Highway To The Ager Zone.
Exciting? CHECK. Emotional? CHECK. Goddamit, I really wanted to make gay jokes about this movie! But TOP GUN: MAVERICK, even with its hokey premise and neanderthal plot, really is an exciting cinematic engulfment, tearing us headlong into azure space with those magnificent men (and women now too!) in their flying machines.
Ace fighter pilot from a bygone age, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise), is stuck as a test pilot Captain after 3 decades flying (because flying is his true love – damn the advancement!), igniting the ire of Admiral Hardass (Ed Harris, looking more like a mummy than the mummy in Tom Cruise’s THE MUMMY), until he is transferred to Topgun Academy to train best-of-the-best recruits to fly a Mission Impossible like a Star Wars Trench-able against a Country Un-nameable. When none of the recruits can finish the course successfully, Admiral Sweetcheeks (Jon Hamm) begrudgingly assigns Maverick to fly the mission as lead topless beach footballer. (Hey! Maybe I can squeeze some gay jokes in…)
Leaning heavily on its past glories from Tony Scott’s 1986 TOP GUN, this kinetic sequel (directed by Joseph Kosinski – previously directing Cruise in OBLIVION) boasts merits that are sky high, yet with demerits as deep and long as the Star Wars Trench Run, all explored in this TOP 5 BOTTOM 5 — TOP GUN: MAVERICK.
B5 – MISSION UNFINISHABLE
No matter how arrogant or body-shaved the recruits are, none of them actually complete the training course, which involves snaking through a Death Star Trench, firing on a target no bigger than a womp rat, and then surviving the 10g climb to avoid hitting surrounding mountains. They all fail. So Maverick, who shows them how it’s done by flying the course in record time in a stolen jet, must lead the mission… but three other recruits still have to do the real life run with him! Are these recruits okay with this suicide mission? We know the Navy doesn’t care for their lives – the pilots are just pawns for senators and chickenshit chickenhawks – yet they gladly accept the mission with no cognizance that their failure to make the dummy run is EVIDENCE they will fail the real run! There’s courage – and there’s stupidity.
B4 – TROPE GUN
The tropes fly at us faster than the F-18 Super Hornets:
- Maverick goes past Mach 10 unauthorized;
- He’s hated by all Admirals: Hardass AND Sweetcheeks;
- He throws away the Training Manual – because he’s kewl;
- The mission is moved up – but no one is ready;
- Mav is mentor to his dead partner’s kid;
- Mav makes them a team by playing topless beach football;
- a plane goes below frame as if it’s crashed, only to rise into frame triumphant;
- they list all the adversities on the mission impossible, accompanied by computer graphics;
- Previous Hookup doesn’t want to get involved – immediately gets involved;
- Daughter wise beyond her teen years when it comes to her mom and Mav;
- Hangman (Glen Powell, HIDDEN FIGURES) leaves partners and runs – comes roaring back as the savior of the day;
- hell, there’s even a bird-strike like SULLY… this movie is just non-stop trope.
- Jennifer Connelly is Previous Hookup, as usual for movies of this ilk, looking like she’s at least 2 decades younger than the leading man; owner of the local flyboy bar—but– where did this character come from? Listen real carefully in TOP GUN, and you’ll hear that Maverick “slept with the admiral’s daughter [Penny]” – blink your ears and you’ll miss it. THIS… is the tenuous foundation upon which they build Mav’s love interest in this sequel (because lord knows, they can’t call back Kelly McGillis, who has aged appropriately (i.e. old and fat), or Meg Ryan (whose plastic surgeon must specialize in Klingon faces)). And yet, the ravishing spinner beauty of Jennifer Connelly sells any half-baked love story. And Tom Cruise’s preternaturally youthful carriage sells it back, with his shaved torso and 5% body fat at age 60. (Well done, Xenu’s Child!).
- Fan-service to the bi-curious, as MAVERICK recreates the topless scene from TOP GUN, this time with football instead of volleyball. (And why aren’t the girls topless? Aren’t they equal? Didn’t Demi Moore prove that women should shower naked with men?) More tropes as Lt. Testosterone (Monica Barbaro, FUBAR) and her severe-hairstyle fellow tomboys mix it up with the boys on the beach – because apparently women can do everything men can do nowadays. This scene is so sexy that the sun keeps going from midday to magic hour to create the right slope of sexy shadows across toyt abs and botties.
