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”It’s like Star Wars on Steroids”

The Silver Hedgehog

Introduction To Top Gun: Maverick

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I did not like Top Gun, there I said it.   I was about ten and my brother (who was on some sort of baby brother sitting/date duty) had dragged me to Blockbusters, rented Top Gun and walked us both up a large hill to his girlfriend’s house and made us all watch it.  Hyperactive me got very bored, ran round the house, found a piano, and started plonking on it, ruining the film and I suspect, my brothers date (sorry Sarah if you are reading this!).   It was not until some years later that I finally appreciated how marvellous Tony Scott’s Top Gun really is.   Now Top Gun Maverick has hit the screens some 36 years later, it is time for me to find out if it takes my breath away.

Synopsis

After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Capt.  Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him.  When he finds himself training a detachment of Top Gun graduates for a specialized mission, the likes of which no living pilot has ever seen.  “Maverick encounters Lt.  Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), call sign: “Rooster,” the son of Maverick’s late friend and Radar Intercept Officer Lt.  Nick Bradshaw, aka “Goose.”

“Facing an uncertain future and confronting the ghosts of his past, Maverick is drawn into a confrontation with his own deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.”

Top Gun | Official Website| https://www.topgunmovie.com.

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The Script/Screenplay

Rating 10 out of 10

10 out of 10

So how exactly do you create a sequel to a film 36 years on from the original?  Well, the answer is carefully.   One of the reasons we have not had a Top Gun sequel until now is that ‘Living Legend’ Tom Cruise simply did not have the right story.   Having spent the intervening years studying the craft of film-making Tom has learnt that story is everything, so if the story was not great, no film would be made.   That was until Director Joseph Kosinski pitched his idea to producer Jerry Bruckheimer and then ultimately to Tom – who loved it so much he called the head of Paramount and green lit the movie.

What followed was a true Hollywood collaboration that only Tom Cruise could pull off.   Assembling a creative team of Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie and giving them the task of turning Kosinski’s ideas into a screen play and somehow incorporating Justin Marks and Peter Craig’s story that they had been working on since 2012.

All this has led to Top Gun Maverick, a film that if all it did was replicate the beats of the original movie, would have done well at the box office.  In Maverick, they found ways to replicate the original themes, add layer upon layer of story, turn up the threat by a one hundred and give much thought to the characters, turning a potentially good box office performance into a mega record smashing one.

Those familiar with the Original Top Gun will notice similarity with Maverick, the previous beats and structure of the original are all present.  There is a bar on the airbase, Top Gun Pilots do not spot the new instructor – awkward, Great Balls of fire is sung at a piano, Maverick has a love interest, there is a beach scene, flying, a middle soppy bit and then more flying.  The major difference is that although the structure is similar, how the story infolds is in truth a lot more intricate.  Once of Top Gun Maverick’s biggest triumphs is its character development.

When we first see Maverick, he’s working as a test pilot on project that is about to be shut down by Rear Admiral Cain the ‘Drone Ranger’ who is pushing for a drone programme, at the expense of air crewed jets (this was the proposed plot point of Top Gun 2 that, did not get off the ground).   Maverick is determined to prove the project is viable, steals the plane to prove a point.  When Cain challenges Maverick and asks if he knows what would happen to him if he went through with the test flight.  Maverick’s response is

 ‘I know what happens to everyone else if I don’t’

With that, Maverick pushes the plane to its limit, proves a point and promptly crashes it.  Maverick is back!

That one line stuck in my mind long after the film as to me it is Tom Cruise telling us the audience that he knows how much is at stake to make this film great.

As a result of Pete Michell behaving like a one-man air force, he is booted back to the Top Gun Academy for one last mission before he gets ‘retired.’ Train a group of Top Gun elites on how to defeat a new big bad in unnamed country.

We get to find out a lot about Maverick and what he has been up to in the intervening years since the original.  Maverick’s back story is well thought out, it is totally believable why he hasn’t made admiral and the tensions with the top brass are tangible.

