Wednesday 22 June 2022

Top Gun: Contrived but fun

Don't think, just do! Use the Force, Tom! Which movie am I watching again?

Top Gun: Maverick is a template driven popcorn blockbuster, but it's a hoot nevertheless. 

It starts with our eponymous hero, Maverick, working as a test pilot on a secret Air Force project that's about to be terminated... spoil sport general (Ed Harris) is on his way! Mav has to steal the plane and push it to Mach 10 to avoid the program being cancelled! The jobs of his comrades (who look sad) are on the line, and only Mav can save them (as if the Air Force wouldn't reassign them elsewhere). 

He flies over the general as he takes off, blasting Ed Harris with a huge gust of wind. The script is not subtle.

Maverick being Maverick (show character!), he pushes the plane beyond its limits, causing the experimental craft to break up in mid air. Oh noes! Is Mav dead in the first five minutes, like Seagal in that nineties flick? Surprise! Mav ejects safely and winds up at a diner for a comedy beat. 

The program he was trying to save is not so fortunate, as their billion dollar plane is now toast. 


Fortunately, Mav is immediately reassigned (they do that!) to Top Gun again, to train young hotshots for the most difficult target imaginable. And I mean that: the mission comes across as wildly contrived and artificial, a mix of Star Wars trench run, test material (every challenge thrown into one scenario) and video game. As if the screenwriters asked pilots what would be the most ridiculously difficult mission to fly and cooked this up.

Obvisously it has to be flown by pilots, not programmed drones or missiles.

To avoid offending foreign markets, it's against an unnamed enemy. The target's an uranium enrichment plant; Russia and China already have plenty of nukes and enrichment plants. North Korea also already has nukes. The enemy nation also has fifth generation fighters, which I don't think Iran or North Korea have. They're flying over snow covered forests, somewhere in the north... the only choice is North Korea, but even that doesn't really make sense. 

Whatever. Don't think, just do! That's the film's mantra. It's something Yoda might say.

Before sending Tom off, General Party Poop had told Tom pilots were no longer necessary. Unfortunately, I think Harris is right. Before long, planes will either be piloted by machine or remotely. 

But that'd make for a short movie though.

The mission is so Death Star trench run it's funny (I laughed out loud a couple of times), but that's the tone of the film: bonkers and high octane silliness.

The action scenes, however, rock. They didn't use (much?) CGI; a lot is actual planes pulling crazy stunt maneuvers. That gives scenes a verisimilitude and kinetic energy that's nothing short of enrapturing. You get a sense of the thrill (and horror) of being a fighter pilot. 


Harrowing yet magnificent flying scenes

Sometimes it's difficult to understand where exactly the planes are in relation to each other, but given the limitation of using actual footage, they do a pretty good job.

There's an emotional aspect to the film, with a peripheral love story and strained relations between Mav and Goose's son. You care about the characters just enough to feel involved in the action sequences (well, Mav and Rooster). 

Tom Cruise fits in a running scene (must be in his contract) and the ending piles on the ridiculousness. 

If you're looking for a grounded, gritty, realistic fighter pilot flick, this isn't it. It's gung ho action and wahoo fun, with (barely, just barely) enough emotional connection to keep you interested. 

The best thing I can say (given my jaded tastes) is that I was engaged during the action sequences and finale. 

There are a good number of other big budget bonanzas where I was bored stiff during the spectacular CGI climax. 

Cardboard characters surrounded by explosion bling just isn't enough anymore. 

For a fun diversion excursion, I'd recommend Maverick (with the caveat you should leave your brain at home).

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