Saturday, January 14, 2023

REVIEW: Top Gun: Maverick

There's no denying we're in a nostalgic era in Hollywood, with sequels and remakes galore flooding the multiplexes. Nowhere is that more evident than the extraordinary box office success of "Top Gun: Maverick". Following thirty years from the original "Top Gun", this sequel unabashedly pays homage to its distinctly 1980s aesthetics and attitude. And in this modern update, director Joseph Kosinski has transformed this new franchise that many would have deemed a "guilty pleasure" into a impressive and rousing cinematic achievement.

"Top Gun: Maverick" reintroduces us to several characters from its predecessor, most notably Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (played with typical confidence by Tom Cruise), a celebrated fighter pilot who is now tasked with testing new aircraft. Though he has never risen up in the ranks due to his insubordination, he is in the twilight of his career, further emphasized by the imminent closure of his current Mach 9 programme in exchange for drones. Determined to prove his worth, Maverick boldly decides to test the limits of himself and his aircraft one more time with a Mach 10 test flight. When the test pushes past Mach 10 and the aircraft is destroyed, Maverick is slated for disciplinary action. But in a twist, he is instead recruited to train the next generation of fighter pilots for a daring mission to destroy an unsanctioned uranium plant on foreign soil.

With vague references to a NATO threat in the mission briefing, the training begins to prepare for the covert attack. Though they aren't nearly as memorable as Cruise's Maverick, the cadre of diverse supporting characters bring a lively dynamic to the film, including the tough, lone woman "Phoenix" (Monica Barbaro), the cocksure "Hangman" (Glen Powell) and the unassuming "Bob" (Lewis Pullman). Most importantly, we also "Rooster", the bitter son of Maverick's late friend "Goose", who brings a emotional connection to the original film and propulsive tension between him and Maverick.

As the film proceeds through the typical banter, training montages and subsequent flight sequences, it borrows liberally from the original, with the familiar strains of the 80s rock score, flashback scenes and photos and yet another gratuitous sequence of playful seaside bonding (this time using football instead of volleyball). But although the screenplay won't win any praise for originality, the filmmaking elevates the basic premise with superlative craftmanship and richer themes. Indeed, the sound design and cinematography - this time taking advantage of IMAX-certified cameras - create a visceral adrenaline rush.

But most significantly, the presence of Tom Cruise himself and his character development adds an extra layer of gravitas. His indefatigable spirit is awe-inspiring and his character's ethos - bringing the team home safely is just as crucial as completing the mission - instills a poignant undercurrent to the juvenile brouhaha of hypermasculinity. Additionally, there's a romance subplot involving the luminous Jennifer Connolly that's at once moving in its maturity and downright cool in its motorbike-riding and sailboating swagger. All of these elements combine to result in the ultimate triumph of "Top Gun: Maverick" - it's so damn fun to watch.

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