Maverick’s persona is impacted by those he meets along the way.  Even his love interest extends his personality.  In the original film we see him fall for Charlie (Kelly McGillis) but a man like Pete Mitchell is not going to stick around with one woman, and so in this film we are introduced instead to an old love interest Penny.  Penny runs the bar on the base, and this leads to some nice moments that pay homage to the original film and serve to introduce the new cast of Top Gun elites.

The rose-tinted nostalgia aside, Penny sufferers the same problem as Charlie did in the original film.  She is used to slow the film pace down from the high-octane high adrenaline exploits of the Top Gun school.  I get that Maverick needs an emotional outlet, but Penny is used to provide a fair amount of plot exposition, and the middle act slowness that plagues the original film makes a return while we watch Maverick decide if he wants an actual relationship.

Another layer to the film is Pete Mitchell’s relationship with Rooster, the son of his late friend Goose.  This connection is explored to great effect in the film with both characters seemingly on an arc of transformation.  For Maverick, his arc is coming to terms with the past and letting go, for Rooster, being able to let go of a grudge and move forward is his arc.  Whilst a little contrived and easy to spot a mile off, I am glad they went down those route as it leads to a very emotional pay off at the end of the film and may just have created the odd tear in the eye.

Where Top Gun Maverick moves away from the original film is the underlying danger that is pushing the narrative forward.  Whilst the original film has a very generic threat at the end, this film’s whole existence is to take out the ‘big bad’ hidden in a hill.  This is an extremely specific mission that requires the pilots to fly in formation at high speed, at high risk through a steep canyon, avoiding air defences, and hit a very small vent shaft at the end and bank vertical to escape!  Herein is the problem, the mission is a redo of the climax of ‘Star Wars – A New Hope,’ or is it…?  Star Wars is itself inspired by the activities of various air forces in World War 2 (The Dambusters springs to mind) and modern war planes are designed to be able to fly fast and low at speed to take out incredibly small targets, with high precision.  You can even see pilots train for this here in the UK at the Mach Loop in Wales.

The fact that the mission is so similar to Star Wars reflects just how good both films are at conveying the type of mission these planes conduct, but yes, it’s Star Wars on steroids!  Then just when you think the film is about to finish, it finds another gear.  Maverick is forced to become resourceful, and this leads to fabulous call back to the original movie and a very emotional ending.

Standout Casting

Rating 10 out of 10

10 out of 10

Being a summer blockbuster, means that the cast list is huge.  So it needed a casting team(rather than a single casting director) to gather everyone that was needed.

Holly Dorff sorted the adr voice casting, Zarah Kulczycki the casting assistant, and Jordana Sapiurka casting associate along with Cruise, Bruckheimer and Kosinski all having input too.  There is no doubt that casting of Top Gun Maverick is as good as it could be.  It had to be, the highway to the danger zone meant that the actors turned pilots had to comply with strict military safety protocols for flying in the jets.  So, whoever was cast had to embark on one of the most rigorous training and fitness programs ever created for screen.  One wrong casting decision would have set the movie back months, if not years.  Ultimately the main cast became:

Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Charles Parnell, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis with Ed Harris, and Val Kilmer

What a cast! Here are my thoughts on a few…

Tom Cruise as Maverick

”Talk To Me Goose.”

