Tom Cruise returns to remind us what a movie star vehicle really looks like.
By Will DiGravio Published May 25, 2022
Let’s cut to the chase: what you’ve heard about Top Gun: Maverick is right. It lives up to the hype. Tom Cruise is back, baby.
Much has happened in the nearly four decades since the events of 1986 Superior gun. Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) lived up to his nickname and famous escapades. Superiors wonder why after all these years he remained captain. The answer, we learn, is that he simply won’t give up stealing (and disobeying orders).
Maverick soon receives a mission he cannot refuse and returns to the famous Top Gun flight school to train a group of star pilots for a dangerous mission. The stakes of Maverick’s return are raised when he learns that his class of students includes Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his deceased best friend and former cockpit mate Nick “Goose” Bradshaw. The coincidence might seem a little too whimsical to some, but the connection between the two men gives the film an emotional depth that the original lacks. Rooster blames Maverick for his father’s death and keeps him at an emotional distance. Maverick, for his part, must find ways to train Rooster and earn his trust. He must also ensure that history does not repeat itself.
Luckily, Maverick has aged with the actor who plays him. Cruise brings to the role the kind of cool and arrogance that defines the young Maverick even though he still has a ways to go. But he also behaves with a more measured and considered demeanor, apparently developed over the decades that have passed. Maverick is a guy who has seen shit, who thinks about life by gradually becoming a father-friend for the pilots he trains.
While the new film makes up for the lack of interpersonal depth in the original, Top Gun: Maverick still brings the kitschy, explosive action that will satisfy fans of Cruise and the first film. Audiences should appreciate just how much the new film, directed by Joseph Kosinsky (tron the legacy; Oversight), is not overly nostalgic. Viewers who have seen the original will naturally smile and clap a little more, but it is not necessary to have seen Superior gun enjoy maverick.
A cast of characters new and old gives the film a new but still familiar feel. Jennifer Connelly plays Penny, the local bar owner who is dating Maverick. Jon Hamm plays Vice Admiral Cyclone Simpson, Maverick’s demanding boss who often questions his tactics. And Val Kilmer reprises his role as “Iceman”, Maverick’s former flight school friend, now a four-star admiral and commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Each of these characters finds ways to push and challenge Maverick as he grows into the role of Top Gun’s senior statesman.
Readers may recall the film’s tumultuous production history. Originally slated for a 2019 release, filming delays pushed the film to 2020. The pandemic, naturally, then caused a series of additional delays. Cruise, in his role as star and producer, has spoken publicly about his commitment to the theatrical experience. He insisted that maverick not its debut via streaming. We should all be grateful that he did.
maverick is a rush of adrenaline to the eyes and ears. Even more than the film’s wraparound visuals, the sound design and music seem to simulate the experience of flight. Wind, explosions, enemy fire and the roar of engines pour over the viewer. Such audiovisual disorientation creates a sonic portrait of Top Gun piloting and flying when the stakes are at their highest. The sounds of the Naval Air Station are all the richer when paired with the film’s soundtrack, which includes an original theme song by Lady Gaga.
Perhaps the most admirable quality of Top Gun: Maverick is that it never pretends to be anything other than what its primary audience wants it to be: a thoughtful, finely crafted action film that will wow audiences with its sounds and sights. The film is escapism at its finest. Audiences who have been waiting years for Maverick’s return will be more than happy with the end result.
The nostalgia that audiences can feel when watching maverick may have less to do with Superior gun and more to do with Cruise, who belongs to that dying breed known as the “movie star.” To watch Tom Cruise, his flaws and all, is to watch the living embodiment of movie history. To witness a genre hero whose style of filmmaking may never exist again.
The history of Hollywood is the story of the star vehicle and the making of films that showcase the unique skills of its greatest performers. We cannot tell the history of cinema without mentioning Tom Cruise. Seeing the man in his element, reprising and evolving into one of his iconic roles, is cinema at its finest. And it’s also a hell of a pleasure to just watch.
Related Topics: Top Gun: Maverick
Will DiGravio is a Brooklyn-based video critic, researcher and essayist who has contributed to Film School Rejects since 2018. Follow and/or unfollow him on Twitter @willdigravio.