Joseph Kosinski directs Tom Cruise, Miles Teller and Jennifer Connelly in this legacy sequel to the 1986 fighter pilot dogfight school mega-hit.
I casually enjoy the original but I came for Cruise and boy, oh, boy… man, oh, man… does he deliver. The cocky grin, the physical brinkmanship, the cool, the serious whiteness of those teeth and the serious whiteness of those Ts. This is very much an evolution and a celebration of the Tony Scott Top Gun aesthetic but it has room to deliver every factor of a Tom Cruise fronted product of any era. The mission is impossible, and if TG86 didn’t exist it wouldn’t take too much tinkering to swap Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell out and slot Ethan Hunt into the main role. Team assembled, crazy prep, stunts done for reals, minimal CGI, maximum excess, frantic skin-of-the-teeth execution. Maverick is on the ropes, clinging to his career by his fingertips, going through a mid-life crisis and existential ennui he never considered possible à la Jerry Maguire. And we are revisiting old stomping ground, proving the mature master still has it even when surrounded by callow youth… just like the ultimate legacy sequel, Scorsese’s The Color of Money… only here it is Cruise having to show the cocky apprentices there ain’t nothing like the original for getting the job done in the third act. And while Tom will never be in Star Wars, here he gets to be Obi-Wan and Han Solo simultaneously – so you know the uranium weaponising Death Star is truly fucked.
It could almost be a parody if it weren’t so serious. It is a celebration of our last true movie star. And the action it delivers is luxury spec. I walked out of cinema armpits swampy with stress sweat. A movie hasn’t put me through the tension wringer like this since The Rock. And the fact it constantly convinces, constantly goes for the epic, constantly moves like its life depended on it. This is premium blockbuster entertainment with just enough drama, wish fulfilment, romance and reverence to its lead to truly make your summer buzz. Only the humour is underwhelming and that’s only at times. There’s an unavoidable long run where there’s no room for laughs… and it is admirable that the movie puts away the gags and banter once the stakes are life or death and the emotional beats are dramatic. There are so many individual chapters one can pull apart – the Alan Resnais style flashback to Goose’s death in the original movie, the tremendous mini-movie opener and the obligatory beach topless sport session.
Supporting cast-wise it is all admirably gold standard. Jennifer Connelly looks resplendent. I’ve read some criticism that hers and other roles are underwritten. But in a movie like this, it is what the performer brings to their moments that count, the name rather than the script does the heavy lifting. Hollywood used to rely all the time on their screen sirens and supporting faces to supply the shading. A narrative as laser targeted as this moves in a nippy shorthand or it dies. The one sequence where things are allowed a much needed baggy-ness is Val Kilmer’s return as Iceman. Never been the actor’s biggest fan but it is played so respectfully that it almost brought a tear to even my hardened eyes. Glen Powell’s cocky Hangman should be a star making turn for the silly hunk, but I’ve been saying that since he smashed his role in Scream Queens. Monica Barbaro and Lewis Pullman also make a positive impression. Miles Teller is probably the best actor on the new recruit roster, and has the juiciest role. He matches Anthony Edwards in looks but he just kind of feels a setting or two off. He should be more intense, more sure of himself. He isn’t bad, he just doesn’t chime with Cruise like everyone else does. And after all, whose tent pole release is this?
Perfect Double Bill: Top Gun (1986)
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