Released: 26th May, 2022
Seen: 26th February 2023
The second biggest movie worldwide of 2022 was Top Gun: Maverick, a surprise sequel that comes 36 years after the classic 80s film that most people would remember as “The one with Dangerzone and that homoerotic beach volleyball scene”. It was an undeniable smash hit, heralded as the film that saved cinema after the pandemic seemingly destroyed it (indeed, it’s the second film since the start of the pandemic to cross a billion at the box office). It was truly the biggest story in cinema in 2022 and I pointedly didn’t go see it.
To be fair, there were reasons to avoid seeing it. There were a lot of films going on, the idea of a crowd that packed sounded like hell and frankly the more I’ve heard about the evils of Scientology (go watch Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath) the less I wanted to support a person like Tom Cruise. I guess at the time I assumed I could avoid this, it was a ridiculously popular film that’s mostly spectacle and the only time that films get revisited around here from years past is around Oscar time and no way in hell are the stuffy old Oscars going to nominate Top Gun: Maverick in any major categories. Maybe the best original song but that’s about it, surely they won’t be one of the most nominated films of the year meaning it’s basically mandatory to watch it to make a call on several major categories… The point here is that I’m an idiot who couldn’t see the obvious when everyone else could because this is just a fantastic film.
Is that even a shock at this point? It’s a sequel to Top Gun, a film that has been made better over the years due to the power of nostalgia goggles, the undeniably fantastic aerial shots, the spectacular soundtrack and a set of performances that all became iconic in some way so really just recreate that with modern technology and it’s no wonder that this is not only an audience fave but an awards darling. It’s playing all the hits that the original film did while throwing in a tiny bit of Star Wars just for good measure and that works wonderfully for a spectacle film like this where they’ve clearly put most of the budget into making sure that every flight sequence looks as good as humanly possible.
The story? Bunch of pilots need to fly a big mission, Tom Cruise is the only one who can teach/accompany them on this mission, bada bing bada boom. It’s not like this is the most complicated of plots where you have to pay close attention, they need to fly the plane to a place and drop a bomb to make something bad go BOOM… that’s it, that’s the entire plot and it doesn’t need to be anything more than that since most of this film just relies on you liking the characters and the glorious visuals thrown on the screen, did we mention that the flight scenes look spectacular because this film really wants you to enjoy the intense flight scenes that make up a good bulk of the runtime.
This incredible simplicity is Top Gun: Maverick’s power, it knows what the audience is there to see and doesn’t deny them anything. You want to see a ton of cool aerial shots? Top Gun: Maverick has you covered. You want to see some shit blowing up and looking badass while it happens? That’s why Top Gun: Maverick exists! You want to watch a bunch of muscular men running around half-naked on a beach for no reason? I mean, you could just get Magic Mike XXL for that but Top Gun: Maverick has that too. It’s not pushing the boundaries, it’s playing within them but it’s playing within them about as well as you could possibly hope.
The best thing about Top Gun: Maverick is that, to no one’s surprise, it knows how to honour the original via callbacks or cameos, Redoing the Great Balls of Fire scene just because it was iconic is a fantastic reason to do it, the entire emotional core of the film revolves around dealing with the guilt from Rooster’s death in the original film, they managed to find a way to get Val Kilmer back, it’s everything you liked about the first one but turned up to 11 with much crisper film technology and a song by Lady Gaga just to round things out. It’s a big old thrill ride of a film that knows its strengths and plays to them with gusto, kind of hard to find fault with that.
Top Gun: Maverick isn’t going to challenge you or ask you to think deeply on the human condition, but that was never its intent. Its intent was to be a 2-hour escape right into the danger zone where you can enjoy some incredible sights that show just what can be done with a camera and a plane and it does that better than almost anyone else has. Sure, there’s the undeniable moral question about supporting the figurehead of a cult that’s caused untold damage to people around the world and if that’s a hard line to cross that’s understandable but… look, this is basically a formality brought on by Oscar nominations, somehow I’m the last person to see this film so pretend to be shocked when I say “Top Gun: Maverick is quite good, actually”.
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