Why ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is so much more than a sequel
Plus, a rundown of the books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency
Friday 20 May 2022 By Matt d’Ancona
Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.
Warning: includes some spoilers
I saw the original Top Gun in New York on a sweltering summer evening in 1986. How very different those times were: Ronald Reagan was in the Oval Office, the Berlin Wall stood intact, Nelson Mandela had yet to be freed, and the World Wide Web was still three years away.
As for the movie? The audience (including me) loved every minute of it. Tony Scott’s Top Gun was the highest-grossing movie of the year, and went on to take $357m at the box office. And it catapulted Tom Cruise – who played Captain Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell – to global superstardom.
Now, 36 years later, there is finally a sequel, Top Gun: Maverick (general release, 25 May), directed by Joseph Kosinski. The new movie is – against the odds and in the face of much scepticism – an absolute triumph: an all-action popcorn crowd-pleaser of the very highest calibre that will keep you riveted for two hours and 17 minutes. So good, in fact, that it may enter that very select list of sequels that are better than their forerunners.
As the movie opens, Maverick is a test pilot based in the Mojave desert, tasked with pushing the experimental hypersonic ‘Darkstar’ aircraft up to Mach 10. Rear Admiral Chester Cain (Ed Harris) arrives to tell the team that he is shutting the project down – and shutting Maverick down, too.
Cain personifies the belief that manned fighter aircraft, and pilots like Maverick, are a thing of the past, that drones are infinitely more reliable, and that technology has made redundant the lethal artistry of the dogfight. ‘The future’s coming and you’re not in it,’ he says. ‘The end is inevitable. Your kind is headed for extinction.’ Cruise turns to deliver the movie’s first real burn: ‘Maybe so, sir. But not today.’
And not for a while, as it turns out. Maverick, we learn, has been protected for many years by his former rival-turned-blood brother, Iceman – now Admiral Tom Kazansky, commander of the US Pacific fleet – and is sent back to Top Gun (relocated since the first movie to western Nevada). This time, however, he will not be instructing pilots, but preparing a crack team of the school’s graduates for an apparently impossible mission: to take out a secret uranium depot that is heavily defended by an unnamed enemy power.
I won’t spoil the details of the task or how Cruise goes about honing the already impressive talents of his new crew. Suffice to say that there are plenty of pleasing callbacks to the first movie: from the music of Harold Faltermeyer and Kenny Loggins and bar-room sing-alongs to the still-ubiquitous Ray-Ban Aviators and T-shirt-ready one-liners (‘Turn and burn, baby’).
But Top Gun: Maverick is much more than a nostalgic tribute to its predecessor. Indeed, it is by no means necessary to have seen Top Gun to enjoy it. The gathering of Top Gun graduates at the Fighter Weapons School is little more than a plot device to ignite the action. And what action. By installing Imax cameras in the cockpits of the F/A-18 aircraft and dispensing entirely with green screen technology, Kosinski captures an unprecedented level of authenticity. The combination of state-of-the-art cinematography and top-notch performances makes for compelling viewing.
At the heart of the Top Gun myth nestles a mystery: what makes a certain kind of person crave such danger and a constant dance with death in the clouds? In a sense, Top Gun: Maverick was originally intended to be a cinematic punctuation mark in the unfolding of that mystery, a homage to an era that was drawing to a close as 21st-century geostrategists shifted their attention to cyberwarfare, special ops, and drone technology.
And yet the movie is being released as the skies of Ukraine are scarred by ferocious dogfights. Last month, the world’s media featured interviews with a Ukrainian pilot whose call sign is ‘Juice’. Right now, the world of Top Gun seems all too real. All the more reason to see this remarkable movie as soon as you possibly can.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
Night Sky (Amazon Prime, 20 May)
In Holden Miller’s eight-part saga, the Oscar®-winning Sissy Spacek excels as Irene York, long-married to Franklin (the magnificent J.K. Simmons), and now in declining health after a fall. The couple apparently lead a quiet life in small-town Illinois, but have shared a cosmic secret for years: namely, that, under their tool shed, there is a portal to what appears to be another planet.
Enter a young man, Jude (Chai Hansen), who throws their double life into turmoil. We also discover that there is another such portal in an Argentinian church. If all this sounds bonkers, it is. But – like The Leftovers and Station Eleven (see Creative Sensemaker, 12 May) – Night Sky makes intelligent use of its extraordinary premise to explore the interior of human relationships, the shocks to which love, however enduring, is always subjected, and the approach of mortality.
The Betrayal: The True Story Of My Brush With Death In The World Of Narcos And Launderers by Robert Mazur
In this follow-up to The Infiltrator: Undercover In The World Of Drug Barons And Dirty Banks (2009) – the story of his infiltration of the Escobar cartel as an undercover customs agent – Robert Mazur recounts a separate operation in which, posing as an Italian-American businessman, Robert Baldasare, he seeks to sabotage the finances of the Cali drug empire. In constant danger of detection, Mazur shows extraordinary courage, and, along the way, reveals much about the labyrinthine world of high-stakes money laundering.
At The End Of The Night by Gabzy
Continuing his collaboration with New York producer, Melvitto, Peckham’s finest returns with a beautiful five-track EP that strengthens his claim to be the most important exponent of the British-Nigerian Alté scene. Along with Odeal, Boj, Marzi and a handful of others, Gabzy – aka Gabriel Akinyemi – has pioneered the UK version of this beguiling and welcoming style, which draws on Afrobeats, R&B, and an eclectic tradition of singer-songwriting. From its opening track, ‘Way Too Much’ (featuring Dayor), At The End Of The Night draws you into its sonic space with almost hypnotic ease. Don’t miss him on the main stage at YAM Carnival (London’s Clapham Common, 27 August).
That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.
Editor and Partner