Top Gun: Maverick – Defies Rating
The Mona Lisa of Stupid, a film so generic and irrepressibly cliche’ the never-fail motor of Tom Cruise almost fails to drive it.
I liked it but I’m not proud of it. It is not the peak of genre nor does it defy it. It’s as insipid as elevator music, as banal as a modern country song, as predictable as pollen every spring.
I liked it because Tom Cruise willed it to be so.
I liked it in spite of the following
1) Bavaria appears to be the next potentially lethal nuclear power (again, homogenization and studied inoffensiveness to such a degree that the closest we get to “bad guys” live in Von Trapp territory)
2) The portrait at Val Kilmer at his funeral appears to have been made at Spencer Gifts
3) Every scene with Cruise and Jennifer Connelly is shot-for-shot a Kay Jeweler’s commercial.
4) The strafing run that serves as the centerpiece of the movie is the same strafing run in Star Wars and yes, a version of “the force” is used.
5) Cruise has many gifts. Chemistry with the opposite sex is not one of them. His post-coital moment with Connelly suggests they just engaged in a perfunctory bout of Wordle (K-I-S-S-Y).
Also, one might ask, if Val Kilmer, who cannot speak, was invited to reprise his role as Iceman, whither Kelly McGillis? She explains–
“I mean, I’m old and I’m fat, and I look age-appropriate for what my age is, and that is not what that whole scene is about.”
Hmmm. Connelly plays a bar owner.
I ask, who is more bar owner-ish?
You nailed it. But you should have had the courage to rate it with the “no stars” it deserved. The movie is an insipid retread of one of the few popular films of our youth which for some inexplicable reason had somehow managed to avoid being turned into a sequel until now. We dodged a bullet for nearly four decades, but in the end the dreck always wins.
I laughed out loud at your Star Wars comparison. I wish I had noticed that when watching the scene. And now that you have mentioned it, I won’t be able to think of it any other way than as the latest iteration in the destruction of the Death Star. Even the enemy pilots were as faceless and nameless as Storm Troopers.
I will say this. The movie is dumb, but Tom Cruise is a marvel. This is his fifth decade of proving he can provide the blockbusters the movie-going public desires.
As I said, Cruise is willing the picture to $1 billion. Amazing.
Now, here is what is so frustrating. It could have been good, even intelligent, yet still un-deep and crowd-pleasing.
Cruise is called back, a guy who ran the program but was jettisoned for going off the reservation. He’s called back for one reason – Iceman was doing the training and blew himself up the first day of training.
2 weeks left. They need a trainer.
So Cruise is brought in, after we explain why this cannot be done via cruise missile or drone, etc …
But the catch is big. Admirals Harris and Hamm have no intention of survivors – this is a suicide mission but the fliers cannot be told as much (make it an operable nuclear missile, not a stupid reactor). They were trained by Kilmer and are to be trained by Cruise as if they have a chance.
Cruise is smart enough to know how slim the chance is but thinks he can game the training so the fliers can survive. He also sees that Teller is the best, by far, and Hamm and Co. use his guilt over his father to keep him faithful to the mission (i.e., fine, if you make a ruckus, Teller is choice no. 1; of not, you can save him using your prerogative).
When the powers-that-be realize Cruise’s “we can survive this” game, he’s grounded, but the fliers have become loyal to Cruise, so they say “It’s him or us.”, Cruise stays on as the one who makes the selections and he is on the carrier. But he grounds Teller, and his fliers lose faith in him as they take off
While on the carrier, Cruise can no longer bear it and he grabs Teller (who is indeed the best but gets held back not only because Cruise feels bad but at the behest of Meg Ryan, who makes an appearance and a personal appeal, thus creating a real enmity between Teller and Cruise).
Cruise confesses. He and Teller suit up and steal some jets and fly off to save the day.
You flesh out the bad guys, you drop Kilmer and Connelly, you kill a few folks, and voila!
Yes, exactly. And I was lured into thinking this sequel might be that kind of blockbuster by the nearly unanimous over-the-top reviews I was seeing at RT and MC.
We watched those kind of blockbuster movies often enough in our youth. You know them well – Die Hard, Aliens, Terminator 2, etc. Even some of the recent Marvel films – Captain America: Winter Soldier, for example – qualify as, in your words, “good, intelligent, yet still un-deep and crowd-pleasing.”
But not this film. It’s closer to the Transformers-type of blockbuster movie than it is to, anything I listed above. Mindless action, mindless romance, mindless sentimentality. Cruise’s sci-fi movie Edge of Tomorrow is a far better movie than Top Gun: Maverick.
