Top Gun: Maverick

***1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Top Gun
"Things going fast and blowing up is fun to watch." | Photo: Paramount Pictures

If you enjoyed, or, more specifically, remember enjoying Top Gun, then you will probably enjoy, or, even more specifically, will remember having enjoyed, Top Gun Maverick. In much the same way that The Matrix Resurrections was at once sequel and spiritual successor, Top Gun Maverick does almost everything the name suggests. Everything that was in Top Gun, and more Maverick.

Though not only everything that was in Top Gun. If you saw Apollo 13 or, arguably, The Truman Show, and enjoyed Ed Harris looking grimly at screens, you're in luck. If you saw First Man and enjoyed a handsome man travelling quickly in a very pointy aeroplane near the beginning then, again, fortune has smiled upon you. If you liked Star Wars, and I don't just mean in general but very specifically what we now know as Episode IV: A New Hope, then, well, you get the idea.

Copy picture

Ideas that are borrowed from a fair few places, but with sufficient surface gloss that it doesn't really matter that the serial numbers are still present. I was astonished to realise that this is a film that passes the Bechdel test, though that's not the only thing it shares with Aliens. That conversation between two named female characters is a hard one, as they're two-thirds of the distaff on screen. That's counting a waitress whose name-tag I didn't catch and a dead mother, even before a tribute to another aviatrix and a long drop reference to the 1986 film that becomes more uncomfortable if, like Indiana Jones fans, you can do arithmetic.

The opening might be identical. Text about the Navy Fighter Weapons School, held on screen long enough for you to read it and enjoy that swirling theme again. There's mention of hard decks, inverted flight, a carefully non-specific (and improbable) adversary. There's a Jerry Lee Lewis song on the piano, though to be clear it ought to be attributed to Burroughs and Blackwell. There have been some updates. It's not volleyball, it's now 'dogfight football'. It's not Lieutenant Captain, it's now Captain. It's not an Intermeccanica replica of a Porsche 356, it's now an actual 911 S. It's not 'Goose', it's now 'Rooster'. It's not a Kawasaki GPZ 900R, it's now a Ninja H2 R Carbon. It's not Charlotte Blackwood, it's now Penny Benjamin. It's not a Grumman F-14, it's now a Boeing Super Hornet.

Well, it's several of them. Though the screen I think refers to the single seat version as 'Hornet', but that's a different airframe thanks to procurement chicanery, the squared intakes are distinctive even if the silhouettes are similar. It's that level of knowledge that means I can tell you the aggressor aircraft are nigh indistinguishable from the Russian Pak-FA project fighter made by Sukhoi, the SU-57 NATO designated 'Felon'. Which is arguably too cool, geopolitics aside, to replace throughout with the phrase 'fifth generation fighter'. Especially since they always say 'fifth generation fighter' and never 'next', nor do they contextualise it with their own F-18s as four-and-a-halfth and the F-14s it replaced as fourth and so on.

If you're trying to keep track of who the baddies are, there were only three nations that operated the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, the United States Navy and the Imperial (and then Islamic Republican) Iranian Air Force. You might also notice the distinctive vowel sounds in the pronunciation of Uranium, and there might also be a clue in the consequences of a flock of seagulls.

If, separately, you're trying to keep track of what Maverick's been up to, wonder how an O-6 (even with 30+ years service) is able to turn $12,980 a month into a two-seat P-51 Mustang. There's a single seat for sale in New Zealand just now, a snip at just $2,395,000. While they offer finance payments as low as $12,325.44 a month the $654.56 left over, even with food and board provided by the fleet, probably wouldn't cover a bar tab. I'll grant that a test pilot gig with Lockheed's Skunk Works probably brings a quantity of hazard pay, but I do believe you're meant to volunteer for the danger, not cause it. They do mention "Bosnia" and "Iraq, both times," but even 16 years without interest seems a bit of a stretch.

I talk about costs because of something I noticed at the end of Captain Philips, where the credits explained that there'd been no promotional consideration for the depiction of smoking. Probably not true here for the prominent Sailor Jerry standee, but that's by the by. No promotional consideration for the depiction of smoking, but some degree of influence must have been felt for getting to borrow all 40,000 tonnes of the USS Wasp. I lost count at a dozen US Navy Publicity staff in their own specific section of the credits, but if you left after the Lady Gaga song that's not in the film itself you'd miss them.

Harder to miss is a soundtrack that wouldn't be out of place in a Top Gear Compilation, because as sexless as this is it's also very clearly for the dads. It's got nostalgia, including but not limited to simultaneously valorising human pilots and creating circumstances that absolutely cry out for the use of more Tomahawk missiles with their inertial navigation and ability to follow terrain. These aren't new criticisms, it's just that if one thinks about it, it's very clear that every element of the mission is a consequence of dramaturgy.

