The summer of 2022 was the summer of Top Gun: Maverick. The sequel to Tony Scott’s Top Gun (1986) has been credited with revitalizing the movie theater business of the post-COVID world. A year later, Tom Cruise has attempted the same feat with a new Mission: Impossible film but has lost out to the phenomenon of “Barbenheimer”. While both Top Gun: Maverick and Mission: Impossible are commercially viable IPs, their reliance on Tom Cruise as spectacle ultimately reveals their shortcomings and failures.
Top Gun: Maverick picks up with Tom Cruise’s titular character in 2019 some thirty years after the original film. Almost immediately Top Gun: Maverick makes it clear that the primary form of entertainment that it will be peddling are the death defying stunts of its star. Director Joseph Kosinski and producer Tom Cruise discard the kineticism, stylization and homoerotic coding that had been the late Tony Scott’s bread and butter in favor of a formula best described as Mission: Impossible. Tom Cruise, wielding more power with the studios than Warren Beatty ever did, has fashioned his own cinematic brand; a de facto gentrification of disparate franchises in which Cruise stars.
Top Gun: Maverick has its share of call backs and flashbacks to the earlier film, but that’s strictly window dressing designed to connect the two films in the minds of viewers. Ultimately Top Gun: Maverick is more of a remake than a sequel to the original film. A remake that takes its stylistic cues from the Russo Brothers’ Marvel movies. By dulling down the potential for visual virtuosity and playing it safe with the plot, Cruise puts himself front and center as the main attraction.
Top Gun, via Scott’s stylized images, created an erotic tableau out of Reagan era American might that ultimately subverted and queer coded the propagandist aspects of the film. Top Gun: Maverick posses no such ambitions and is simply content to sell Tom Cruise to audiences around the world. These days when Tom Cruise does a movie, it’s to tell the world that there’s nobody cooler than him. When that’s the only purpose of a big budget action epic there is little to redeem it.