Is Top Gun: Maverick as good as people think it is?

Tom Cruise was a young actor on the rise after his breakout role in Risky Business in the early ’80s. In 1986, he had two movies: one, a sequel of a Paul Newman classic, The HustlerThe Color of Money, in which he plays a hotshot pool player, and the other, Top Gun, where he plays a hotshot pilot. The latter has a sequel that came out in 2022 and has garnered much acclaim from critics and the public. The question is — is Top Gun: Maverick as good as people think it is or is it just a rehash of the original ’80s classic?

I was twelve years old when I first saw Top Gun. It was a massive film in the summer of ’86. It had an up-and-coming star in Tom Cruise, a great soundtrack with songs such as “Danger Zone,” “Take My Breath Away,” and other ’80s hits, and a story about fighter pilots and an undercurrent of patriotism in the last part of the Cold War. It had everything it needed to be a big hit that summer. And it was! And it launched Tom Cruise’s career into superstardom.

Cruise would later be the poster boy for a hotshot bartender in Cocktail, a Nascar driver in Days of Thunder, and various other action franchises like Mission: Impossible and Jack Reacher. Jerry Bruckheimer always wanted him to come back to Top Gun, though, and after 35 years and a COVID-19 pandemic, Top Gun: Maverick finally came out to a huge run over the summer of 2022. It made 1.6 billion dollars worldwide. People went to see it over and over again, and Cruise pushed for it not to come out on Paramount+, the streaming service owned by the parent company. 

This is all well and good, but the question remains: is the film that came out thirty-five years better than this one? I say yes, and the reason is it’s the original. It did this first and wasn’t a rehash of any other film. Top Gun: Maverick copies so much of Top Gun it’s ridiculous. Did this country need this film to take its mind off of the pandemic? Sure, but why couldn’t it be an original story? Why did it have to be a cookie-cutter copy of a thirty-five-year-old film?

There is a relationship angle where Maverick (Tom Cruise) is chasing a woman. In Top Gun, it was Kelly McGillis, and in the new film Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is chasing after Jennifer Connolly. McGillis wasn’t able to reprise her role from the original movie. Also, there is a volleyball scene in the original and a flag football scene in the new film. A young pilot is trying to make a name for himself in both films. Rooster (Miles Teller) is the son of Goose (Anthony Edwards) from Top Gun, so there is that tie-in between the two movies. There are just too many similar aspects that are coincidental in these two films.

Both films have a crossover character in Iceman (Val Kilmer). In Top Gun, he was a rival of Tom Cruise’s character, and in Top Gun: Maverick, he is the reason Cruise’s Maverick is training a whole new crop of special pilots for a whole new mission. Kilmer is serving a new role in the second film than he did in the first, but it’s not as important even though he was the reason the whole plot got kicked off. He was like a conscience in Top Gun, which worked better for the story. His character’s sacrifice wasn’t as meaningful in Top Gun: Maverick. And it was pretty much anticipated, as far as I’m concerned.

Both films have action sequences at the end where the Top Gun Graduates have to take part in a mission of utmost importance and is a major threat to American safety. In Top Gun, it’s over the Indian Ocean, and in Top Gun: Maverick, it is over an undisclosed Eastern European Country. It sure looked like Russia in Top Gun: Maverick, though. But the Russians played a part in both films’ end sequences. That’s where the patriotism aspects come into effect. 

I’m not saying anything about being an American or not caring about my country — I am as patriotic as the next guy. But these two films are too redundant regarding the patriotic aspects. Maybe that’s why they both hit a nerve with the American public as they did. The American people needed something to show we are strong and our country is still the big dog in the world when it comes to our military might. Both films came out at the right time regarding that.

The difference between these two films is that the cinematography, editing, and overall camera work are different. Planes were filming the scenes, and simulators showed the actor in the act of flying. In the newer film, cameras were attached to the planes, and the actors were in the actual cockpits being filmed. The latter film had over 800 hours of footage that had to be edited down for the film. Joseph Kosinski did an admirable job with Top Gun: Maverick. I don’t think it was any better than what Tony Scott did with Top Gun, though.

Top Gun: Maverick is getting a lot of awards buzz, whereas the original didn’t get much. The technical aspects are much deserved in that regard. Kosinski and company did an admirable job with the editing and cinematography. Tom Cruise and the film are getting unwarranted love, though, and I just don’t get it. The funny thing is Cruise is on a similar path as his Color of Money co-star Paul Newman. That, to me, is the most fascinating part of this whole story. Could Cruise pull off the same feat as Newman when he won the Best Actor Oscar 25 years after he originally played Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler? It’s a fascinating idea to ponder. Would this be a career Oscar like it was for Newman for Cruise? I think so. That’s the only rhyme or reason for this to be a narrative coming into this awards season.

Top Gun: Maverick test screened two years before it came out in theaters this past May, around Memorial Day: a holiday celebrating the men and women who lost their lives fighting for this country and its armed forces. No one, including myself, thought the film wouldn’t come out on its original release date in June 2020. Two long years later, it finally came out, and the country loved it. Was the timing the thing that made it a success, or was it just what the country needed to get back to going to see movies again in the theater? It got that claim — rightfully deserved or not — by many outlets. Top Gun: Maverick saved cinemas, people said. I don’t know about that. It was a confluence of events that made it a huge hit. 

Number one, a summer of duds and not-very-good films. A release strategy by Cruise that held it up twice from coming out because of various pandemic-related scares. And there was nothing else for people to get behind all summer and no physical media release for months down the road. Also, the “awards contenders” have started falling with support from awards bodies and critics groups. There is a window for this film. As a fan of the original film, I have no issue with that. I just don’t think it’s all that and a box of chocolates. It’s just not that special, and people are unnecessarily singing the film’s praises to the rooftops like it’s the end all be all of the movies. It’s not! It’s just another Tom Cruise action film like so many before, and I’m sure many to come.

Dan Skip Allen

Sean Boelman EIC/Founder/Critic disappointment Media Spokesperson CACF

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