Stories have a certain flow, but they can experience rapid changes in direction. Aircraft have a certain flow, but they too can experience rapid changes in direction. While there's mention made of a Cobra (Pugachev's eponymous) a form of dynamic decelaration, one of the manoeuvres displayed actually seems to be a tailslide. In a film where time is mentioned a lot, the aerobatic technique involves the plane moving backwards. Which is a lot of what Top Gun Maverick does.

It's got flashbacks that use archive footage. Director Joseph Kosinski had a background in television commercials and has a CV full of sequels and adaptations, so is seemingly perfect for this. Claudio Mirando's worked with Kosinksi on all his filmed projects I think, as well as other effects heavy work like Tomorrowland and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. The re-use of musical cues and score from the first film isn't the only element of recreation, it looks like I remember the original, though that might be some sort of rose tint.

Tom Cruise continues to be Tom Cruise. I don't know if he can exceed the speed of sound without afterburners, so I will refrain from calling him 'Super Cruise', but he continues to impose his usual force upon the screen. Miles Teller has a great deal of charisma too, but I do wonder if part of his casting was his ability to exert and display exertion. Val Kilmer's reappearance as Iceman is odd, not just because there's a brief moment of a weird stagey two-hander about responsibility between them, a tonal shift as jarring in its own way as the shouty play about fatherhood and masculinity hiding in the middle of Ang Lee's Hulk. This is a big canvas for Monica Barbaro, as the only female pilot, and while 'Phoenix' Trace has quite a bit to do she sometimes seems to be included less as a nod to equality than a hedge against homoeroticism.

The film's episodic nature almost certainly has its roots in its attempts to do more than one thing. A rule of thumb for multi-role aircraft is that the more they attempt to do, the heavier and more expensive they become. Films can be much the same. There are five script credits: frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie; Ehren Kruger who bears responsibility for the remakes of The Ring and three Transformers films with colons in their titles; Eric Warren Singer who did conspiracy/caper pictures American Hustle and The International; Peter Craig who penned The Batman and will apparently have a go at Gladiator 2 too; finally Justin Marks, who created the JK Simmons' parallel world spy-thriller show Counterpart. There's almost certainly a further one, beyond the 'based on characters created by', in terms of US Navy influence. The first one was a recruiting advert so successful that when they filmed The Flight Of The Intruder it had a chronologically incongruous line: "Fighter pukes make movies. Bomber pilots make... HISTORY!".

There's plenty history here. Not just because the central raid is a bombing mission. When the Fighter Mafia were agitating for the F-15 for the United States Air Force, the only flying power larger than the United States Navy, there was a slogan "not a pound for air to ground". That their performance requirements were based on misinterpreted surveillance data is a different story. They basically went in a particular direction because of image, and that's almost certainly of true of Top Gun Maverick too.

For those keeping score, and there are a few, copilots also get credit for air to air kills. This is a tradition as old as air combat, and includes jet age titles like WSO and RIO. This does rather undermine Maverick's singular status, but also makes it sadder that Clarence Gilyard hasn't returned. That might be revenge for 2012's Top Gun 2 Back To Traffic School where he reprised the role of Sundown, though others appeared as Mav and Ice. Though he was the one who got Maverick through Top Gun, it was actually Merlin who was backseater for the incident over the Indian Ocean. I don't doubt that there'd be some interesting discussions if Tim Robbins had also returned, but his absence serves as a reminder of just how different career trajectories can be after a hit.

While it's two hours and change, it flies by quickly. Literally so, with consequences that would make daredevils like Joseph Kittinger blanche. As it's an exercise in nostalgia with a 12A rating, parents who saw the first one as children can pretty confidently take their own to it. People looking for something more educational might do better with a documentary like Lancaster. Those looking for entertainment will be well served by this, though it does come with the caveat that it comes from some alternate Earth where it has still been the 1980s for the last 32 years. For a film where much of the character development consists of 'moving on', it doesn't do very much of it itself. Still, or rather the opposite, things going fast and blowing up is fun to watch. Though much as Maverick himself suggests, "don't think".

Reviewed on: 24 May 2022
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Maverick, now a trainer, encounters the son of his old friend Goose.

Read more Top Gun: Maverick reviews:

Richard Mowe ***

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Writer: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Lewis Pullman, Val Kilmer, Miles Teller, Monica Barbaro, Ed Harris, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Jean Louisa Kelly, Manny Jacinto, India Everett, Jay Ellis, Bashir Salahuddin, Danny Ramirez

Year: 2022

Runtime: 131 minutes

Country: China, US

Festivals:

Cannes 2022

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