Top Gun: Maverick shows Tom Cruise can still get his rockets off

The grin still wins as Cruise’s ageless wonder returns to the skies in a barely straight reprise of the Reaganite air-combat smash hit.

Tom Cruise as Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

Top Gun: Maverick is in UK cinemas from 27 May.

Tony Scott’s Top Gun (1986) was a paradoxical blockbuster. A retread of Anthony Mann’s techno-fetishist Strategic Air Command (1955) for Ronald Reagan’s Cold War Redux, tooled by the Simpson-Bruckheimer production team, it put MTV gloss (more a shimmery, smoky haze) on a services saga, drawing its aesthetics from seemingly antithetical niche genres – US Navy recruiting film and gay porn. A style icon of a film, it united mainstream viewers invested in cocky Tom Cruise crooning to mature heroine Kelly McGillis and slash fiction fans picking up on the heat generated between Cruise’s Maverick and Val Kilmer’s Iceman.

Thirty-six years later, the gang is back together again, with anonymous professional Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion, Only the Brave) replacing the late Scott and an appealingly mature Jennifer Connolly as love interest displacing now-65-year-old Kelly McGillis in the girl-on-the-ground role. Cruise’s apparent agelessness is on display in shirtless beach football and many a scene where Maverick displays skills and stamina to put much younger fliers to shame, though the script is also replete with disapproving superiors and top-of-their-game callow kids joshing him for being old.

Cruise shrugs it off, having entered a phase of his star career when acting ambitions (pipped out of an Oscar for the anti-Maverick of Born on the Fourth of July) are superseded by a fitness regime. In the Mission: Impossible films, Cruise doing his own stunts is literally a running joke, as the star proves as indomitable and ever-renewable as a video-game avatar. Here, IMAX shots of his helmeted face showing strain are intercut with breathtaking footage of real planes doing really dangerous things.

Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick

An early conflict, not developed, between Maverick and a rear admiral known as ‘the drone ranger’ acknowledges changes in aerial warfare since 1986, but the mission which has to be flown is contrived so that only a Dam Busters-style bomber flight can pull it off. This might be an allegory of the way the film privileges stunt-work and hardware over modern CGI, with its computer techs running blockbuster movies and combat missions from their desks. It’s also a frisson that the drone ranger is played by Ed Harris, veteran of The Right Stuff – the test-pilot movie that critics liked a lot more than Top Gun, because it interrogates the fantasies the hit film set out so attractively. It’s no accident either that the Enemy – once obviously the Russian target of Reagan’s Star Wars program – is now an anonymous rogue state, and the new Top Gun mission is pretty much an analogue of George Lucas’s Star Wars as Mav and pals have to launch a strike against a ground-based Death Star.

That gay subtext is still there, with Miles Teller and Glen Powell repeatedly locking eyes as if in prelude to a kiss, but the soap sub-plots are presented in basic, straight-faced-but-gigglesome fashion that often feels like sly spoof. Less Top Gun: Maverick than Hot Shots! Part Trois.

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