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Top Gun: Maverick reviewed

25 May 2022

Saga Magazine's film critic Jason Solomons gives his verdict on new Tom Cruise movie Top Gun: Maverick. Plus, ten high-flying facts about the 1980s classic Top Gun.

Tom Cruise in Top Gun
Tom Cruise as Maverick. Paramount Pictures

Feeling the need for cinematic speed? There’s no bigger big screen thrill right now than Top Gun: Maverick.

Yes, Tom Cruise is back in the role of Captain Pete Mitchell, call sign Maverick – just ‘Mav’ to his mates – and watching it, you feel like the movies are back, the eighties are back, your youth is back.

This Proustian rush of nostalgia comes roaring out of the jet engines and the stadium rock score (that the music credits go to Harold Faltermeyer, Lady Gaga and Hans Zimmer tells you a lot). It’s ingrained in the leather of a biker jacket and in the motorbike grin plastered over Tom’s face as he takes the full G-force of movie superstardom head-on, flashing his teeth and reflecting the glare that bounces off them with his Aviator Ray-Bans. We, in turn, grin like addicts and nip off to buy another pair of sunglasses to lose on holiday.

They’ve shoehorned in any old plot to get the planes back in the air, with Maverick returning to train a new bunch of elite pilots for an impossible mission (Tom’s good at those) against a faceless enemy who are building a nuclear plant. One of the recruits (Miles Teller) is Goose’s kid, who still holds a grudge and reckons Mav is responsible for the death of his Dad back in the original film.

Can Mav resist throwing the book in the bin? No. Can he ride his motorbike at supersonic speed? Yes.

Will he resist showing off and teaching these newbies a dangerous thing or two? Will he pull a stunt? Will he orchestrate a game of torso-bearing beach football to be played in silhouette as the sun sets and will he say, ‘there’s your team, Sir’ with the just the requisite amount of arrogant, authority-baiting pause for effect before the ‘sir’? Check, check, check. That’s a thumbs-up for taxi…

Almost every scene is cheesier than an Alpine raclette restaurant and there’s no Kelly McGilils and nobody says anything about that. There is Jennifer Connelly, in a really rubbish role of the woman who owns a bar but can’t get over her broken heart or her hots for Tom.

But then they show you what the fighter jets have got to do – same trick they do in Star Wars, dropping a load into the Death Star – and they practise it, and simulate it and then they do it, and you whoop and holler like a frat boy and it’s all seat-clenchingly well done.

‘How do we get this museum piece in the air?’ asks Goose’s kid, flicking old analogue switches. With a lot of Photoshop, I’d say. Because Cruise has done something odd and a bit creepy with time here, defying it in both present and past so we don’t keep thinking, wow, he was so young, or wow, he’s so old now. Instead his movie-star sheen, charisma and earning power remains exactly where it’s always been, like he was never young and will never grow old, conjuring up some kind of anti-Dorian Gray CGI sweet spot.

Is this film about anything? Does it come with any deep political significance? Does it matter? No. I drifted on memory, remembering where I saw it the first time around and how young I was and the mates with whom I saw it and the way we all sang You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ – and I realised I haven’t lost it at all.

No, I still love a giant, high-concept summer movie on the big screen and I still love feeling young. That’s what it’s about, a whopping, mid-life crisis of a blockbuster zooming across the blue sky. Buckle up.

Top Gun facts to take your breath away

By Benjie Goodhart

Top Gun: Maverick is finally here, one of the most eagerly-awaited sequels in movie history. In a world where Hollywood executives are desperate to cash in on a film’s success by churning out endless follow-ups, it seems remarkable that fans of the original have had to wait 36 years for its successor.

But it was worth the wait, with critics praising the new film’s high-octane action sequences and powerful emotional clout. You can read our reviewer Jason Solomons’ verdict above.

So let’s take a moment to remember just how good the original Top Gun was. Released in 1986, the story of Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, a young aviator going through navy flight school, was a spectacular global hit, and the highest grossing film of the year. Here are ten facts you probably didn’t know about the original Top Gun because, well, I feel the need… the need for facts!

1. Top Gun drove fighter pilot recruitment

After Top Gun’s release, there was a 500 per cent increase in applications to join the US navy's fighter programme. As a result, ahead of the sequel, they set up recruiting stations in cinema foyers across America.

2. Tom Cruise initially turned it down...

The film that cemented Tom Cruise’s A-lister reputation almost went ahead without him. He initially turned down the role. Producers turned to Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Matthew Broderick, Sean Penn, Michael J. Fox, Scott Baio and Tom Hanks, and all turned it down.

3. ...until one memorable experience

Cruise eventually accepted the role after being persuaded to go up in a navy jet. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer recalls: ‘So they [the navy] take Tom up there, and they do five Gs. They do barrel rolls, they do everything. He’s heaving in the plane. He gets on the tarmac, runs to a payphone ... and he said, “I'm in. I'm doing the movie. I love it. This is great.”’

4. The director was fired. Repeatedly 

Tony Scott, the film’s director, was fired three times during filming. The reasons included making Kelly McGillis look beautiful in a ‘whorish’ kind of way, and for shooting cockpit footage with the helmet visors down, obscuring the faces of the primary actors.

5. Chinese television got a bit confused

In 2011, China’s state broadcaster, China Central Television, showed a news story about the alleged efficiency of Chinese fighter pilots, which in fact incorporated footage of Top Gun’s action sequences. When eagle-eyed viewers noticed this, the story was immediately taken down from the station’s website.

6. A real tragedy happened on set

Stunt pilot Art Scholl was tragically killed during the film’s shoot in 1986, at the age of 54. He intentionally went into a spin-dive to capture it on a camera mounted inside the plane and failed to recover, making impact with the Pacific Ocean. The last words he spoke over the jet's radio were: ‘I have a problem – I have a real problem.’

7. Don't quote Top Gun at TOPGUN

Any new recruits will be well advised to avoid quoting Top Gun if they actually get into the navy flight school. According to former naval aviator and TOPGUN instructor Commander Guy ‘Bus’ Snodgrass, students at TOPGUN are slapped with a $5 fine if they quote a line of dialogue from the film, because ‘you don’t turn TOPGUN into a joke by referencing the movie.’

8. Charlie was supposed to be an officer

Kelly McGillis’s character, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Blackwood, Cruise’s love-interest, was originally supposed to be an officer. But the US Navy, whose co-operation was crucial to the shoot (providing the planes and ships, no less) wouldn’t approve a script involving two officers fraternising. So Charlie’s profession was changed to navy consultant, in charge of assessing pilot performance.

9. Val Kilmer ad-libbed a particularly memorable line

One of the most memorable lines in the movie was ad-libbed. Actor Val Kilmer, who plays Lt. Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky, improvised his reaction coughing and saying ‘bullsh*t’ as he cast doubt on Maverick’s description of giving the finger to enemy aircraft.

10. All the action sequences were filmed in real jets

With CGI still a glint in the eye of techno-boffins, all of the action sequences in the original were filmed in real US Navy jets. Anthony Edwards was the only one of the actors not to vomit when flying. Tom Cruise was allowed to take three rides in the F-14 Tomcat. He was sick during the first training flight.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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