There is a thought that Tom Cruise will not direct, instead preferring the collaborative approach to film making, and that is evident in every frame of this film.  The F-18 Super Hornets have been armed with a ‘Cruise’ missile, straight to the box office (yes, I went there).  Tom Cruise may have just hit sixty, but on screen he appears as youthful as ever.  It is good to see that Maverick’s personality has not diminished in the intervening years.  Like a fine wine that matures with age, Maverick has grown up a little, but he still manages to upset anyone he meets and actively enjoys flying in the face of authority.  Cruise relishes delving into Maverick’s emotional side, deeper than the first film and it is good to see those insecurities surface, adding those flaws and vulnerabilities helps Maverick feel grounded.  The best thing about all this is Cruise is loving every minute of it.   His acting is on point and for just over 2 hours you are not watching Cruise, you are watching Maverick.  I have to say Cruise gives such a convincing performance, and no doubt his actual flying ability helps a lot.  If I have one criticism it is the over reliance on Maverick’s past.  His ‘talk to me Goose’ line was said one too many times and walks the fine line between the audience being able to take Maverick seriously and him becoming a caricature of himself.  At one point I fully expected a goose to be in the cockpit honking back a reply! That said, what Cruise has delivered with Maverick is genuinely superb.  Just like Robert Downey Jr.  playing Tony Stark, or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, I cannot think of anyone else who could own the character of Capt.  Pete “Maverick” Mitchell any better.

Jennifer Connelly as Penny

“Pete, If You Lost Your Wingman Up There You Wouldn’t Give Up.  You’d Keep Fighting.  Those Are Your Pilots.”

In the Original Top Gun, Penny’s name is just a throwaway line.  Maverick’s typical bad boy behaviour leads him in hot water, after he buzzes the air control tower, he is hauled into a reprimand with his commanding officer ‘Stinger’…

Stinger: Maverick, you just did an incredibly brave thing.  What you should have done was land your plane! You don’t own that plane, the tax payers do! Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash.  You’ve been busted, you lost your qualifications as section leader three times, put in hack twice by me, with a history of high speed passes over five air control towers, and one admiral’s daughter!
Goose: Penny Benjamin?
Stinger: And you asshole, you’re lucky to be here!
Goose: Thank you, sir.
Stinger: And let’s not bullshit Maverick.  Your family name ain’t the best in the Navy.  You need to be doing it better, and cleaner than the other guy.  Now what is it with you?
Maverick: Just want to serve my country, be the best pilot in the Navy, sir.

Carole (Meg Ryan) also mentions Penny’s name after her husband Goose tells her about the incident ,

Carole: He told me all about the time you went ballistic with Penny Benjamin.”

(“Penny Benjamin – Top Gun Wiki”)

Including Penny provides continuity from the original film and enables a deeper understanding of the relationship between Maverick and Penny.  Kosinski’s laser like attention to detail in Top Gun Maverick is also on display, with Connelly’s first scene, David Bowie is heard playing in the background (on the jukebox), a subtle nod to Connelly working with Bowie in Labyrinth 1986.

Connelly gives Penny a much-needed personality that in many ways is an equal to Maverick.  A woman who is self-assured, a single parent and bar owner.  Penny commands respect from all sides, be it patrons to her bar, her teenage daughter or ultimately Pete Mitchell himself.  As a love interest the chemistry is tangible and the will -they, wont-they side to their relationship is just enough to keep viewers interested.  I thought the contrast between Charlie (from the first film) and Penny was expertly written, Charlie lectured a young Pete Mitchell about quitting and giving up, whilst Penny is very much an older Pete Mitchell support network.  Penny’s narrative is very much to help Maverick find a way, gone is the chastising tone of Charlie.

However, no matter how hard Connelly works at keeping up with a very enthusiastic Tom Cruise, it still leaves the feeling that Penny is only there to serve as the latest love interest and emotional pillow to Cruise.  Kosinski also make a few odd scene choices with Penny, a scene on a boat that seems disjointed and out of place (as well as the worst bit of CGI in the film – it made me chew my nails and twiddle my thumbs).

Val Kilmer as Iceman

“The Navy Needs Maverick.  The Kid Needs Maverick.  That’s Why I Fought For You.”

If getting Kilmer back was a masterstroke, the inclusion of Iceman is a genius idea.   Being somewhat of a guardian angel to Maverick, Iceman is pulling strings in the background.

I’ve been a fan of Kilmer since his Batman days and his antics of screen aside, it’s a shame his heath has taken the turn it has.   It was great to see him on screen again and his checky smile is still there.   After all these years the Cruise and Kilmer chemistry is still alive.

