Our new film critic Vera Wang is taking on the latest and most buzzed-about movie titles to hit the big and small screens. Check out her take on Top Gun Maverick.
Though Top Gun (1986) remains a classic, the original standalone seemed to me long-expired both in the creative and marketing sense- what was left to explore? What could be improved? And most importantly, why now? Yet, thirty-six years gone by, an aged cast, a generation past, and a three-year delayed release, Top Gun: Maverick proves that good storytelling will always sell.
Tom Cruise, true to form, has created the biggest action spectacle of the year- what with the cast’s filming on authentic F/A-18 aircrafts, and the very apparent lack of green screens. The effect created is visceral; without the distractions of pixelated set-pieces or poorly rendered backgrounds, the drama and tension of the high-octane flight sequences feel real- the climb in altitude feels real, every turn feels real, every compiling G-force feel real, and the stakes have never seemed higher. In a world plagued by tired CGI and lazy studios, Cruise’s dedication to his craft means more realism and a more immersed audience.
“I don't want to do a remake. I don't want to do a reinvention. I want to do a new movie,” said late Top Gun director Tony Scott, when asked about making a sequel. True enough, the fanservice game was played on the subtler side, and the film chose instead to develop a brand new story without dropping the throwback, key-jangling lines typical of most franchise reboot-remakes of late. A solid entry into director Joseph Kosinski’s hit-or-miss filmography, Top Gun: Maverick justifies its existence by providing audiences with a substantive story to tell- one with heart and a genuine message.
Going into the movie, though, I never thought twice about what its message was going to be. I, and certainly most other audience members, would have been perfectly fine with the notion of a shallow comedy-cum-testosterone-fuelled-action movie about a fighter pilot kicking ass. Much to my surprise (and perhaps even the filmmakers), the message of the movie is one of emotion- how it can cloud our judgement, as with Rooster’s unprofessional disdain for Maverick’s involvement in Goose’s death, or allow us to act so irrationally that we at once become heroes and lunatics. As with every mission stunt undertaken in this movie.
In a time dominated by vast strides in technological advancements, it seems inevitable that one day, humans will be made redundant by our more flawless, programmable, successors. In Top Gun: Maverick, the aptly named Maverick and his crew of pilots navigate the perilous but ageing art of manned aerial warfare by showing that human emotions are not weaknesses to spurn, but instead strengths to hone. As Admiral “Warlock” Bates (Charles Parnell) states, “Success, now more than ever, comes down to the man or woman in the box.” And how perfectly Maverick’s modus operandi “Don’t think, just do” encapsulates this message- these pilots, hardwired by nerves of steel and adrenaline-fuelled instinct, show that humanity’s capacity for ego and basic instinct might not be the weaknesses we thought it to be. Human nature kicks ass- and saves lives. After all, this film is, in essence, a love letter to 80s action movies- along with every dumb, selfless, reckless hero in it. Truly, they don’t make them like they used to.
Conversely, its romance subplot left much to be desired. Here, we follow new cast addition Penny (Jennifer Connelly) and Maverick as they rekindle their on-again, off-again relationship after a surprise reunion at North Island. Though not horribly ham-fisted, the insertion of Penny into Maverick’s history still seemed awkward at best, and forced at worst. Albeit mentioned vaguely in the original, it was jarring to watch Penny get an “established Top Gun character” treatment- one similar to Val Kilmer’s Iceman and Anthony Edwards’ Goose. For example, their banter about the ‘good old days’ (not pictured) was so bizarre that at one point I wondered if I’d missed a whole flashback sequence or if I’d even watched the first movie properly. It’s glaringly obvious that the role would have suited Kelly McGillis’ Charlie far better, because then at least the audience would have understood the background of this dynamic, and the dialogue wouldn’t seem so like such a clumsy attempt at giving this (essentially) new character a backstory so entwined with Maverick’s. It’s not completely the fault of the writers, though, because the actors’ chemistry and body language together felt mostly stilted and barren. Overall, their dialogue was serviceable, but their unconvincing interactions made the relationship feel scripted and new, not something established and comfortable like what the script intended.
But all things considered, who cares? For better or for worse, the Penny-Maverick subplot is so woefully underdeveloped that it pales in comparison to the action, which calls for a ludicrously impossible mission (hah!) as the team navigate tough terrains and frightfully low altitudes. The stakes are high, and the tension twofold, courtesy of the hard-hitting soundtrack by Top Gun alumni Harold Faltermeyer, Hans Zimmer, and Lorne Balfe (who, under writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, composed the Mission Impossible score). Once again, Tom Cruise hits the mark with Top Gun: Maverick. Instead of belittling the audience, he listens, understands, and takes his time to develop a film that has become an international affair- a film that every man, woman, and dog, will enjoy.
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