Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Top Gun Maverick: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 165 plus films later, here is the review for July 2022.

Top Gun Maverick
Reviewed by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Time and tide wait for no man. Not even a fighter pilot catapulted off a naval aircraft carrier can outfly time’s inevitable creep. Top Gun Maverick offers a stunt-fueled ode to the inevitability of time and tide.

Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise as Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, was the highest-grossing film of 1986. Songs written for Top Gun, like Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” and Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” launched the movie’s soundtrack to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums.

Top Gun Maverick opens with the melodramatic sounds of the 1980s. “Danger Zone” blasts as the elite of the US Navy power off aircraft carriers and into action.

But we live in the 2020s, not the 1980s. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell – still a Lieutenant, still played by Tom Cruise,still a lone ranger – is facing extinction. Funding for Mitchell’s hypersonic “Darkstar” program is being redirected to drone programs. Drones, as Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris) informs “Maverick,” do not need sleep or toilet stops.

Recalled to North Island, the largest aerospace-industrial complex in the US Navy, Maverick’s age awaits him. The presence of a new generation of Top Guns, quick with nicknames like “Pops,” suggest a disturbing ageism.

Amid the action scenes, Top Gun Maverick draws on the past to provide emotional depth. One of the Top Guns that Mitchell must train is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Mitchell’s best friend, killed in action during Top Gun. Former girlfriend Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), now a single mother, is a North Island bar owner. Former rival, now mentor, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), has been rendered speechless with throat cancer. No matter how many stunts we pull, mortality confronts us all.

While Top Gun Maverick works harder at emotions and character development than Top Gun, both movies sound an anthem in support of the American military machine. America’s Department of Defense has an Entertainment Media Office, which assists filmmakers in crafting military stories. Alongside props like fighter jets and aircraft carriers come script suggestions.

Critics call this the Military-Entertainment Complex. Following the release of Top Gun, Navy recruiters set up stands outside cinemas. Applications reportedly jumped 500 per cent as Top Gun recruited a new generation of wannabe Top Guns.

In 1990, Tom Cruise announced that Top Gun glorified war. A sequel, said Cruise, would be irresponsible. Yet time, tide and the persuasive pitch of Director Joseph Kosinski mean the wait for a sequel is no more.

Reportedly, the lure for Cruise was Kosinski’s suggestion of a reconciliation movie. Push aside the glorification of war, wade through the machismo, ignore the ageism, and Top Gun Maverick offers a reminder of the human need to face together our times and tides. As Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky whispers to Mitchell, the pilots “need you.” In time, every maverick needs to fly in formation.

Posted by steve at 09:10 AM

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