Movie Note 2: Full of spoilers. So on Friday night, my husband John and I went to the movies and saw Top Gun: Maverick. We had some Covid vouchers so this was a date night that our state government paid for which is great because my 101 movie review is that the $7 I spent on parking was not worth the money. However, John has a lot more to say so enjoy this guest post movie review from Mr Shallowreader:
In a panicked attempt to use the last of my Discover NSW vouchers, Vassiliki and I sourced two tickets to see Top Gun Maverick at Palace Cinema in Leichhardt. Here are some of my observations of what is promising to be one of the biggest box office hits of all time:
WHERE’S THE LOVE?
The original Top Gun (which I only watched for the first time last month) was an homage to the love that dare not speak its name between Maverick and Ice Man, with some flying mixed in amongst hot steamy beach volleyball and shower room scenes. The sequel replaces this homoerotic tension with toxic masculinity. The volleyball is replaced by beach footy, the skin on skin action lacks the tenderness of the original, and the smouldering looks are replaced by sneers.
Another love omission is Charlie, the older instructor with whom Maverick develops a slightly less steamy relationship, despite her better judgement, in the original. Charlie is treated like a James Bond chick, in that no matter how hard won the love story is during the initial movie, by the next instalment she is gone without a trace. They didn’t even write in a plane crash or some other explanation as to why their flame was extinguished.
GENERICSTAN REPLACED BY NORTH KOREA. SORT OF…
In the first Top Gun the enemy was Genericastan, somewhere in the middle east, but while the faceless enemy look the same, the geography is very different.
The plot line, such as there is one, centres on the need to train recent Top Gun graduates for a near suicide mission to fly low through a valley in North Korea. They don’t say it is North Korea, but looking at the geography of what they are flying through, it is either North Korea, Canada or Norway, and even the most hawkish US military planners would hesitate against launching a unilateral strike against the latter two countries. This is a confusing omission. Were they hoping not to alienate the lucrative North Korean movie-goer market? They reinstated the Taiwanese flag on Tom Cruise’s jacket, so they are happy to piss big markets like China off.
GOOSE SIRES A ROOSTER
To add an element of predictable tension, the young pilots Maverick has to mould into a team include “Rooster” the son of Goose. Goose had transitioned from being the loveable Gilbert in Revenge of the Nerds to Meg Ryan’s husband in only two years, only to be killed in an ejector seat mishap in the original movie. Sporting the same moustache style as his dad, which must be a genetic thing, Rooster harbours a strong animosity towards Maverick, not for killing his dad but for delaying his entry into naval aviation (done as one of the dying wishes of Goose’s widow, helping explain why a now toxic Meg Ryan isn’t in the sequel). Will they be able to resolve their differences? Of course. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that the only pilot good enough to lead the team into the valley is Maverick himself, which he does after a lot of soul searching. Maverick would much prefer to die himself than send others in his place., especially his de facto son Rooster. Without wanting to spoil a plot twist, Rooster is first saved by Maverick, who is shot down in the process, only to be shot down shortly afterwards saving Maverick in a circle of life metaphor. Later, back on the aircraft carrier (another spoiler, they both survive), this gives rise to some of the best dialogue ever penned for the big screen.
Maverick: Thank you for saving my life.
Rooster: My father would do the same.
This sort of complex wordplay is often left off in big budget action movies, but such are the many layers of Top Gun Maverick that it seems right at home here.
BREAKING THE ICE
Val Kilmer is the only member of the original cast to join Tom Cruise in the sequel, returning as Ice-Man. This produces a brief but genuinely emotional moment where Ice’s struggle with throat cancer was scripted in to mirror Val Kilmer’s real struggle with throat cancer in a meeting with Maverick. There is obviously still a lot of love between the two men, and the tears seemed almost real.
MAVERICK HAS A DEATH WISH
As well as a callous disregard for expensive government equipment, Maverick seems rather cavalier about his own well-being. This death wish is depicted throughout the movie where he steadfastly refuses to wear a helmet while riding his motorcycle (although oddly he keeps his flying helmet on even while running through the forest after ejecting from his plane). Perhaps it is the only way for the producers to prove to us that it is indeed Tom Cruise doing his own stunts on the bike.
USING THE FORCE
The mission to destroy the uranium enrichment plant is a carbon copy of the mission Rebel fighters use to destroy Death Stars in Star Wars. This includes Rooster using his instinct to launch bombs rather than laser guidance. This instinct is voiced as “don’t think, just do.” (Hopefully this sentiment is not repeated by the audience while driving cars or going on dates.) Just like Luke Skywalker, Rooster is able to land his bombs perfectly and destroy the reactor. And just like in Star Wars, enemy pilots and ground crew remain faceless storm troopers so we don’t care when they die defending their homeland.
PRETTY COOL AERIAL FOOTAGE
If you are into fighter planes doing tight manoeuvres, there is plenty in the movie for you. Much of the 130-minute running time is devoted to planes in motion. So in that respect, you get what you pay for. But like a porn film that adds in a story line and dialogue best appreciated in fast forward between action sequences, Top Gun Maverick is let down by a screen play that would have failed a high school project for being too cliched, acting that has all the subtlety of a pantomime, and a soundtrack that is 80s schlock rock at its worst.
As a friend pointed out, It’s Top Gun the sequel! Not the Grapes of Wrath with Henry Fonda! And she is right. I didn’t exactly go in there thinking arthouse classic. I expected cheesy 80s style action with a healthy dose of American exceptionalism. And in that respect, my expectations were matched perfectly!
It was not like the movie was pitched as a deep journey into the dark heart of America’s military-industrial complex and the conflicting emotions of the men and women who carry out morally ambiguous orders from above…
Am I glad I watched Top Gun Maverick? Well, the tickets were free, but my time is valuable, so I’m not sure I got my money’s worth.