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‘Top Gun: Maverick’ – No Woke, Just Thrills and Nostalgia on Steroids

Satisfying sequel hits nearly all the marks while outdoing the original

The 1986 smash “Top Gun” was both a movie and a pop cultural moment.

The latter mattered more, given the tenor of the times. President Ronald Reagan lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW D.C., and his confidence buoyed the nation. Pop hits like “Danger Zone” and “Take My Breath Away” crushed the Billboard charts, and rightly so.

The film’s star, Tom Cruise, couldn’t be more movie-star handsome or powerful within the industry — even if 1985’s “Legend” showed his commercial vulnerability.

“Top Gun” was the right movie at the right time, even if the film itself was far from great.

So where does that leave “Top Gun: Maverick?”

Top Gun: Maverick | NEW Official Trailer (2022 Movie) - Tom Cruise

The oft-delayed sequel can’t replicate that Reagan-era optimism or the original’s rah-rah patriotism. This is 2022, and cheering on a straight white male military hero is problematic to the small but vocal minority that runs the culture.

Don’t tell that to Cruise.

The ageless star is in full control of his film destiny, and he clearly helped “Maverick” avoid most, if not all, of the culture war booby traps.

No hand wringing over military might or extended emasculation of its rugged hero, for starters. No lectures on America’s imperfect past or gender inequality.

And, suffice to say, “Top Gun: Maverick” isn’t woke in the slightest. It is, though, a testament to American excellence and the ability to achieve a goal no matter the odds.

How retro. How … refreshing.

RELATED: Richard Dreyfuss: Woke Will Kill America

Cruise is back, of course, as Pete Mitchell, far better known by his call sign, Maverick. He’s been kicking around the Navy for some time now, never rising above Captain status.

Maverick doesn’t play by the rules, in case you weren’t paying attention. 

Still, he’s tasked with his most formidable assignment yet – training the latest class of Top Gun graduates to take out a nuclear enrichment facility in an unnamed country.

Yes, once again a “Top Gun” movie wages war against an unknown foe. It’s odd and oddly welcome given our tribal times.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Maverick is no teacher, at least on paper. He’s the best of the best, a pilot without equal. That doesn’t translate to someone who pores over user manuals and lectures kids on dogfight techniques. Plus, one of the Top Gun graduates is Rooster (Miles Teller, excellent), the son of Maverick’s old buddy, Goose (Anthony Edwards), who died in “Top Gun.”

That guilt hasn’t ebbed in the past 30-plus years.

“Top Gun: Maverick” isn’t shy about tracing the ’80s-era blueprint.

  • The leather jacket
  • The signature shades
  • The testosterone-fueled sing-a-longs
  • The beach scene with tanned skin aplenty

Nor does it hold back on nostalgia, from endless photos of Goose and co. to a heartfelt reunion with Iceman (Val Kilmer). Try to hold back that lump in your throat during those sequences.

Good luck.

“Top Gun” flame Kelly McGillis didn’t make the reunion, but Jennifer Connelly capably anchors the romantic subplot as another woman from Maverick’s past. She’s strong and feisty, but she’s here to keep her old beau’s ego in check while making him a better man.

This isn’t the cocksure Maverick of yore, and that’s understandable. He’s older, and his arrogance has evolved in ways that make the character more engaging.

The cocky baton is passed to Glen Powell, the most arrogant of the new recruits. He’s a pretty boy with attitude to spare, but the film recognizes he’s not the center of attention.

It’s Cruise, grappling with his past and Rooster’s future.

Director Joseph Kosinski, who previously teamed with Cruise for the intriguing “Oblivion,” leans hard into the sequel’s IMAX possibilities. We’re treated to several flying sequences, each superior to the last. Few films are as tailor-made for summer-time viewing as “Maverick.”

There’s humor here, too, enough to puncture some of the assembled egos and give the sequel a sense of humanity. This might be a glossy blockbuster, but the potential loss of life gets sizable attention.

That “Fast & Furious” franchise should take some notes. 

We’re given not one but two authority figures for Maverick to torture. Ed Harris gets too little screen time in that role, with Jon Hamm taking over early as Col. Rules & Regulations.

The Top Gun graduates acquit themselves well, but the story doesn’t give any one pilot enough time to pop.

The exception? Teller’s Rooster. The talented star leans into his angst, and the tension between him and Maverick is the dramatic fuel that powers the dizzying third act.

The passage of time is never off-screen for too long, even if Cruise refuses to age. Maverick is dubbed a relic, a creature of the past by his naysayers. They’re not wrong. What Cruise’s Maverick does in this marvelous sequel is show them, and Hollywood, you never count a hero out.

HiT or Miss: “Top Gun: Maverick” is the very best kind of sequel. It embraces the source material and improves on it whenever possible. Long may Maverick fly.

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13 Comments

  1. HOW ON THIS EARTH DID THAT MOVIE GET MADE?? Where’s the black lesbian transgender hero? Where’s the white male incompetent that causes all the eye rolls from the super elite women of color? Where are the obvious gay co-pilots? Where are the super duper women who ride in at the last minute to save the day – right after they had their nail elongated and a few hair weaves?? HOW can we take this movie seriously??? Where’s Morgan Freeman? Where’s Favor Flav – surely HE demands a cameo even if just in a “fly by”? Why isn’t Hunter Biden cast as on of the “problem boys” and paid a ridiculous sum to just lie on a beach, unshaven, pot bellied, and stoned? And once again, HOW DID THIS MOVIE GET MADE??? Obviously, I can’t wait to watch it!!

  2. Did I read that some patch was changed or removed from Maverick’s jacket to appease the CCP? That sounds “woke”-ish to me.

    1. Yes, you’re correct. Patches for Japan and Taiwan were on Maverick’s original bomber jacket. They’ve been thoughtfully removed for the new film, so as not to endanger the gross in China. So…take that whole, “This isn’t woke,” with a grain of salt.

          1. The G-1 isn’t a bomber jacket but you are definitely a pogue, Jimmy.

      1. Just saw it in India, no changing of the patches here. Taiwan and Japan both there. F Chyna.

        What an incredible movie! 11/10. Didn’t disappoint and didn’t woke sh*t up!

        There is still some hope for the good ol’ USA !

  3. Like the film Point Blank (1967) where the middle aged anti-hero dies at the beginning on the film in a double cross but somehow survives to seek revenge, Top Gun: Maverick is along the same lines. In this case a 60 year old on-duty pilot (no one exist like this in real life), dies in a test flight at the beginning. The rest of the film is his heroic, in his dying mind, dream of him seeking redemption for killing Goose, his obsession with his job and saving the world from a foreign enemy never identified.

    While they did cannibalize Star Wars, two of the three screenwriters are Eric Warren Singer (The International (2009) and American Hustle (2013))and Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects (1995) and The Way of the Gun (2000)), who have written complicated thought provoking thrillers with references to many 60’s – 70’s films. Considering Cruise’s obsession with perfection, the duality of reality vs. fantasy, I’m sure this was not a coincidence. This living vs. dead motif is also used in Once Upon A Time In American as well. Suggest you watch Point Blank and you’ll see where these guys are drawing these references.

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