Dedicated to the citizens of Mason County, Washington since 1886

'Maverick' delivers crowd-pleasing adrenaline rush

My review of "Stranger Things" Season 4, Part 1, will be forthcoming next week. I wasn't about to binge seven episodes in a single weekend. Instead, we'll be looking at another recently released tribute to the 1980s.

Even speaking as a self-confessed generational chauvinist on behalf of the Eighties, I keep expecting everyone to get sick of that decade, and to move on from reviving its pop culture.

Since the start of 2020, "Bill & Ted" and "Ghostbusters" released critically and commercially successful cinematic sequels, and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" saw its characters brought back through the "Star Trek: Picard" streaming series (just as "Cobra Kai" did for "The Karate Kid," starting in 2018).

Even Frank Herbert's "Dune," the sci-fi franchise that served as the basis for what was one of the Eighties' most notorious big-screen bombs, was redeemed in theaters by filmmaker Denis Villeneuve.

And yet, not even I was expecting much more from "Top Gun: Maverick" than some obvious, obligatory commentary on how the state of aerial warfare has evolved since the Cold War's mid-1980s peak.

I should have paid closer attention to this film's pedigree. Aside from a screenplay by Ehren Kruger (the American adaptations of "The Ring" from Japan), Eric Warren Singer ("American Hustle") and Christopher McQuarrie ("The Usual Suspects"), "Top Gun: Maverick" shares a director - Joseph Kosinski - with the woefully overlooked "Tron: Legacy."

Kosinski not only knows his Eighties, but he was also smart enough to work with Tom Cruise to achieve the adrenaline level generated by the original "Top Gun" director (RIP Tony Scott, we still miss you), by essentially turning Cruise and his fellow actors into their own directors, as they filmed themselves while in the cockpits of their jet fighters in flight.

Even as this film's narrative frontloads the reality that drone aircraft are increasingly making human pilots replaceable and irrelevant, the film's aerial training and combat cinematography celebrates such flesh-and-blood pilots, ironically enough, by ascribing virtually superhuman degrees of skill, versatility and endurance to them.

In an era of movies dominated by shared universes of superheroes, "Top Gun: Maverick" makes the case that naval aviators were the original real-life titans all along, reacting instinctively under fire while pushing through punishing G-forces.

And even though this "Top Gun" sequel makes its lead character's call sign its subtitle, "Maverick" shares its spotlight far more broadly than the original film ever did, as we get to know the "Top Gun" graduates who have been recalled to the school for specialized mission training under Tom Cruise as Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell.

In spite of remaining in the Navy since 1986, Maverick has never advanced beyond the rank of captain, but he's also dodged the military's "up or out" advancement mandate, thanks to Adm. Tom "Iceman" Kazansky, the four-star commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, covering his former rival-turned-wingman's backside.

Val Kilmer appears on screen only briefly as "Iceman," but even though cancer robbed Kilmer of his voice in 2015, he manages to deliver as heart-rending an acting performance as ever, armed with nothing more than his soulful facial expressions and a throaty rasp.

Both the film and the character of "Maverick" are ghost-haunted by the past, as one of the pilots he's training- for the high-risk and nigh-impossible mission of destroying an unnamed rogue nation's uranium enrichment facility - is Lt. Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the now-adult son of Maverick's former flying partner, Lt. j.g. Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), who was killed in the "Top Gun" training accident Maverick still blames himself for.

Maverick has sought to protect his best friend's son by throwing roadblocks in Rooster's path to prevent him from becoming a naval aviator, and now, Maverick can either risk Rooster's life by sending him on this mission, or ground him and guarantee they're never able to make amends.

The original "Top Gun" was all about Maverick learning to table his ego and work as a member of a team, and while "Top Gun: Maverick" reiterates that message, through a cocky hotshot student pilot who's earned the call sign "Hangman" because of how often his glory-hounding has left his wingmen hanging, this sequel challenges Maverick with a more complex lesson.

"It's time to let go," Iceman types on his computer screen. It's a bold statement for a movie about a man fighting off his own forced obsolescence, but an essential part of any kind of progress, whether personal or societal, is for the bright and shining stars of one generation to possess the wisdom and good grace to trust the next generation to steer their own course.

Of course, because this is still "Top Gun," that generational transition still involves shirtless pick-up games of beach sports (the original film's homoerotic volleyball is traded for co-ed football here), with stern authority figures shaking their heads and growling reprimands as rules are flouted, even though they ultimately can't argue with the mission getting accomplished.

Jon Hamm and Ed Harris are both perfectly cast as glowering admirals whom Maverick manages to infuriate along the way, while the enduringly luminous Jennifer Connelly does what she needs to do, in a token love interest role that's written as a relatively generic ex-girlfriend substitute for Kelly McGillis' character from the original film.

For those of us who are local to Washington state, Seattle was among the principal photography locations for this film, for which filming also took place at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor. And for any former or current sailors who, like me, served onboard USS Theodore Roosevelt, Cruise and the production crew were sighted on board "The Big Stick" at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego in February of 2019.

"Top Gun: Maverick" is the kind of crowd-pleaser that makes moviegoers clap in the theaters, and while I never expected such a sequel would have anything relevant to say in the 21st century, it's earned its audiences' cheers.

See this one for Val, and for Tony.

Author Bio

Kirk Boxleitner, Reporter

Author photo

Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald
[email protected]


Reader Comments(0)