“Top Gun: Maverick”, commented: Tom Cruise propels the thrills to new heights

When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, it seemed little more absurd than if Ronald McDonald had won. Both were artists, but the burger clown knew it, while Reagan believed in the nostalgic and harmful truths of the films he appeared in – and as a politician he tried to force modern American life to conform. . So “Top Gun,” which I saw when it was released in 1986, felt like the cultural nadir of an era that was itself something of a nadir. As a film of cheaply driving drama and jingoist absurdities, “Top Gun” played like a comeback – a strident distillation of the very worldview it reproduced. Little did we know there was another less accomplished but more bilious artist waiting in the wings to wreak even greater damage, more than three decades later, on politics and the national psyche.

No less than the original “Top Gun”, its new sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick”, directed by Joseph Kosinski, is an emblem of its dark political times. This is why, in comparison with the sequel, the original presents itself as a work of warm humanism. Yet, paradoxically and unsettlingly, ‘Maverick’ is also a more satisfying drama, a more accomplished action flick – I enjoyed it more, but its dosed, perched pleasures reveal something terrifying about the implications and effects of his story. Efficiency.

“Maverick” is less a sequel to “Top Gun” than a renovation of it. The plot of the story is borrowed from the original, almost scene for scene; drastic changes, while updating it for the time being, still leave it recognizable. In the new film, Tom Cruise returns as Lieutenant Pete Mitchell, whose call sign is Maverick. Today, he is a test pilot in a remote post in the Mojave Desert, where the project he is working on – the development of a new aircraft – is about to be canceled in favor of drones, under the pretext of a performance standard that cannot be met. So Maverick, defying an admiral’s order, takes the plane into the air and, against all odds and in grave personal danger, pushes it beyond Mach 10 (which, for the record, is over seven thousand miles per hour), thus temporarily saving the project but also risking a court-martial. Instead, Maverick is sent back to Fighter Weapons School, aka Top Gun – from which he, of course, graduated – in San Diego, summoned by the academy’s commander, Admiral Tom (Iceman) Kazansky, his classmate from class and respected rival. in the first film (played again by Val Kilmer). Maverick’s mission is to train a dozen young ace pilots for a top secret and crucial mission, to fly through a mountainous region in an unnamed “rogue” state and destroy an underground uranium enrichment plant.

Yet soon another admiral, Beau (Cyclone) Simpson, played by Jon Hamm, pushes Maverick aside and changes the mission parameters. In response, Maverick steals another plane and undertakes another unauthorized and dangerous flight, thus vindicating his own set of parameters to Cyclone – who orders him to return to lead the younger ones. Yet Maverick has a history with one of those fliers, Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), call sign Rooster, whose late father, Nick (Goose) Bradshaw, played by Anthony Edwards, was the wingman of Maverick in the original “Top Gun” and died saving Maverick’s life. There’s more to this story (spoiler), but the dramatic point is that Maverick must overcome both mistrust and enmity from one of the best pilots he trains – for the sake of the mission, the esprit de corps of unity, Rooster’s peace of mind, and his own sense of responsibility towards a fatherless young man for whom he assumed paternal responsibilities.

There’s also a romance, perhaps the most superficial this side of a children’s film. Like that of the original “Top Gun”, it is centered on a bar. This time, Maverick reunites with a cute former lover named Penny (Jennifer Connelly), the owner of the bar where the pilots all hang out. (In the original “Top Gun,” there is mention of a woman named Penny as one of Maverick’s romantic partners, but the hint isn’t expanded upon.) get back together is a kind of bar hazing that costs Maverick money and dignity, plus a ride on his sailboat where she literally teaches him the ropes. (As for what happened between him and Charlie, his instructor and lover in the first film, played by Kelly McGillis, the new film doesn’t say a word.) Their relationship is the hollow core around which the film is modeled. , and its emptiness comes not as accidental or unconscious, but as the conscious dramatic strategy of the film’s director and group of writers.

The first ten minutes of ‘Top Gun’ – showing the in-flight panic of a pilot named Cougar (John Stockwell) – contain more real emotion than the entire length of the sequel, and that’s where the main differences lie. between the two movies. The powerful feelings, troubled circumstances and unsettling ambiguities of the original posed dramatic challenges that its director, Tony Scott, and his screenwriters never encountered. Their film threw a handful of significant complexities on screen but never explored or resolved them. It’s not just Cougar who fell apart in “Top Gun.” Maverick himself, racked with guilt over the death of Goose, first tried to leave the Navy, and then, returning to combat, froze in the air. Of course, Maverick quickly recovered (thanks to Goose’s dog tags), and his suddenly resurgent heroic skills saved the day, gave the movie a quick triumph, and sparked three decades of anticipation for a sequel. but his vulnerability and fallibility at least makes an intimidating appearance.

On the other hand, “Maverick” does not allow such doubts or hesitations. There is definitely danger in the film, including a pilot who passes out in midair and needs to be rescued. Maverick himself finds himself in a perilous situation. But none of these situations suggests a weakness or a lack of will, a questioning of the mission or of the pilots’ own abilities. The challenges are visceral rather than psychological, technical rather than dramatic, and the script offers them not resolutions but simply solutions, as impersonal as putting a key in a lock and as gratifying as hearing it open. “Maverick” feels less written and directed than designed. It’s a work that achieves a certain kind of perfection, a perfect lack of substance – which is a deft way of passing its powerful and madly political implicit subject matter unnoticed.

Again, the comparison with the original is revealing. Whatever the original “Top Gun” is, it’s a procedural film. The stunning upside-down maneuver with which Maverick displays his boldness and prowess early on isn’t a violation of the rules, just a departure from textbook methods. On another flight, he breaks the rules, in a relatively minor way – he briefly descends below the “hard deck” (the lower limit) to win a competition, then playfully buzzes officers in a tower – and is seriously called out. the mat for this. By contrast, in the sequel, Maverick openly defies the orders of his superior officers, and not just for a quick maneuver or a playful jerk – he steals two planes and destroys one of them. (Besides, the destruction is kept off-screen and merely played for laughs.) The essence of “Maverick” is that a naval officer breaks the law but gets away with it, because he and only he can save the country of imminent danger. .

The lawbreaker-as-hero model sounds different in an age of Trumpian politics and practices, open insurgency and near-coup. “Maverick” is proof, as strong as any in the political arena, that Overton’s window of authoritarianism has changed. This is evident in the film’s cavalier attitude to the rule of law, even in the seemingly sacrosanct realm of military discipline. In the original “Top Gun,” Instructor Viper (Tom Skerritt) tells Maverick and the other pilots, “Now we don’t play politics here, gentlemen. The elected officials, the civilians do that. We are the instruments of this policy. (Yes, “gentlemen” – all the fliers in the original are men.) In “Maverick” there is no parallel line of dialogue, and the army is hermetically sealed off from any reference to politics – perhaps because such sentiments would probably now, in many parts of the country, be booed.

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