Tom Cruise’s ode to the character and cinematic style that catapulted him to stardom is an exhilarating reflection on nostalgia and the relentless march of time
In the documentary Val, available on Filmin, Val Kilmer says the Top Gun screenplay was silly but thanks to director Tony Scott’s vision and energy, the overall experience was enjoyable. That’s a pretty good synopsis. Of all the 80s films lionized in the haze of nostalgia, this is one of the more irregularandcontentious ones. It’s very much a product of its time (the Reagan era, to be precise), with a love story that puts beauty before believability, and some dialogues sopoorly written they border on parody. But what really makes it date badly is its ideological undertone, because at the end of the day it is still a high five to the military in an America that was in a phase of full-on defense build-up against foreign threats. But, as Kilmer says, what redeemed it was Tony Scott. It was this filmmaker who, with his talent for visual storytelling and love of lingering images, converted the film into an unapologetically dazzling spectacle that today comes across as deliciously cheesy. That’s why Top Gun: Maverick is dedicated to Scott. Tom Cruise has turned this long-awaited sequel into an ode to the character, and the style of cinema, that well and truly cemented his stardom. It is also an intelligent (and touching) reflection on the relentless march of time. Everything, absolutely everything in the film, revolves around this story, and the best thing is that in doing so it endows the original with new dramatic meaning while sidestepping its elements of propaganda and making the love story credible and relatable. And it is, as might be expected when it comes to Cruise, also a triumph for authentic action over the superficiality of CGI.
The Top Gun storyline is in itself a synthesis of the plot of this new iteration. Cruise’s character has not risen in rank because he prefers to live life on his own terms and has instead dedicated himself to working as a test pilot, convinced that technology can never make the human touch redundant. But he’s recalled in order to train a group of young pilots selected for a near-suicidal mission. The problem with the task, in addition to a race against the clock, is that one of the hotshots is Rooster, who happens to be the son of the still deeply-missed Goose. As a result, Maverick will finally have to revisit those chapters of his life he is yet to resolve and be forced to accept that time alone won’t heal all wounds.
Top Gun: Maverick writes the book on making a sequel. It addresses the transformation of those things that we see as immutable, of friendship and of loss, and of the relevance of the cinema with which we have grown up. And as an action film it even manages to outfly its predecessor. It does so in that it is palpable, providing a sensation of reality well beyond digital simulations, but also for the way in which its storytelling makes you feel for the characters and their frailties. At heart, Cruise is once again addressing one of his favorite topics – mortality. The idea – also present in his adventures as agent Ethan Hunt and his work with other great filmmakers – that we are doomed to disappear, but that what really matters is the legacy we leave behind. All this is approached with an honesty that makes this a blockbuster as surprising as it is exemplary. A good example of the dramatic strength of the film is the scene in which Maverick and Rooster meet for the first time. It is a scene that has something of a western about it, taking place in a bar full of people in which the director and screenwriters play with perspectives in a way that emphasizes the significance of a look that transmits pain and encapsulates, in just one moment, what links all the characters involved. Even those who are no longer present. With such sequences, the film once again demonstrates that Cruise is a great champion of cinematic storytelling and, especially, of the need to see it on the big screen.