B3 – NO PUNISHMENT NO CONSEQUENCES NO WORRIES
Mav is grounded by Admiral Sweetcheeks. Yet when he wants to get his hands on a piece of multi-million-dollar machinery to fly the Trench Run unauthorized – he just does. Just like in any given MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie where Ethan Hunt is disavowed, yet can still get his hands on any spy hardware or realistic mask tech that he needs. Being punished comes with absolutely no restrictions! Why even call it punishment? Any wonder the dumbo donald ex-fake-president keeps committing felonies if america WILL NOT throw the piece of dogshit in jail!
B2 – COUNTRY UNNAMEABLE
“There’s a uranium enrichment site that we have to destroy.”
Where is it?
“Who fucken knows? But we’re going there to destroy it.”
The characters never name the country they are attacking. Neither do we see one shred of that country’s flag at the uranium site; no markings on that country’s planes, not one jot of skin exposed on those all-over latex fetish pilot uniforms – not even eyes! It’s so unrealistic that there is not one ethnic slur aimed at the opposing country or its citizens (no “sand nigger”’ or “Dune coon” or “raghead”) – show me a military drogue who is not a xenophobic juvenile on duty and I’ll show you a movie trying to sell its braindead agitprop all around the world, even to those shithole countries that america keeps bombing for oil.
B1 – 5 GENERATIONS OF 2 FACES
The worst thing about TOP GUN: MAVERICK is its geopolitical gutlessness for the sake of craven capitalism. The uranium enrichment site is guarded by “5th generation fighters” – the zenith of technological war-machine. Hmm, I wonder where this unnamed country ACQUIRED their 5th generation fighters? What country regularly produces the fiercest military tech in the world and sells it to other countries? France? Libya? India? Uh, how about america – you two-faced hypocrite pigs. Not even a whisper of this reality.
If the playing-both-sides american government didn’t SELL these 5th gen planes to Uz-bleep-istan in the first place, then they wouldn’t have to shoot down their own hardware when they decide to put their bootheel on Uz-bleep-istan’s neck to keep them down. And america probably sold them the technology to enrich uranium as well! Venal, cash-hungry hubristic american swine! Also, how come only america is allowed to enrich uranium, test H-bombs, or possess WMDs without any permission from overseas countries? I’ll take Making Up The Rules With A Big Stick for $800, Alex. It’s not like the movie lacks self-awareness – it is well aware it is being deflective; rather, it is actively avoiding geopolitical realities, leaving itself in this insular vacuum with no context.
So when Mav and Rooster are shot down behind enemy lines, and steal a classic F-14 Tomcat from the enemy base (in a cartoon excuse to get Tom Cruise into an F-14 for fan service nostalgia-bombast), they’re really only taking back american property anyway. Don’t even whisper about it.
TOP HONORABLE MENTION – NO THRUST NO LUST
It’s almost in the Bottom Category because it draws us into its murky emotion – the movie inadvertently portrays a relationship that actually stalls when the man’s career stalls. Maverick’s and Penny’s relationship was budding all over again (electricity palpable, Penny’s eyes lighting up), until Mav tells her he’s been “grounded permanently,” (Sweetcheeks cans him as training leader) and whether the filmmakers meant to convey this or not, a sudden “dullness” pervades Penny’s demeanor; a claustrophobic feeling, like Mav is now battling for relevance to this girl who was seemingly totally under his spell; waves of apathy cascading off her, like she can’t wait for him to leave.
They got that feeling dead right. When a man’s career ceases forward momentum, any budding relationship goes in the toilet. If you can’t prove yourself a man to this hungering woman, her interest in you fizzles. Yes, the filmmakers would like us to believe that Penny and Mav would work through this together, but let’s not kid ourselves – if Mav washed out, Penny would wash him out too. When he returns in his snow-white douchey military regalia, we see all the juices hungrily flowing again.
And now let’s look at the Top 5 things about TOP GUN: MAVERICK:
T5 – THE WHO AND THE LADY
Soundtrack by Harold Faltermeyer and Hans Zimmer is augmented by The Who to stir the blood (Won’t Get Fooled Again, not in a political context, but more like Mav fooling his charges time and again with his ace flying skillz) and Lady Gaga to stir the tears (Hold My Hand, the outro credit song, in the vein of every 80’s power ballad; and like a Bond movie, this song is integrated into the soundtrack, which gives Gaga her Music credit on this film).