The two most incredible movie careers of my lifetime have been those of Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise. Eastwood because he has literally fashioned an entirely new film career since he turned 65, and Tom Cruise because he has been a steady big-time money-maker for four decades.
Think of it this way. Tom Cruise will be 60 years old next month. Has any movie star in the history of Hollywood held his blockbuster status for as long as Cruise? Even Clint Eastwood eventually became more of a critic’s movie-maker than a box office star.
The two men share almost nothing in common except for one trait: They never stopped working. They are the ultimate professionals. Broken marriages, the notoriety of their religious or political views, professional disputes, advancing age – nothing dims their work habits.
Cruise selects well, and after you get past his youthful starts (which are impressive) and he hits 30, his range was and is impressive – the sleazy wisecracker (Edge of Tomorrow, which I agree, was great), the action hero (MI), the tough guy (Reacher), the weak everyman guy you root for (Jerry McGuire, The Firm, War of the Worlds), broadly comic (Tropic Thunder, Rock of Ages) and compellingly dramatic (Magnolia). He can’t be a villain (though the closest he came – Collateral – is a great role, but even as a sociopathic killer, he’s likeable) and he can’t be romantic (hence, he added to the the failure of Eyes Wide Shut). Other than Eyes Wide Shut, I think Cruise has been out of command in one other picture – Interview with a Vampire, and both of those films would not have been successful even if he were up to the task.
He’s certainly an underappreciated actor. He has great acting range, but it’s obscured by the type of leading roles he usually takes on. He prefers producing and acting in money-making blockbusters, not Oscar contenders or art films.
At the end of the nineteen-nineties, it looked as if Cruise would start to take on more critically-acclaimed projects. That was when he did _Eyes Wide Shut_ and _Magnolia_ – two very different films from the kind Cruise typically does. He even received an Academy Award nomination for his role in _Magnolia_.
But to his credit Cruise seems to just like being in movies that fill the cinema on opening weekends. He likes to sell tickets. Other than small (and great) roles in _Tropic Thunder_ or _Rock of Ages_, and the one strange choice of _Lions for Lambs_, he hasn’t gone back in the Oscar-bait or art-house direction since the 1990s.
He rarely misses, too. One the last twenty years, there have been few dogs. _The Mummy_ is awful, but it still made over $400 million (which is more than _Edge of Tomorrow_ made, believe it or not). _Knight and Day_ was a flop, but it still cleared over $250 million. The Jack Reacher films were both flops. The second one made just $162 million at the box office. I liked _Vanilla Sky_ ($203 million) and _American Made_ ($135 million) but they were among the least financially-successful Cruise movies of the last twenty years.
But on the other side of the ledger, Cruise has this from 2002 to 2022:
Minority Report (2002) – $358 million
The Last Samurai (2003) – $457 million
Collateral (2004) – $221 million
War of the Worlds (2005) – $604 million
Mission Impossible III (2006) – $399 million
Valkyrie (2008) – $202 million
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) – $695 million
Oblivion (2013) – $288 million
Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – $371 million
Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) – $683 million
Mission Impossible – Fallout (2018) – $791 million
Top Gun: Maverick (2022) – $557 million (so far)
That’s a helluva list. Four Mission Impossible films; four sci-fi movies; two period pieces; a Michael Mann film, and a sequel to Top Gun. And over $5.5 billion in box office revenue (not adjusted for inflation).
The only thing that slowed Cruise down over the last twenty years was COVID.
Unreal. And even during COVID, he was doing an MI (he was a sensation when his on-set rant about masks and distancing went viral). BTW, I read the Warren Beatty bio you recommended, and it was fantastic – gossipy, substantial, incredibly entertaining. I have recently read 4 other movie books that are primo – Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back, The Big Goodbye by Sam Wasson and Take The Gun, Leave the Cannoli by Mark Seal. Can’t go wrong with any of them.
Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back are Mark Harris (I am reading his bio of Mike Nichols right now).
I’m happy to hear you liked the Beatty biography. Didn’t it seem it would be extraordinarily difficult to work with the man as the director on a movie set, though? His endless takes sound exhausting just reading about them. Poor Katherine Hepburn.
As I’ve said before, Beatty is the polar opposite of Clint Eastwood as a director, which is probably why he didn’t last nearly as long in Hollywood. He was pretty much retired from movie-making after _Bulworth_, a movie he made when he was 60. But girding your loins as if you’re going to battle every day you’re on the set must be difficult if you’re not at your physical best.
Thanks for the recommendations. Mark Harris’s three books look excellent. I happened to finish a review of his Nichols’ biography two days ago in The New Yorker by one of most favorite critics, Louis Menand. Might be worth a read when you finish the book.
The Seal and Wasson books also look excellent.