Tom Cruise is 'Top Gun: Maverick's’ only source of charm and charisma — but the ride is still thrilling
- "Top Gun: Maverick" debuts in theaters on May 27.
- The highly-anticipated sequel sees
Tom Cruisereturn as fighter pilot Maverick.
Shortly after the American premiere of "Top Gun: Maverick," Tom Cruise's sequel to his 1986 hit, an interview Cruise gave to Playboy magazine in the 1990s resurfaced online. In the interview, the actor said that it would be "irresponsible" to make a second "Top Gun" film, and he had decided against expanding the film's universe to avoid glorifying war and right-wing ideology. Cruise was right to have reservations — the film has been a pillar of hyper-masculine, Americana filmmaking for decades. So why has he returned now, 30 years later?
Well, after a few frames of "Maverick," it becomes clear, rather quickly, that Cruise and his co-producers are not in the least concerned with war (though one might argue that Hollywood has never really been interested in war at all). "Maverick" is instead concerned with the career of Tom Cruise, the power of stardom, and the future of Hollywood filmmaking.
What's hot: Tom Cruise
The film — which was co-written by Cruise's frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie — establishes its plot early. The US is on another civilizing mission: A foreign enemy has established a weapon of mass destruction (for reasons completely unknown to the viewer), and the US air force must destroy the weapon to save the world. The film whizzes past these logistical details quickly, seemingly to hide plot holes and, more importantly, prevent the viewer from thinking critically about the history of US military intervention.
A group of young and highly qualified fighter pilots have been recruited by the air force and summoned to Top Gun — the US government's renowned combat flying school — to execute a plan to complete the mission, which includes a series of near-impossible and deadly maneuvers. Despite still only being a captain when he should, by now, be an admiral, Tom Cruise's Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, who is living on the fringes of military life testing out high-altitude, hypersonic planes, is called back to instruct the group of highly qualified recruits at the behest of his former Top Gun classmate and rival, Iceman (Val Kilmer), who is an admiral and believes only Maverick, with his badass attitude and classic combat flying skills, can execute the mission.
But Maverick is loathed by the modern establishment, who believe he's an old hack. "The future is coming, and you're not in it," he's told early on in the film. At every turn, the film attempts to highlight the contrast between contemporary life and Cruise's old school habits to promote tradition over innovation. For instance, when Maverick is told that his testing program will soon be shut down and replaced with drones, he hops in a plane to prove he can still outfly any robot.
The film's metaphorical ambitions become even clearer when Maverick arrives at Top Gun to find that none of the young recruits have the correct balance of skill and chutzpah to lead the mission. Among the young pilots is Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (a middling Miles Teller), the son of Maverick's former flying partner, Goose, who died in combat. As a result, Maverick is drafted in as the squadron leader, and the entire burden of the mission falls squarely on his shoulders. The safety of the world, and, by extension, any suspense the film has attempted to build, relies on the skill, knowledge, and, most importantly, survival of Cruise.
Bottom line: Tom Cruise is the sole source of charm and charisma in 'Top Gun'
The importance of Cruise's central performance isn't a real surprise. One can make a fairly accurate assumption about the direction a film is likely to take by looking up its top-billed cast and its director. With no names on the bill close to Cruise's historic box office pull, this sequel was always crafted to service Cruise, and luckily for "Maverick," he emphatically proves his worth throughout the brisk two-hour runtime. He is the film's sole source of charm and charisma, proving that he still has the pace to keep up with actors younger than him, and the skill to drive a blockbuster forward.
But Cruise's star power was never really in question. Despite public outbursts and controversial associations, Cruise's star has never dimmed: He has featured in at least one film every year since 2008, and he's a certified household name. So, the messaging in "Maverick" can often have a ring of desperation and insecurity.
This brand of nostalgia-driven filmmaking, however, has become increasingly popular in recent years. In the last decade, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Richard Linklater — three of the most prominent Hollywood filmmakers of their generation — have all produced uncritical tributes to their youth that hold subtle condemnations of the current trajectory of contemporary American life. This trend suggests that there might be some existential dread among the seemingly liberal white American Hollywood man, similar to the white conservative man, about their position in society.
Curiously, the desire for nostalgia in "Maverick" doesn't extend to the women of the franchise. Neither Meg Ryan, who played Rooster's mother, nor Kelly McGillis, who played Maverick's love interest in the original film, make returns. Maverick, instead, gets a new love interest in the form of Penny, played by the brilliant
That is just one difficult question Cruise and the producers of "Maverick" will have to face when the film releases in US theaters on May 27.
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