/ 24 June 2022

One Movie, Two Takes: Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun 2copy
Three decades later and Tom is still cruising.

For the generation growing up in the 1980s, the MTV generation or whatever other description there is for those of us who grew up stealing glances at Dallas or Kwakhala Nyonini before bedtime, we were all infatuated with the fate of “iStaring” — the “starring” protagonist in a movie. It was a time where our superstars — whether on television, cinema screens or vinyl records — could be as mystical or magical as they wanted to be. 

I was reminded of this time, a wondrous time in the entertainment world, when I watched Tom Cruise’s most recent box office hit, Top Gun: Maverick. It marks the 59-year-old’s return to a 1980s classic that catapulted him into the superstar stratosphere. I hadn’t, and still haven’t, watched the original Top Gun but it wasn’t really necessary. I knew what had inspired the aviator sunglasses that were the craze in my little neighbourhood. It was its leading man, Cruise, who was just the epitome of cool for many. I knew that from M-Net reruns of Risky Business that we’d be subjected to years, if not decades, after its 1983 release. (I still think the Porsche 928 is a classic only because of that movie.)

So as I sat down to watch Maverick I wanted, or rather hoped, that he’d be able to recapture the cool and irreverence that he created some 36 years after the original, without awakening any of my “woke” sensitivities about pro-America narratives that is at the centre of many movies at the height of US hegemony in the world. I’m here to report that Cruise has pulled it off. Not only that, he manages to make riding a bike without a helmet not look stupid but cool. (Besides, only 18 of the US’s 51 states have laws against it — unsurprisingly.)

I’d summarise the movie as a fighter flight training manual over the more than two-hour run accompanied by a story of an ageing hero, raging against the dying of the light. Rage is perhaps a wrong word, rather daring it. I’ve subsequently watched YouTube videos tearing into the impossible stunts in the movie but those reviews miss the plot. Who really cares about that in a world where the number of drones are increasingly the dominant factor in any future aerial battles in another World War? As a political statement, this movie tries its best not to make any. The enemy never shows its face or the colours of its flag, a smart move given how geopolitics have shifted over the past four decades. China wasn’t as important a box office draw as it is today and, given that this movie was made before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it wasn’t a time so easy to find a country to mark out as a villainous state.

This movie is simply made for the thrill and nothing else. As follicly challenged as I am, I can admit that it’s really made to blow wind through your hair. And it does. Simple fun, filled with loud engines driven by an actor who has kept a certain cool and mysticism through a more than 40-year career. The last of our 1980s “iStarings” still showing off his chops. Ron Derby 

It has been 36 years since the first Top Gun film was released. Directed by the late Tony Scott, it is one of the earliest films that turned Tom Cruise into a Hollywood star. The role of US Navy Pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is one of his most popular roles and now Cruise has returned almost four decades later to reprise that role in this sequel.

Top Gun: Maverick pays homage to the first film through its score and opening scene. Although the plot deviates substantially from the original, there is a continuance in the storyline. We catch up with Maverick who has now aged but is still very much in shape. He is also still the same confident adrenaline junkie that we know him to be, with the same penchant for riding superbikes.

Maverick’s stubbornness and insubordination are still intact and, as punishment after disobeying orders from one of his admirals, Chester “Hammer” Harris (Ed Harris), he is sent back to the Top Gun academy to teach today’s crop of elite pilots. Maverick, once a student at Top Gun himself, is reluctant to undertake this new assigned role because he doesn’t see himself as a teacher. But that is not the only reason for his reluctance. Maverick is still cut up about the accidental death of Goose (Anthony Edwards), his wingman during combat in his Top Gun heydays. Even though he was absolved of any liability, he still harbours guilt that he couldn’t save his friend.

One of the current students at Top Gun is Goose’s son, Rooster (Miles Teller). As can be expected, there is tension and unresolved trauma between Maverick and Rooster, which forms the basis for the main plot in Top Gun: Maverick.

There are numerous references to the old film. Rooster, just like Maverick, has a nemesis at the school, who goes by the name of Hangman (Glen Powell). The two are vying for the position of best pilot in the group, just as Maverick and his old foe (turned friend) Iceman (Val Kilmer) did. The film does miss the macho locker-room tension bordering on homoeroticism abundant in the first film among the group of pilot students. Now there’s a more discernible camaraderie among the group.Director Joseph Kosinki, known for his digital effects and sci-fi (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) does an excellent job at steering the film. It’s commendable how he remains faithful to the Tony Scott film, while interpreting his rendition in his own signature way. The special effects are breathtaking during the flight and combat sequence scenes. The script has more heart, with one of the film’s highlights being the relationship Maverick has with Iceman,now frail as a result of ageing and sickness. Overall, Top Gun: Maverick is an excellent sequel that does justice to the legacy of Top Gun. Although it may not result in over-the-top fanfare and the aviator sunglasses craze of the 1980s inspired by the first film, it will certainly leave its own mark in today’s context. Cruise is at his best, giving a broader dimension and breadth to the character of Maverick. Sekese Rasephei