I feel the need, the need for...
...the big screen! Top Gun: Maverick and Tom Cruise reignite cinema in a sequel for the ages (plus: your weekend watchlist)
Tom Cruise isn’t a man who likes to wait, you imagine. But wait he did. And then wait some more.
Top Gun: Maverick was originally due for release in 2019, being delayed for a year “to allow the production to work out all the complex flight sequences.” In 2020, well, we all know what happened in 2020. So back it went, to summer 2021. And then, well, we all know what happened in 2021, too. Finally, it landed in May 2022. And this time, three years on from the very first release date, it stuck.
“I make movies for the big screen,” said Tom Cruise, simply. So he waited, while other movies went direct to streaming or dropped day and date or charged out of the blocks as ‘normality’ peered over the horizon. He waited for the big screen to be back. For the movie business, for Hollywood, to be back. But crucially, for audiences to be back.
And you know what, I’ll be damned if he didn’t turn out to be right. It’s hard, if not impossible, to imagine watching Top Gun: Maverick on not just the big screen, but the very biggest big screen you could possibly find, eardrums rattling.
Last night, in scenes that actually could have been from summer 2019, the UK premiere was held in London with proper stars, royalty and naturally, a plane parked up on the red carpet. This was just 24-hours after the film had its world premiere at Cannes Film Festival (yet more planes), where Cruise was the surprise recipient of an honorary Palme d’Or in recognition of his life’s work.
In what seems to be the perfect meeting of star, film and moment, all signs are that Top Gun: Maverick is the apex of Hollywood’s redemptive arc.
Baby, we’re back. And back with aplomb.
Making a sequel to one of the most beloved films of the 1980s, a star-making film at that, thirty-six years on from the original, is, well, pretty audacious. But then, he’s Tom Cruise and he makes the impossible possible. Much like Pete Mitchell.
More than three decades on, Mitchell aka Maverick, is still a risk-taker and boundary-obliterator (much to the annoyance of Ed Harris’s Rear Admiral Cole and Jon Hamm’s Beau ‘Cyclone’ Simpson). Maverick’s career has inevitably been hamstrung by his dislike of authority and refusal to sit in an ergonomically-designed office chair rather than a cockpit. So far, so 1986.
He’s also (and inevitably) in a romantic tangle with single mother/bar owner Penny (Jennifer Connelly), who continues the tradition of don’t-fuck-with-me women in Maverick’s life. (And, while we’re on the subject, a big YES for the casting of a 51-year-old woman. Connelly’s generally excellent and hot as hell, but frankly we’re used to seeing men paired with women often younger than their own daughters. Stop. It.).
And the other thing that hasn’t changed? Maverick’s best friend is still dead. A generation may have been and passed, but the grief and guilt is still an open wound, only now made fresh by a collision with Goose’s son Rooster (Miles Teller). He’s one of a new class of recruits (alongside Glen Powell, Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman, Danny Ramirez, Tarzan Davis, Jay Ellis) - pilots who are to be trained by Maverick. Their assignment: a ‘suicide’ mission to stop a (generic) enemy power from taking a rogue nuclear weapons facility online.
Cruise fills Maverick with the exact right amount of swagger, charisma, charm and yes thank Christ, arrogance. But perhaps more interestingly, he also zeroes in on the insecurities and vulnerabilities that a 50-something man still bound up in ego and ambition (and loss) would carry, making Maverick far more known and understood in the sequel than in Top Gun.
In this way and many others, Top Gun: Maverick is beautifully heartfelt and sincere. It takes both its world and those within it hugely serious. But perhaps even more more so: it takes the audience seriously.
It’s easy to put the success of this film down to nostalgia. But in the wrong hands, nostalgia can be a wave that wipes away the marks of modernity. Top Gun: Maverick tightly harnesses it to illuminates and contextualise, but also to make you feel. Man, do you feel.
The new world is perfectly balanced with these shimmering echoes of the past. There’s the bike vs. plane shot framed almost identically; a similarly-sweaty, topless beach ball game; a moustached man in a Hawaiian shirt singing, lungs-full, at the piano. And then there’s Iceman (Val Kilmer), in one of the film’s most emotionally authentic and satisfying scenes. Top Gun always knew to keep hearts on the ground, even when their bodies wanted to be in the air, and Maverick is no different.
