that present someone’s offspring as a smaller comedy version of them with the same hair, glasses and business suit.
Goose was of course once the wingman of Tom Cruise’s Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell and our hero’s guilt around the fatal accident that caused his buddy’s demise and his relationship with the now adult Rooster (actually named Brad Bradshaw, you can see why he went for the nickname) is central to this second film. The story actually feels like a natural extension of what came before and seeing the cockiness of our hero tempered by years of regret and hesitation is genuinely nuanced. This is not the impressive vehicle for the ageing Cruise that the latest Mission Impossible movies are but it is good to see him back in this role exhibiting all the acting prowess and star quality that has got him from where he was the last time he played it to where he is now.
Unfortunately the greatest area in which thirty plus years of cultural progression seems to have been ignored is with the female characters. This movie barely satisfies the Bechdel Test and if you look to my own criteria for assessing the representation of women in cinema, coined The Ripley Factor, the result are decidedly mixed:
Are the women in the film believable as real people relative to the story in which they feature or do they have unrealistic, typically macho, fighting powers or abilities?
Actually this is fine; we can totally buy into the idea of a female fighter pilot. It’s great to see her here among the boys.
Does the inclusion of the women in the film feel like tokenism?
Oh! Yeah, that’s a problem.
Are women objectified in a way that does not balance with the treatment of men in the film?
Absolutely not. This movie has its own version of the volleyball scene from Top Gun where the men are all ripped and oiled like they’re the Chippendales.
Do the female characters exist only to define or motivate men?
We’ve got no Kelly McGillis or Meg Ryan this time but Jennifer Connelly smiles and looks beautiful through the whole thing with little else to do. I can only imagine she read the script for this film where she was invited to appear opposite Tom Cruise and had her head in her hands thinking ‘huh, and I’m the one with the Oscar’.
Top Gun Maverick is not the perfect film some are saying it is then but it is entertaining and occasionally tense and it’s impossible not to get swept along with it. It is full of likeable pretty people, it’s good that several of them are over fifty and if you are too then I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time. It didn’t take my breath away but I did definitely feel the need, the need for speed.