Some might include Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone as a plus (the previous movie’s calling card, and opening this movie over generic shots of American bigdicks thrusting into the sky from aircraft carriers), but I’ve always considered that song a girl-band’s version of being tough and manly. That’s why it fits Kenny Loggins perfectly with his painted-on beard and feminine clothing.
T4 – SEX PLANE
Tom Cruise is seen working on his own plane – a P51 Mustang (which he actually flies during the outro). Second only to the Supermarine Spitfire in aeronautical sexiness, this plane proves its sexual power not only when Mav takes Penny for a wild ride, but when we see Mav and Rooster working on it together in ultra-close proximity with their sweat mingling.
T3 – COSPLAY TO THE DANGER ZONE
The aerial cinematography churns our stomachs and rolls our eyes all over our heads! One of the key organic elements that powerfully separates MAVERICK from all other flyboy movies, it literally takes our breath away… But did the actors actually fly? Yes. And no.
The American Military might be douchebags, but they ain’t stupid – they weren’t gonna let “actors” pilot their billion-dollar dick substitutes; instead, the flying scenes were created with the actors actually inhabiting the rear seats of the Hornets – even Tom Cruise – with Navy pilots flying them around from the forward seat, with saucy cockpit-mounted camera angles giving the illusion that the rear-seat actors were the forward-seat pilots.
Nonetheless, the flying scenes are dynamic and thrilling and awe-inspiring; Cruise signed on with MAVERICK with the proviso that all the aerial stunts should be real and not CGI. So we are seeing actual sky! And I love the way the pilots “inhabit” their cockpits, scanning all around their territory, touching the canopy in excited maneuvers…
The work that went into capturing those scenes is mind-boggling; firstly, just doing another take of a maneuver means that each plane involved in the maneuver would have to fly back to a position with the sun in the same position in the sky, the same positioning of the planes to each other, the same mountains as backdrop etc. and then to actually perform the flying/stunt again! And not flub your facial expressions! And each F-18 Super Hornet was rented from the Navy at $11,000 per hour! Any wonder insurance companies at last cracked down on Cruise and didn’t allow him to actually fly.
T2 – THE SON OF TROPE
It might be a trope, but it’s also a powerful emotional hook – Mav begrudgingly training the antagonistic son of his beloved dead partner! “… trying to be the father he lost…” Some canny writer luckily remembered that in the first movie, while Goose played the piano on Great Balls Of Fire, his little son was perched atop it. (Again – blink and you miss it!) From that nondescript moment, the writers (Peter Craig, Justin Marks, Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie) craft a story where Mav has promised Goose’s widow that her son wouldn’t meet the same fate as her husband, and so pulled strings against the son’s flying career; now faced with training the son in the father’s footsteps. Miles Teller is perfectly cast as Goose’s son, Rooster – his looks, his height (Goose stood a head above Cruise, as does Teller), and even his caterpillar mustache!
T1 – HE’S OUR HUCKLEBERRY
He was the one-dimensional nemesis in TOP GUN, Iceman (brash, egotistical, hair frosted too high), and here, Val Kilmer – without any words – gives the most poignant, heartfelt performance of anyone in both movies. Reconciled with Maverick at the end of TOP GUN, with the ambiguously-gay line, “You can be my wingman anytime,” now Ice is an old admiral with Movie Cancer, huddled, tightly-wrapped in his chair, unable to speak, and communicating via a laptop screen. In just one scene with Cruise, Kilmer, with nothing but his tragic face, pulls out ALL the acting chops, making us weep for the days when all these icons were young and vital.
I had figured that the screenwriters gave Kilmer Movie Cancer to match his aged appearance – because again, the writers had to make some distinction between Cruise, and people who have aged like normal humans over the last 30 years… but Kilmer actually suffered from throat cancer in 2017 (a tracheotomy making him unable to eat, having to be fed intravenously), undergoing surgery, chemo and radiation, which robbed him of the ability to speak. At the end of the scene, Kilmer painfully croaks out final words to Cruise in what is left of his real voice. Cruise matches Kilmer’s emotion, tears edging his eyes – real tears for his once-alpha buddy? The rest of the movie is stratospheric, but this grounded scene is sky high.
There you have it, Movie Maniacs; the Top 5 Bottom 5 of TOP GUN: MAVERICK (and I managed a few gay jokes as well!). Y’know, I could be wrong – but you know I’m right.