Top Gun is back, nearly 40 years after the original, with reprised roles for Tom Cruise (59) and Val Kilmer (62) but nothing for Meg Ryan (60) or Kelly McGillis (64) although I can’t work out why. The first film is iconic and will likely remain that way unless you are stupid enough to rewatch it (I was stupid enough, and it hasn’t dated well; bland and corny). The sequel also hits its marks as if following a guide entitled How To Write a Blockbuster in Not That Many Steps With a Ton of Colossal Planes, but it is better done. Just. Maybe.
Even if you find Cruise a little creepy, as I do, you can’t deny he has an aura, as if he were the Last Great Movie Star. Perhaps that’s why he was permitted to gatecrash the Queen’s recent, otherwise mostly horsey Jubilee celebration where he proceeded to flog the film. (I was impressed. Look! He also does his own publicity stunts!) He once again plays Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell who is, it would appear, older but not any wiser. He is now a top-level test pilot for the navy but still reckless and defying orders. This is the last straw, Maverick! You’re dishonourably discharged, Maverick! On second thoughts, Maverick, you’re too excellent to let go! (Put that on repeat and it’s essentially the entire plot.)
The film is directed by Joseph Kosinski, and when we remeet Maverick he appears to be living in some kind of warehouse with half a plane in it and a pinboard covered in photographs of ‘Goose’ (once played by Anthony Edwards), the beloved friend who died in his arms in the first film, for which he has always blamed himself. (I wanted to grab him by his gym-honed shoulders and say: move on, fella.) True to form, he’s told that he’s ‘permanently grounded’ after he recklessly tests a gigantic stealth fighter, pushing it beyond Mach 10, but then they remember how excellent he is, so instead he’s dispatched back to Top Gun, the elite school where he must train a group of pilots and pick just four for an especially dangerous mission. The mission is to destroy a uranium plant buried in a bunker in the mountains. Who built the plant, for what purpose, and what hostilities might be provoked by destroying it – where even is it? – are never explored and no one asks. The deal is: here’s a bad thing. Now go kill it. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Maverick is going to be flying one of the planes. If you’re acquainted with that How To guide you’ll know it’s a foregone conclusion.
One of the pilots in training is Goose’s resentful son (Miles Teller), so there’s some bonding to do there, while Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Kilmer), Maverick’s one-time foe, is now an admiral but not in great shape. The flight scenes are the major draw, I suppose, and the aerial encounters are dazzlingly choreographed even if the planes are so loud (I could feel it in my legs) you can’t hear the pilots’ dialogue. That said, you don’t watch a film like this for the script (‘The navy needs Maverick!’).
This is a more successful film in the air than it is on the ground. The love interest this time out is played by Jennifer Connelly (51, could be worse) who isn’t given a single interesting thing to do. It’s all grimly predictable anyhow. Cruise, meanwhile, is just Cruise, unabashedly, which is what his fans want. It is an improvement (just, maybe) because Maverick is allowed to show some vulnerability, and there isn’t a scene where his sexual advances are rebuffed by a woman in a bar so he follows her into the ladies’ room to restate his case. If you were stupid enough to rewatch the first film you’ll know exactly what I mean.