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Top Gun: Maverick (2022) June 8th, 2022

You probably heard Top Gun: Maverick‘s a thrilling adventure flick with stunning practical effects that push the frontier of cinematography. It’s also a damn good time at the movies. If that isn’t enough to get you into the theater… then you must really hate the theater.

For all its roaring success, Top Gun: Maverick cannot make it 1986 again by reheating the core elements of the original Top Gun. The high stress competitive nature of Navy flight academy or leaving the identity of the film’s antagonistic foreign nation deliberately unidentified feel familiar but dated. In Top Gun it seemed clear the unnamed villains were not so ambiguously Soviets considering the geopolitical climate of the mid 80s and the popularity of ‘US vs. Commies’ films like Red Dawn or Rocky IV. Now the unnamed bad guy isn’t exactly as clear considering the United States’ tense relationship with multiple Eurasian nations. This time leaving the enemy unnamed feels like the decision of a shrewd studio executive ensuring their picture plays in Chinese theaters to increase global ticket sales.

Add to that fan service scenes like Rooster (the be-sun-spectacled son of Goose) performing a shoehorned rendition of Great Balls of Fire on a barroom piano, a sunset beach football scene (this time with women so it’s distinctly heteroerotic), and the emotional return of Val Kilmer’s character ‘Iceman’ who’s long surpassed Maverick in military rank but whose health is in decline and you’ve got yourself a fun trip but awkward trip back to the well. None of that is surprising or upsetting in a market where reboots and long awaited sequels are the norm. What isn’t the norm, and what did feel gratuitous and exploitative, was a 60 year old Tom Cruise harnessing all the privilege afforded by his gender, star power, and limitless thetans to weasel into a sex scene with a 52 year old Jennifer Connelly. I’m not dying to see good looking elderly people hump, which they’re entitled to do, but that’s not really the problem. Connelly and Cruise spend their time flirting and sneaking around like a couple of 20 somethings to avoid tipping off her teenage daughter that they’re rekindling their once fiery romance. Look, I’m not saying characters their age can’t have romantic scenes but they should at least act their age. Modern dating is more of a sterile digital vetting system used to weed out unattractive matched on Tinder and other apps not the trellis climbing of a John Hughes movie. Top Gun: Maverick cannot make it 1986 again Tom.

Their romance brings up another ugly example of ageist sexism in Hollywood. Why isn’t Kelly McGillis in Top Gun: Maverick? Maybe Maverick is more sympathetic as a man who can’t maintain a relationship, maybe their relationship ran its course. I don’t remember any mention of her character in Top Gun: Maverick, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there but I don’t recall a moment when Maverick explains how their relationship fell apart. What I do know, is Kelly McGillis looks her age. She hasn’t spent a career starving herself to look like an emaciated 40 year old well into her 60s. She isn’t clinging to the the notion that she’s still a 30 something leading man like some of her costars. Val Kilmer’s very public battle with throat cancer cost him his voice but that significant screen acting handicap didn’t stop Iceman from coming back to kick Maverick into gear, but looking like a grandma seems to have kept Kelly McGillis at home. If these are indeed the reasons for her exclusion they’re disappointing at best, offensive at worst.

What would Top Gun: Maverick lose if it replaced Jennifer Connelly’s character with Kelly McGillis’ but kept the rest of the story the same? Seems like the obvious answer is Jennifer Connelly has managed to maintain a youthful attractiveness into her 50s and McGillis is ok with going gray. Her presence in Top Gun: Maverick wouldn’t even be out of place, we’ve seen a callback cornucopia in this nostalgia buffet… hell, we’ll accept that Miles Teller’s character who should be at least 40 is still trying to make it as a fighter pilot (I know part of the plot is Maverick deliberately interfering with Rooster’s naval academy application but c’mon, Tom Cruise was 24 when Top Gun was released and Miles Teller’s 35 that’s an 11 year age gap for what should’ve been what… a 1 year application delay?). Would Top Gun: Maverick have made $1.5 billion without the hot pre-AARP action? Probably, but it’s still there and I think we all know why. Sex sells and Tom Cruise has an unrivaled ego, don’t believe me? Ask him to stand next to a woman who’s 5’11” without an apple box.

All of that criticism really exists in the mind outside the theater. Inside the theater I enjoyed having fun at the movies, but the specter of reflection and analysis loomed and eventually gripped my mind. I DO look forward to revisiting Top Gun in 3D (I bought the blu-ray before seeing Top Gun: Maverick but haven’t taken the time to enjoy it yet). If you enjoy a theatrical thrill ride then you really should’ve seen Top Gun: Maverick in a theater, but don’t be surprised when the cone of emersion lifts and your mind wanders to all the weird shit you saw but might not have noticed.

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