Monday, May 23, 2022

Top Gun Maverick – one of the few sequels that’s worth the wait (UK and Irish cinemas from 25 May)

I’ve seen the trailer for the Top Gun sequel more frequently than the original film.* The teaser for Top Gun Maverick was rolled out every time cinemas reopened over the last two years. And then, time after time, its release would be pushed back. Three and a half decades after the original flew onto the silver screen and served up a feast of Cold War dogfighting, romantic bike rides and tragic deaths, the film turns out to be worth the wait.

Top Gun Maverick catches up with Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, now a US Navy test pilot who is still willing to push boundaries. A complex mission to neutralise a target in a “rogue nation” requires him to head back to the elite naval academy and train up a younger generation of pilots to fly low, fly fast and get home alive.

What follows is a lot better than you might expect. Less cheesy, and potentially quite an improvement on the original movie. Yes, there are shots of risk-taking Maverick (no helmet when he’s on his bike, no lifejacket when he’s on a yacht) who continues to defy orders and promotion. Yes, there are trademark shots of Tom Cruise running. And yes, he still looks great topless. Yes, he turns heads in a bar when, for some unknown reason, he walks in wearing his starched white uniform. And expect some breaking of the rules of engagement and buzzing the flight tower for good measure.

But there is also a modern military storyline that is mostly believable – though could the same missiles that knocked out an airstrip not have targeted the pesky surface to air missiles that every worried could threaten the mission’s safe return? – and acres of flight footage from the cockpits of real jets. Attending a preview screening in the Cineworld Belfast IMAX theatre, chiselled faces and stubbly cheeks filled the enormous screen, and the subwoofers rattled the cinema as the F-18 jets’ afterburners roared.

The Top Gun world is still fairly pale and overwhelmingly male. There are two female pilots in the classroom: one gets a few lines (Phoenix/Monica Barbaro), the other (an unnamed pilot/Kara Wang) just gets to play American football on the beach. While there’s a new love interest – Penny (Jennifer Connelly) who has clearly been burnt by Maverick before – there are also some familiar figures and their relations from the original. Goose’s son Rooster (Miles Teller) supplies the film’s opportunity for redemption. Nerdy backseat weapons operator Bob (Lewis Pullman) deserves a #belikebob hashtag.

Enough of the music from the original creeps into the sequel to evoke memories, though don’t expect every 1980’s hit to be there. I don’t think Berlin will be getting any more royalties: instead, Lady Gaga’s Hold My Hand will be spinning its way up the playlists, though is unlikely to become such a cultural classic.

Top Gun Maverick may not have publicly stated its ambition to “save cinema”. But I’ll eat my hat if it hasn’t waited long enough to persuade people to return to their local multiplexes in droves to see it. And for the most part, they’ll be delighted with the on-screen action that makes 131 minutes fly by.

*Late 1980s, on TV on the evening of Boxing Day or New Year’s Eve, packed into the wee room at ‘Auntie’ Mona’s in Jordanstown, away from the chatting adults in the living room. Also the venue for my first taste of Grease and all kinds of other movies.

Enjoyed this review? Why click on the Buy Me a Tea button!

No comments: