TOP GUN: MAVERICK: A Cruise missile fired at bloated action movies.

Nothing excites Tom Cruise more than freaking out a studio’s insurance company.

I thought Top Gun was bad even at the time it was made, but everyone’s been raving so much about this sequel I finally succumbed and pulled it up on streaming.

And I get it now. In the current movie environment where action directors are allowed 3 hours to stuff their films with convoluted plotlines, too many characters, real-world political analogies that you have to Google to understand, and multiple mysteries dangled until the end, Top Gun: Maverick comes in like a stealth bomber. The film is as lean and muscular as all the bodies on display, and as purpose-built as the machines those bodies strap themselves into.

What’s especially refreshing is the lack of patriotic cheerleading for a movie like this. The focus is on the technical execution of a singular, dangerous mission into enemy territory. That enemy is never given a human face, and only represented by their weaponry, which is tagged with marks too ambiguous to suggest any known nation. This refusal on the filmmakers’ part to give the audience a foreign enemy to hate is laudable, especially now.

There wouldn’t be much room for that enemy, anyway, as the real mission behind Top Gun: Maverick is to remind us all that there is but one big, old-fashioned, box-office-whomping Movie Star left in our pantheon: Tom Cruise. No couch-jumping or cult leading or gay rumors have ever or will ever take away the joy of watching Cruise almost kill himself to entertain us on screen.

Our Cruise missile enters the plot in stealth mode, as well. Compared to the cocky loudmouth from the first film, this older Maverick is quieter, calmer. The movie reminds us – a lot – that he’s still the fastest flyer in the history of the universe, and the only threat to his dominance is the artificial intelligence that will soon be flying all the planes in all the wars. “Your kind is going extinct” says crusty general Ed Harris – clearly meant to imply Cruise as well as his character – to which Cruise replies “not today”. Mission Impossible VIII: Creatine and Self-Discipline comes out in 2023, so not tomorrow or next year either, Ed.

It seems Mav’s rule-breaking ways – like joy-flying $14 billion planes he wasn’t authorized to – have gotten him in hot water a lot over the years since Top Gun, but he keeps getting saved by his ole frenemy, Iceman (Val Kilmer), who runs the Navy now, and is dying from throat cancer. Can I tell you what’s ballsier than Cruise doing his own stunts flying real jet planes? Val Kilmer, who actually has throat cancer, taking a role in which his character dies of throat cancer.  

Mav can’t say no to Ice when he insists Mav be the one to train the young pilots who’ll be flying the mission, even though it will put him in charge of his late wingman Goose’s son, Rooster (Miles Teller). Maverick’s guilt over Goose’s death is the emotional journey that these movies have to include, but it’s a simple plotline and handled with admirable restraint by Cruise.

As for all the infamous homoerotic stuff bubbling under the first Top Gun, it ain’t here this time, boo! Instead of human cold shower Kelly McGillis sending Tom into the hotter embrace of his naked shower buddies, Cruise gets a smokin’ Jennifer Connelly this time. And the hate-sex vibes young Maverick and Iceman gave off are not matched by that of Rooster and his rival Hangman, even though Hangman writes his call sign as H_ngm_n, clearly inviting us to put a ‘U’ in the puzzle instead of an ‘A’. So those of you looking to get hot and bothered will have to make do with terms like ‘earth bulge’ and ‘stick jockey’, and a beach football scene shot more like a Subaru commercial than a porn film.

Still, there’s plenty to be excited by in Top Gun: Maverick, most of all that Tom Cruise is still just as passionate about delivering great entertainment as he was when he was a boy in his undies.

Predicted Oscar nominations: 6

Picture, Cinematography, Visual Effects, Editing, Sound, Song

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