Escondido, CA

Top Gun: Maverick, finally the anticipated sequel

There was probably a time when movie critics lamented sequels for all the reasons you’d guess; but after Godfather II and the Empire Strikes Back – everyone realizes there’s nothing wrong with sequels if they’re done right. Now, with the sequel to Top Gun, critics have been talking about how bizarre it is that it’s been 35 years between these films. I first wondered if this was the longest amount of time between films, but quickly remembered the Blade Runner sequel a few years ago, as well as the horrible Coming to America sequel, which was about 33 years after the original. A quick Google search showed me the longest between films was 64 years – that was when Bambi II was released (who even knew there was a second Bambi? Or that Patrick Stewart was involved in it. But I digress).

Here’s a fun fact. This isn’t the first time Cruise has been involved in a sequel made decades after the original. No, I’m not talking about his dancing on the couch in his underwear in Risky Business and his dancing on the couch on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He was in The Color of Money (1986, which I felt was overrated), which was a sequel to The Hustler (1961, which I highly recommend).

I have a few reasons for welcoming this sequel. First, I’m a movie critic in San Diego, where this film takes place. Second, when they filmed the first one, I was always playing basketball on the Miramar base with many of the pilots working with Cruise. They always regaled me with stories of what was happening on the set. The film came out in my senior year of high school and I loved it. Sure, it had some cheesy moments, but just like with Dirty Dancing which came out soon after – they both worked for me. The romance, the fights, and even the cheesy moments. And nobody puts Maverick in a corner, so he’s back flying Mach 10. At least, that’s how this starts. He’s working as a test pilot in the Mojave Desert, and Ed Harris plays a guy that’s shutting down the program. He tells Maverick he’s out of the military unless he takes a job teaching at Top Gun. It was almost just like the bald dude in the first one, saying “I’ve gotta send you two jokers to Miramar!” (this time it’s North Island). The only thing missing was a cigar.

It was a terrific opening segment (although we never saw Harris again), but things went downhill from there. And it was the first of about 20 scenes that were almost exactly like the original. I hated that. One of the friends I brought to the screening thought that worked, saying “It was fun to see all the Easter eggs.”

To me, those aren’t Easter eggs. The Easter egg would be the new love interest driving a silver Porsche, just as Kelly McGillis drove a silver Porsche in the original (although that was a cooler, ‘60s era Speedster).

This movie was lazy writing, and just a retread of the original.

Anyway, back to the story. Iceman Kazansky (Val Kilmer) has sent word that Maverick is needed to train some Navy pilots for a secret mission that reminded me a lot of the mission the Jedi’s had in Star Wars to blow up the Death Star: flying into a narrow canyon of mountains, without being detected, and shooting a small target of uranium that the bad guys possess. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When we meet all the new hotshot pilots, again it’s recreating what happened in Top Gun. Instead of Goose at the piano playfully playing “Great Balls of Fire” it’s his son Rooster (Miles Teller). Uh, does that family not know any other songs? Could they not have had Rooster playing a more contemporary tune than something that was released in 1957?

And, instead of the arrogant Iceman being rude to Maverick in the first movie, it’s no longer Iceman, but Hangman (Glen Powell), with similar eyes and hair as Kilmer, and even a toothpick in his mouth. And, when the guys in the bar give the old timer (Maverick) a hard time and throw him out of the bar, guess what? Just as Kelly McGillis strutted up the next day only to find out the woman Maverick tried to pick-up is now his teacher – these guys now have the same reaction. Folks, this continues through the whole movie.

The new pilots also include Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), Payback (Jay Ellis), Fanboy (Danny Ramirez), Coyote (Greg Tarzan Davis), and the nerdy, bespeckled Bob (Lewis Pullman, Bill’s son, because that’s another thing Hollywood does; they cast anyone with a famous parent).

Rooster, sporting the same mustache his pop had, holds a grudge against Maverick. One of the reasons is obvious, the other is interesting, when we find out about it.

Jon Hamm plays Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson, and it’s a character trope I hate in movies. The guy that’s always angry at someone he works with, and has a stick up his ass. He literally hates every single thing Maverick is doing, and didn’t even want him there. He feels Maverick’s methods are unconventional. Especially when he has the guys spend the day at the beach playing football without their shirts on because….hey, everyone makes fun of that volleyball scene in the first movie, why not create another scene like that (side note: I’ve played lots of football over the years, and everyone always wore shirts; also, nobody ever acted as a ref for a game, yet movies always have a character do that).

Jennifer Connelly plays a bar owner and love interest. This is refreshing for two reasons. One, she might be the prettiest woman I’ll see on screen this year. Just gorgeous. And since she’s 51, and Cruise is 59, this is a movie that’s actually being age appropriate for once. They have great chemistry together, and there are a few fun scenes with her young daughter (Lyliana Wray).

The scene with Val Kilmer was horrible. It takes you out of the movie, knowing that in real life his throat cancer cost him his voice. But when he has a goofy expression on his face, and merely points to a screen that says “Let him go” again, we’re thinking about the original when the much more impressive Tom Skerrit says the same thing to Maverick after Goose died.

Where the picture works are the dogfights and airplane scenes. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda gave us nice action shots. I also liked that many of the drills were explained, which was helpful for me knowing what was going down. One of the friends I brought with me to the screening, Joe Santos, was an aircraft electrician for fixed winged aircraft in the Navy, for 20 years. Since we’ve talked about military movies for years over cigars, I asked him what he thought of the movie. He said, “In 1986 when Top Gun came out, President Reagan was in office, American flags were flying high, and Top Gun hit the theaters. I had numerous deployments, and this was the American flag waving movie. This one had the old, blended into the new, flawlessly. There were new rivalries created, old rivals turning to bonds of friendship. The F-14 flew in glory. To my military brothers, yes there are flaws, but it does represent Naval Aviation beautifully. For civilians, it is entertaining and patriotic. The flying scenes are great.  You better love ‘em, because it will probably never happen again. The two characters which are never seen in it – the songs. Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone and Harold Faltermeyer’s Top Gun Anthem, were as great as they were 36 years ago. This film will create new lovers of Naval Aviation as well as rekindle old lovers of Naval Aviation.”

[fun fact: Billy Idol’s guitarist Steve Stevens is playing on that track]

Yankee Joe, as we all call him at the cigar lounge, liked it a lot more than I did. When he brought up the songs, it reminded me that while I didn’t mind hearing those songs again, I didn’t like the classic rock choices. Foghat’s Slow Ride, T. Rex’s Bang a Gong, The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again – all great tunes, but we’ve heard them in too many movies. Although, hearing David Bowie on the jukebox was cute, since Jennifer Connelly was in Labyrinth with Bowie (the same year Top Gun came out).

I wish the three screenwriters wouldn’t have just tried to recreate the original scenes with new characters, but instead gave us a bit of conflict between characters that worked better. It also needed better dialogue. It never rises above things like “You’ve got some balls, stick jockey!”

Maybe one or two less implausible scenarios, too. I usually let those go in action pictures, but there were too many here. I mean, they have cool planes and great dogfights. Would it have been that hard to spend a week longer writing a decent script? Especially since the idea of drone technology making these guys less useful in the future, seemed like a premise that could have been delved into more.

I’m giving this 2 stars out of 5, but it’s been rated at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, so what do I know?

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