Most of us have heard the news that Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun” sequel, “Maverick” was his first movie to open making $100 million. Delayed for 2 years by the pandemic, the exploits of Captain Pete Mitchell (Cruise) 36 years after the original film debuted has been a welcome post-pandemic outing for many worldwide ($300 million worldwide).
The part that critics have applauded universally is the use of the seriously ill Val Kilmer, the original “Ice Man” in the movie, as a Naval Admiral who has been protecting Mitchell during his career. Once again, we get to see Kilmer and Cruise go head-to-head, bragging about who is the best pilot. It’s a touching scene, and there was a lot of buzz about how much Cruise wanted to work to utilize Kilmer in this sequel, despite the difficulties.
For any who have seen the Val Kilmer documentary about his throat cancer diagnosis, it is sad to see the young Kilmer in his prime, now reduced to being used via texted dialogue. His few “spoken” lines worked out with special help from a sound specialist. (Val uses a mechanical device to speak at all any more). It was a touching scene, indeed, and there was also the inevitable funeral scene, when the Admiral who has been protecting Cruise’s Maverick for all these years is laid to rest.
The scenes for this one were shot in San Diego using the U.S.S. Midway. The sub-text of Goose’s son (Miles Teller) pairing with Cruise in the movie’s climactic scenes plays well, adding conflict. With 95 cast members, there aren’t many of the original cast members invited back. Cruise has obviously led a charmed life when compared to Val Kilmer, and the female leads of the original (Kelley McGillis and Meg Ryan as Goose’s wife and the mother of the toddler who grows up to be Miles Teller’s “Rooster”) are not seen. There is one brief scene at the piano, with the young son of Goose astride the piano listening to his father (Goose was originally played by Anthony Edwards). There were a few old-timers (Skerritt, Tim Robbins, Anthony Edwards) who might have been utilized in the sequel, but the new plot involved Meg Ryan having passed away, but not before making Pete Mitchell promise to keep her son out of the air (which he obviously failed at accomplishing.)
The original film was directed by Tony Scott (“True Romance”) who died in 2012. This time out, the director is Joseph Kosinski, whose last IMDB credit is “Taco Bell: Web of Fries” in 2018. Let’s just say that directing a movie that opened with $127 million in the U.S. and $300 million, world-wide, is probably going to do a lot for his future career.
The original film garnered 4 Oscar nominations, and won for Best Original Song for “Take My Breath Away.” This time out, the song is courtesy of Lady Gaga and the big name on the score is Hans Zimmer (“Gladiator,” “Dune,” “Inception”). Other names on the musical credits include Harold Faltermeyer, who was involved with the original 1986 “Top Gun” and Lorne Balfe, who worked on the 2017 “Lego Batman” movie.
Cinematography for the fantastic aerial scenes was supervised by Claudio Miranda, who is associated with “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The cinematographer for the 1986 film was Jeffrey L. Kimball, who did “Mission Impossible II.”
Jennifer Connolly turned in a nicely understated performance as Cruise’s love interest, Penny Benjamin. Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” has a turn as Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson. Bill Pullman’s son Lewis has a role as Lt. Robert “Bob” Floyd, and you can’t help but come away feeling that “the torch has been passed” from Cruise as a matinee idol to the likes of Miles Teller, who was so good in “Whiplash” as the frustrated drummer tortured by J.K. Simmons.
As Tom Cruise himself said, “You just cannot duplicate 27 cameras shooting simultaneously” when critiquing the excellent flight sequences and the terrific cinematography. Yes, you do feel as though you are looking at numbers on dials and gauges a lot and squinting at Tom Cruise’s lined G-stressed face multiple times, but the aerial shots are phenomenal. The actors were put through 5 months of flight training and Miles Teller spent 7 weeks learning to play “Great Balls of Fire” for the piano scene, so the attention to detail showed.
I learned, while reading up on the original film and reviewing it, that the sex scenes between Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise were inserted later. And, because McGillis had blonde hair in the film but had already dyed it darker for another role, they put her in the elevator with Cruise, wearing a baseball cap with just a few tendrils of hair showing. Also, the actual sex scene was shot in silhouette in a darkened bedroom, again so that her change of hair color would not be noted. The sex scene in this one is mostly a ”they wake up in bed after the deed is done” type of low-key affair, but that doesn’t detract from the film’s overall jingoistic feel good flavor.
Another interesting factoid I read while re-upping my memory of “Top Gun” (1986) was that, after Cruise co-starred with Paul Newman in “The Color of Money,” one of Cruise’s personal heroes, he decided to make “Born on the Fourth of July” as sort of penance for the jingoistic nature of the first “Top Gun,” as Newman was quite the activist and campaigner for any number of progressive causes and this rubbed off on Tom Cruise, post film.
I admit that listening to grown men call themselves “Fanboy” and “Payback” and “Phoenix” was jarring. Of course, “Phoenix” was the call name for the sole female pilot, portrayed by Monica Barbaro as Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace, an actress known formerly for “The Good Cop.” It was nice to see some female empowerment recognized onscreen, 36 years later.
All-in-all. The film is the feel good movie of the season, so far, and eve as new Covid-19 variants sweep the globe (according to the CDC) we all feel that we have been waiting a very long time for a feel good movie with top-notch production values (Paramount). The movie had a $152 million production budget. It shows onscreen.