Kilmer’s current health condition means he had difficulty in speaking, it’s reported that the producers used digital voice effects to create the few lines Kilmer says.   The rest of Iceman’s communication is done via text message.  This is a tasteful way of including Kilmer in the film, I hope it paves the way for other less able actors to obtain mainstream roles, as Hollywood have clearly show it can be done and to great effect.

Miles Teller as Rooster

”Talk To Me Dad”

Watching Miles Teller sing Great Balls Of Fire whilst Pete Mitchell looks on as a sad bystander, tells you everything you need to know about Miles Teller and Rooster.   Alongside the training regime for the film, Miles spent several months learning to play the piano specifically for that scene.  His performance was so good, he made it onto the film’s soundtrack.  This is also proof of how hard Teller has worked at perfecting his character.  Teller can really lean on Rooster’s strained relationship with Maverick to create a character that carries the vibes of Anthony Edwards (Goose), the cheekiness, moustache and hair are all present and correct.  There is also a stark contrast between father and son.  Goose was a wingman and inseparable to Maverick, yet Rooster is very much alone and hits out, rather than support.  The fact that he spends the film walking in his father’s shadow and clashing with Maverick means we do not get to see much of Rooster’s actual personality hidden behind that emotional wall.  This gives the impression that just like Pete Mitchell, there is more to Rooster’s story that simply is not told.   Maybe Top Gun Maverick is not the place for that story, so have the producers got that in the back pocket for future instalments in the Top Gun World?

Sound/Music/Score

Rating 10 out of 10

10 out of 10

Just like the rest of the films production, the score is a team effort.

Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe, original composer Harold Faltermeyer, and Lady Gaga have worked together to create the sound of Top Gun Maverick.

The opening few scenes are like a warm comfort blanket to everyone that knows the original film.  Faltermeyer’s Top Gun theme and the Kenny Loggins song Danger Zone are up first, letting you know this is a Top Gun movie and you are in safe Hans (I couldn’t resist that one) and then gradually the more contemporary score plays out.   The brilliance of having Hans compose the score is that he knows when to focus on story, rather than sound.   Several scenes feature little to no background sound allowing for a more immersive experience (something that a lot of films simply do not do), letting the audience hear the roar of the jet engines for example.  Speaking of Jet engines Hans’ vast experience allowed him to select notes and keys within the score that complement the pitch of the jet engines such  is his attention to detail.    Zimmer, Balfe, and Faltermeyer know each other and no doubt their history helped the collaboration, each bringing something to the score.  Some of Faltermeyer’s tracks are virtually untouched, and Balfe’s influence can be heard adding layers of intricate sound and instruments on the top of Zimmer’s creations.  The track Darkstar reminds me a lot of the Lorne Balfe’s opening theme of Mission Impossible: Fallout and that’s a good thing (it’s a track I play a lot when testing changes to the home cinema).   This would not be a Bruckheimer production without an epic end song and Lady Gaga provides that with a track specifically written for the film- ‘Hold My Hand’.   Zimmer was so impressed with the arrangement he worked in her melodies into the score.  That’s not the only thing he worked in; at one point JJ whispered to me: ‘’do you hear it? ..Yes” I said, what we could hear were the slowed down chords of ‘Danger Zone’ and it was glorious.

One criticism of the soundtrack is that it’s not as ‘of the moment’ as the 1986 score.   Back in the late 80’s, the Top Gun soundtrack was the cassette to own.  It had a cornucopia of 80’s stars and is a real time capsule, and more importantly identifiable to that specific film.    36 years later and all we have is One Republic, Lady Gaga, Miles Teller and The Who.  All brilliantly placed throughout the film, but as the focus is clearly orchestrations, they are not immediately memorable.  I did not know the One Republic track, that had made its way onto the radio, had featured on this film until I watched it and I forgot about The Who until writing this section.

