They don’t make ’em like they used to, right? Certainly, looking at today’s blockbusters compared to those made 30-odd years ago, they definitely don’t but perhaps the point is not that they don’t make ’em like they used to but rather that they don’t make ’em like Tom Cruise does. Simple facts are that, no, no-one makes films like he does and, in a film landscape where anything is possible thanks to CGI and computer wizardry, there’s something profoundly “old school” about the way Cruise – and those he surrounds himself with – go about bringing his vision to the screen. Analogue in a digital world, realism in a world of fakery and trickery, brilliance always.
Top Gun: Maverick has been almost four decades in the offing and yet, it only feels like yesterday that Tony Scott’s sensational aerial work combined with its gutsy, touching story swept the world, taking $357million worldwide on its now meagre-looking $15million budget. But, like its sequel, almost all of its budget went into making its flights of fancy look genuine, full of drama and tension as Cruise, Val Kilmer, and Anthony Edwards took to the skies – at least in part – and made its visuals even more rewarding. But for its star, it wasn’t simply a case of making a sequel for the sake of it: it had to bring its legacy into the 21st century, not just highlighting the huge leaps in aviation and its technology but in filmmaking. What if the actors were really flying these jets? What if, with the use of IMAX cameras, the immersion into the aerial combat was so vast, so exhilarating that it felt like you were really up with them amongst the clouds without any CGI? It’s taken 36 years but Cruise and Co. got their wish, and they have delivered one of the most exhilarating and spectacular blockbusters of its kind we’ve ever seen.
Yes, the script (co-written by long-time Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie) leans heavily into the nostalgia of the first film, almost repeating much of what has gone before, including its corny dialogue, bar karaoke, and shirtless sports scene, but it deserves the benefit of the doubt over other sequels given the length between them. “OG’s” who saw the first when we were wee nippers will get a kick from them, newbies will feel the reverberations of its history. Indeed, the pithy, machismo wit is back in earnest – though fuelled by some much-needed female smarts – with Glen Powell the MVP, though Miles Teller’s heart-wrenching turn as Goose Jnr is another standout, as is the ever-brilliant Jennifer Connelly. But this is Cruise’s film and, as ever, his astute, charming magnetism is as alluring and captivating as it was back in 1986 when he became a superstar. Like a fine wine, he just gets better as the years roll on.
Helmed by Joseph Kosinski – who worked with Cruise on 2013’s underrated sci-fi thriller Oblivion as well as Tron: Legacy – Maverick has their same energy and panache, even if their results were ultimately mixed. Still, you can feel his maturity as a filmmaker here. It’s a tough gig, given that all the actors are “self-directing” to a large extent when up in the air, but Kosinski still manages to stamp his mark, beautifully orchestrating the in-air assaults as well as those on the ground.
Sumptuous in its visual splendour and awe-inspiring in execution, it is unlike anything we have seen before, truly, and cements the smart decision to wait until the perfect time to bring the elite pilot school back to life once more. You feel like the co-pilot for every single one of them as the jets swoop, loop, accelerate and puncture the sound barriers, flying us into the danger zone that’s majestically, breathlessly, and monumentally captured with the crisp, immersive power of IMAX. Filmmaking on another level. Take my breath away, indeed.