Top Gun: Maverick is a surprisingly quiet film. I mean obviously there are lots of F-18s going neeeooooowwwww which is great, but behind it there’s a kind of peace. Honestly.
It’s not macho, and it’s not shouty, and the soundtrack doesn’t bombard you, and it’s not trying to trick you. When you’re excited, it’s because there is cause to be excited. When you’re sad it’s because it’s genuinely sad. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with having my emotions manipulated – that’s what stories are for – but it’s nice when it’s done by making you feel part of a team. You feel *trusted*.
That’s partly because it’s a simple story, well-told. The big action sequence is so well-telegraphed that it’s easy to follow – despite being super-fast. In fact the whole film just flows. It has a pace and a rhythm and it sticks to it. It’s almost musical. When things heat up it’s fast and exciting – but still clear and direct. When it needs to slow down it does so cleanly. It’s somehow *graceful*.
I would guess this is due to the teamwork of Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie, who are getting very very good at this kind of smart blockbuster. It’s their signature style to treat the audience like an intelligent friend who needs the details explaining and can take it from there. The dialogue says a lot in a little. The aerobatics are astonishing, but not ridiculous. Danger is fed in moderation. And Jennifer Connelly is about the same age as Tom Cruise.
It also pulls off the trick of being a sequel in spirit but not blueprint. It’s worth rewatching the original Top Gun beforehand as the story follows on smoothly, without needing any major reversals or shoehorny twists. Obviously it’s still about fighter jets, but it pays homage to the beats of the first without repeating them. It even manages to introduce a character’s child – usually a death-knell for any sequel – without being tedious. Even Penny is a callback if you listen carefully (it turns out). And they ditch the weird 80s dialogue, thankfully.
It’s still essentially one man’s story. The focus is on him throughout, just as in the first film – there aren’t really any side-plots to speak of. This is always a risky move as you’re banking on everyone finding said character interesting. But he is. Possibly in a Tom Hanks we-just-all-want-to-be-him kinda way, but there’s nothing wrong with that. And it’s done so well that it seems meaningful to be watching the end of his 30yr career – even if you hadn’t thought much about Top Gun in decades.
This is what I mean about it being quiet. It doesn’t yell this stuff. It’s just there and pleasing. McQuarrie is known for showing his films to people and iterating till he gets the reaction he wants. What a concept.
I didn’t end it wanting to be a fighter pilot. But I did end it wanting to be…a hard-working good person? Also to have my own airstrip and a little plane I maintain in a golden-hour barn.