Top Gun: Maverick

I went into this movie equipped with two pieces of baggage:

  1. I had watched the predecessor the night before, so the plot beats, overt propagandizing, and rampant homoerotic tension was fresh in my mind.
  2. I knew from a friend that it was as much of a critical darling as could be hoped (at the time of my viewing, it was sitting at around a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes) as well as a crowd-pleaser.

For the first two thirds of the movie, I was a bit flabbergasted at the latter. It felt rote and plastic; yes, Tom Cruise was playing a twenty-year old at the age of fifty and clearly giving it his all, but — why? It felt like a cosplay of the previous film, down to replacing one inert love interest with another. And I so hate the tendency for these films to try and bridge the gap between "beloved old movie" and "hot new IP" by bringing back the star, having them mentor some folks, and then dying off or sailing into the sunset.

Where this movie turned the corner [^1] for me was the climactic two runs of what I'll call the "Top Gun Kessel Run". It was a very good choice to replace the "abstract competition with points" in the original film with a specific objective that the trainees fail in interesting and revealing ways, and then that choice is rewarded with both Tom Cruises' hypersonic completion of the run (it's much clearer to say "oh he did it in 2:15 instead of 3:00" than "uhhh he did a really cool maneuver"), but also the incredible action sequence of the live TGKR, which was just some of the best action filmmaking I've seen in my life.

This was not a mastery of film, and I think the critical gulf between reviews of this movie and reviews of the original is a bit of a make-up call for what was in retrospect a deeply odd and impactful bit of American mythos. But it was a better one, and it's certainly very fun.

Some stray observations:

  • I assume an earlier draft of this script had more focus on the whittling down of 12 trainees to six, because boy did that have no impact on the actual plot. I'm honestly impressed with the surgical precision by which the eight redshirt trainees were excised from the actual film!
  • Glen Powell is a great actor, and the deployment of him as Waluigi Maverick was apt.
  • Speaking of deployments: I hated the Lady Gaga original track, but thought the use of the church bell from Take My Breath Away as a bit of a aural motif was brilliant.
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