Putin Cruises into, I mean, Tom Cruises into glory again

3 Stars / 5 (Good)
Director: Joseph Kosinski Cast: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller; English, NZ Release: 24 May

The most unique thing about ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ happens before the movie. Thomas Cruise Mapother IV appears before us on the cinema screen, thanking us for being there after all that has transpired in the last few years. He is referring, of course, to the cinema theatre audience that has resurfaced after the initial years of the pandemic, along with Cruise’s own efforts to not let this putative blockbuster go to streaming first in the lockdown area. It may seem a strange prelude to a picture, but then of course, most of us didn’t really find anything unusual about Cruise’s heartfelt remarks, not after what we’ve gained and lost through all this, except that we’re looking at him through a cool Hollywood capture and not a grainy Zoom call.

‘Top Gun : Maverick’ plays it dizzyingly safe with a plot that displays the hero’s greatness and America’s supremacy (no matter that half of Ukraine is now destroyed, and Taliban is picking up the remains of Top Gun). Captain Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell has resisted going up the Navy’s ranks in the last three decades, because he loves flying jets so much as a test pilot. He is summoned, despite his cheeky chutzpah putting off his immediate superiors, to train a crème de la crème group of young pilots on an incredibly difficult mission.

Their F/A 18 Hornets must fly low in narrow valleys and between bridge pillars in enemy country to avoid radar detection, and then swoop up and down a snowy mountain to bomb a uranium enrichment facility before scramming back into Uncle Sam’s navy ship lap. The young turks do not initially cozy up to him, until his cockpit roosterism bowls them over, and then the teacher-led group keep pushing the rehearsal ante until the palpitating mission day dawns.

Moral of The Story : You can enrich your own uranium and bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but you should blockbuster bomb others’ uranium when they start to enrich it.

The movie’s biggest strength lies in the way it shows the harrowing physical and mental stress that fighter pilots have to go through during vertiginous velocities and crushing G Force climbs, especially in our era now where combat seems popular. Agony to panic to black-outs – it’s all there to witness when you’re flying faster than the speed of sound. Cruise, a licensed pilot, refused to use computer graphics for the flight sequences and put himself and the actors in actual fighter planes with high-resolution film cameras mounted on the planes.

This real-life footage, unsurprisingly, looks natural and convincing although the ones actually flying the superstar $ 70 million F 18 jets captured in action, are professional Navy pilots after the Navy refused permission (quite understandably) to Cruise et al to fly them. Deft editing, though, mixes the exterior and POV shots to achieve the effect we see.

What’s in short supply, from the visual aspect, are shots which look forward from the cockpit seat – which actually would vicariously give us the pilot’s zooming view. The movie’s start, with its exterior long-range captures of the F18 against static cloud, are impressive in conveying its dazzling speed. The sequence of Maverick’s first training session with his group falls short on intensity, with a cut too many and not enough feel of the swooping planes. Later, The Guru’s solo trailblazer where he daringly shows how the mission can be accomplished, has better, more immersive P.O.V shots looking back at the pilot and the rushing wide-view scenery around him. The finale is thrillingly executed with shifting layers of dramatic action and interspersed humour.

Where’s the emotion, you ask ? Oh, you’ll find a bit of that too. That’s where Jennifer Connelly comes in, and this would be one of the easier million-dollar paychecks she’s picked up and it’s certainly not her fault that there’s not enough to work on here. Miles Teller convincingly glowers as one of the young top pilots with pent-up rancour. Cruise’s charisma is evergreen, never mind that his truly daring ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and ‘Minority Report’ days are decades gone. Franchise gratification is here, bits of humour are here and the capacity audience in Auckland’s first night first-show screening chuckled at all the jokes. 

--

More movie reviews by U Prashanth Nayak please click: http://www.upnworld.com//upn/movie_lists