Visual Effects

Rating 10 out of 10

10 out of 10

All the publicity of Top Gun Maverick would have you believe that it was all practical effects and real cockpit footage.  The producers have been on somewhat of a media offensive getting the point across about the training regime of the actors and the development of incredibly special cameras.  A look at the list of the visual effects artist reveals credit after credit of people who worked on the film.  So in truth only a few minutes of film is the footage captured of the actors on board the jet.   The rest of the film settles for the more traditional sound stages and digital work and practical effects.  Such as the shots of the jets dog fighting or the Darkstar ripping the roof off a security hut – something Tom Cruise advised needed to be significantly bolted down (it wasn’t!)

That is not to take anything away from what everyone has achieved.  The actors had to learn how to direct themselves which was no mean feat.

In fact, the meld of practical and digital effects is excellent, I only spotted a couple of obvious effects shots in the whole movie

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Video Quality

Rating 10 out of 10

10 out of 10

Tony Scotts’s Top Gun was a visual treat, wide sweeping views of aircraft carriers against sunset back drops and gratuitous shots of Cruise on a bike and on the beach.  If anyone could replicate Scott’s style it is Joseph Kosinski, who is no stranger to creating sequels to original films 30 years apart (Tron Legacy).

I watched Top Gun Maverick in our local independent cinema,

What struck me in the opening few minutes is how Kosinski starts film the emulating Scott’s style, starting with those gorgeous wide shots and then allowing the camera to narrow in, as jets launch off a carrier.   As the film progresses, Kosinski lets his own style shine through.   Kosinski has an architect background, allowing him to plan for some stunning visuals that I think would blow Scott’s mind if he could see the film it’s a far cry from 1986.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays in the home cinema.

Top Gun: Maveric Overall Thoughts

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For years people have commented on the death of Cinema, with dwindling numbers and more recently, Covid to deal with.  In my feature 125 years of home cinema, I speculated what the future of cinema would look like

“The idea of mass audiences paying to watch a moving picture is definitely not going away, and I for one am very excited to see what comes next.”

What I did not take into consideration, is that one man’s steadfast belief in story and spectacle would go on to reinvigorate cinema. Producing a film that is an immersive visceral treat for the eyes, a film that would go on to break every box office record known to man.  Top Gun Maverick is a film that hits all the right notes.  It pays homage to the original without it simply being a redo, it expands characters and provides one of the years most action packed finales.  It’s a juggernaut, even now as I write this (months after its initial release) it still keeps attracting new and repeat audiences.

Well done Cruise et al, “You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain!”

The Silver Hedgehog: Rating

The Script/Screenplay - 10
Casting - 10
Sound/Music/Score - 10
Visual Effects - 10
Video Quality - 10

10

Must Watch

It's Star Wars on steroids, a juggernaut, even now as I write this (months after its initial release) it still keeps attracting new and repeat audiences

Find Out more about our ratings here

Credits

Words Garry

Editor JJ

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This site is a non-profit project..

As a small, independent website run by Garry in his spare time,  we need your help to continue providing great content.

Please donate to help The Silver Hedgehog grow. All funds are put back into the website, and help provide new features.

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Buy Me a Coffee is a service that allows you to make a voluntary one-off donation in the form of a cup of coffee.

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End Credits

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DIRECTED BY
Joseph Kosinski
SCREENPLAY BY
Ehren Kruger and Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie
STORY BY
Peter Craig and Justin Marks
BASED ON CHARACTERS CREATED BY
Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr.
PRODUCED BY
Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, David Ellison
EXECUTIVE PRODUCED BY
Tommy Harper, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger,
Chad Oman, Mike Stenson
STARRING
Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Charles Parnell, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis with Ed Harris and Val Kilmer

Meet Garry

An office worker by day and blogger by night. Garry is the creator and writer of The Silver Hedgehog.  A Sci-Fi geek (don’t mention Terry Pratchett or Isaac Asimov unless you have a spare hour) and avid film fan (noted for watching Titanic 8 times at the cinema 🤩).  Enjoys writing reviews and blogs in his spare time, and is waiting for the day he gets paid for it!

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