Which takes us up, up into the sky. It’s been said that Cruise (who is also a producer) always insisted a Top Gun sequel would only be made if there was flying of actual planes rather than green screen. And boy, we know CG can do wondrous things but frankly, thank god for Tom Cruise’s insane ambition and his partnership with director Joseph Kosinski. The set pieces are extraordinary, both in the shooting (Claudio Miranda’s cinematography) and the editing (Eddie Hamilton). The actors may not be flying the planes - they were trained - but they are physically in them and, as the cameras mounted in the cockpit show, the G-Force is spread all over their faces (and you’d assume their bellies and brains).
The aerial acrobatics are slick, high-velocity and crucially, cogent. Keeping the drama and dialogue straight when you’re doing a zoom climb ain’t easy (I’d imagine).
And these high stakes, this tension, isn’t just a second act affair (or in the case of Top Gun, really a third act affair). Maverick has it all from the opening stirrings of Harold Faltermeyer’s score (DONG!), as well as arguably sharper dialogue (Christopher McQuarrie, Ehren Kruger and Eric Warren Singer are on writing duties).
What all of this adds up to is yes, the right star, film and moment. And together, they make the perfect summer blockbuster. And - I’m going to call it - one of the great sequels.
Top Gun: Maverick reminds us (if we needed reminding) of why the pictures isn’t the same as our telly at home. It reminds us of what cinema is capable of. It reminds us of what we, as audiences, are capable of feeling. Of what 131 minutes in a dark room with strangers, being thrilled from our tips to our toes, can do for us. It can make the impossible possible.
The wait is over.
-Top Gun: Maverick is in cinemas on May 27th
-Are you excited for the film? Worried you won’t like it? Have you already booked your tickets? And what do you think are the greatest sequels of all time (*cough* Rocky II). Drop it in the comments!
The White Noise Weekend Watchlist
In a regular Friday feature, I’ll recommend the best from both linear TV and on demand for your weekend viewing pleasure. Ready? Let’s go!
Band of Gold (On demand, ITV Hub)
This week saw the devastating news of Kay Mellor’s death. Remember the writer who so passionately gave a voice to women, the north and the working-classes with all three seasons of one of her finest shows, a 1990s drama about sex workers (starring Cathy Tyson, Geraldine James and Samantha Morton).
Kill Bill: Volume 2 (Friday, 10:50pm, TCM)
“I roared. And I rampaged. And I got bloody satisfaction”. Need I say more?
Bad Times at the El Royale (Friday, 11:10pm, Film4)
The soundtrack, the production design, the script, Jeff Bridges, that five-minute tracking shot, Cynthia Erivo. (We can ignore the wheels coming off Chris Hemsworth’s performance a tad).
Derry Girls, Series 3 (On demand, All 4 )
Yes, it’s *absolutely* the masterpiece that everyone says. Yes, the finale is pretty much perfect. And for what it’s worth: I never thought The Corrs would make me cry (not in that way, anyway).
Top Gun (Saturday, 9pm, Sky Showcase)
An at-home refresher of the 1986 classic before you submit, off your head on adrenalin and excitement, to Top Gun: Maverick on the big screen next week.
Gascoigne (Saturday, 9pm, Sky Documentaries)
Not only an unvarnished, affecting portrait of footballer Paul Gascoigne’s life and career, but a study in the vulnerability and manipulation stitched into modern celebrity.
Floodlights (On demand, BBCiPlayer)
A powerful dramatisation of the story of Andy Woodward (Gerard Kearns), one of the first footballers to ever report sexual abuse in the game.
Christopher Lee’s Ghost Stories (Sunday, 10:05pm, BBC Four)
Actual Dracula reading us a spooky story before bed (in this case ‘The Ash Tree’ by MR James)? We’re in!
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (On demand, Sky Witness)
After a wait of 298 years, season 23 finally arrived this week and we picked up exactly where we left off…(Carisi! Rollins! Uh-oh!).
Thank you for reading the second ever White Noise newsletter! Next week, I’m going to do an AMA (open to all) and there’ll be two more newsletters. See you then, pals. And HAPPY WEEKEND. x
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