I’m naturally wary of reboots, remakes, and what is now called “legacy sequels,” a term coined by box office analysts Gower Street Analytics. The term refers to a “belated sequel” of a very popular film made several decades ago. All of this was discussed in a Guardian article by Andrew Pulver, saying that a very “risk-averse Hollywood” is pouring money into “legacy films” like ‘Top Gun,’ ‘Ghostbusters,’ ‘Jurassic Park,’ and the upcoming ‘Avatar’ sequel to varying results. I’m wary about this because this appeal for nostalgia and fan service truly treats films like products and not creative productions. There’s a checklist that you have ticked off before you can even start working on the film as a creative output.
So I had mixed feelings coming into ‘Top Gun: Maverick.’ I am not a legacy fan. I was seven years old when the first film came out and it wasn’t my cup of tea. But I’m a fan of Tom Cruise and one of the sequel’s screenwriters, Christopher McQuarrie (who writes alongside Ehren Kruger and Eric Warren Singer). Was this just going to be a cash grab? Or was Tom Cruise not going to disappoint me by working his magic and making sure this was going to be an experience?
In terms of it being a cinematic experience, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is bar none one of the most thrilling action films I’ve seen in a long while. It’s well-known how the film boasts of having no CGI whatsoever. All the aerial stunts and the acting of the crew in the cockpits of their fighter jets are all shot in real-world situations. The human eye can really spot the difference between what is real and what is CGI in a film and this perception of reality on screen adds to the excitement and energy that is happening on screen.
The film, running at 131 minutes, is full of high-octane aerial stunts and fight scenes. From the training sessions of the new pilots under the tutelage of Tom Cruise’s Maverick to the actual mission, even a person like myself who is indifferent to the appeal of fighter jets and instruments of war, I held my breath and was very much invested in the outcome of these aerial battles.
Director Joseph Kosinski managed to show us the stakes, impress upon us what it takes for our protagonists to succeed, and then give us a dazzling display of explosive, high-energy action scenes that really just gets under your skin. The sound design and mix really helped amplify the tension of these scenes.
For that alone, the film succeeds on such a high level.
Get Our Newsletter
And then there’s the fan service that comes in, which doesn’t take away from the movie (fortunately) and adds a certain kind of old-school charm to the film. Val Kilmer returns from the first film for a short cameo that is packed with emotion and meaning. Even suffering from throat cancer, he manages an affecting scene with Cruise that helps reinforce an ongoing theme of the film, which is letting go.
And while the film introduces new characters – and includes Jennifer Connely, who is a character only mentioned but never seen in the original, and Miles Teller, who plays the older version of a character seen in the first film – this is really Maverick’s movie as he must come to terms with being a relic in a world that has moved on from the crazy bravado of the 80s.
Interestingly though, the film manages to find a point of intersection between the past and the future. Maverick may be a relic but he has the skills and the experience that will allow them to succeed in an extremely challenging mission made complicated by technology. Somehow, the film manages to gently nudge the older guard to move on and let the younger set take over; but it still celebrates and values the skills and experience of the veterans and reconciles that they still have something to share and contribute.
My only gripe is that as thrilling and exciting as the film is, and how poignant the lessons it hopes to dramatize through Maverick’s interactions with Connelly’s Penny and Teller’s Rooster, the film gently skirts over the mission parameters and treats it as a generic quest. The mission involves destroying a plutonium cache in an unnamed mountainous country. The geopolitics of this film is completely swept under the rug. NATO approves this attack, they must do it to protect the world from an unnamed nuclear threat. Really, it is just an excuse for the planes to go on air and for some amazing aerial stunts but by doing so it detaches itself from reality.
This film is really just a fantasy. It makes no justification for its act of war and plays neutral by creating an enemy that is neither recognizable nor familiar. And this would have been fine 15 years ago when there was relative peace in the world (or we were all unaware of how bad things were). But the world is torn apart by populist regimes and is still reeling from the war in Ukraine.
The lack of identifiable politics in the film detracts from the realism of the film as it ends up becoming nothing more than a legacy sequel out there to entertain. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s still so enjoyable, especially in IMAX where everything is just set to scale. But, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is also a war movie but with no clear enemy. So what does the movie end up standing up for if not just war for the sake of it?