I saw Top Gun: Maverick again at the weekend, and came away feeling largely the same way I did when I reviewed it a month ago – there were too many callbacks, too many manipulative fakeouts, it steps on its own heroic ending twice, and while the shots are gorgeous, the story was too thin for the movie to be great. Judging by the critical reaction, I’m mostly alone in this feeling. But judging by the early box office, I’m not alone in seeing it this weekend.
Top Gun: Maverick had the biggest opening weekend of Tom Cruise’s career, and when you consider he’s “on the movie star Mount Rushmore,” that’s saying something. It’s the first time Cruise has had an opening above $100 million, and looking at his career (and looking the other way when it comes to weird Scientology bullshit), you have to say he deserves it. As always, it remains to be seen how the movie holds, but it’s clear that Top Gun: Maverick has found the recipe for success. Naturally, Hollywood is now going to seek to replicate this success, but I worry it’s going to do it in all the wrong ways.
While Maverick was not for for me as a narrative (they spend most of the movie practising for bombing a country, then bomb it, and never explain who this country is), it’s clearly a huge spectacle. There’s very little CGI used and the whole thing looks so much better than the schlocky green screen effects we’re used to seeing from Marvel. The actors are really up there in planes, and there’s a lot of heart and integrity to the whole thing. Personally I think the movie works against itself here – at least five characters ‘die’ only to survive – but in terms of spectacle and adrenaline, Maverick knocks it out of the park.
Maverick is intense, triumphant, nail biting, and romantic. The MCU has had close to 30 movies and not once has it used a musical cue as well as Top Gun: Maverick brings in Lady Gaga’s Hold My Hand. I went to see Maverick the second time with my wife and my sister – the former a Top Gun fan and the latter having never seen it. Both of them were glued to their seats throughout, gasping at each death-defying stunt. I wrote in my review that I thought Maverick ticked enough boxes to make people smile, but perhaps I underestimated how hungry we are for a movie like this in our current landscape.
Top Gun: Maverick is a throwback to the golden age of the blockbuster. A real ‘they don’t make ‘em like this anymore, but they should’ picture. Having gained critical and commercial success, it’s a no-brainer that other studios are going to be having post-Memorial Day meetings asking ‘what’s our Top Gun: Maverick’? The answer should be to back an exciting script, shoot a big blockbuster practically, give it a little heart and a lot of hope, and put a bankable star in the lead role. Unfortunately, what they’re all going to do is look at their own back catalogues and start greenlighting remakes, reboots, and sequels of their big ‘70s and ‘80s hits. Many of these will likely be cheaply made, soulless, and churned out quickly thanks to heavy use of CGI. Studios will be taking inspiration from Maverick but making a movie in completely the opposite way. So, not really taking inspiration at all.
We don’t need a new Midnight Run or a new Commando. We didn’t need any more Indiana Joneses after the disaster of the fourth one, any new Terminators after the third crashed and burned, or any new First Blood movies at all. We’ve already tried and failed to remake RoboCop and Conan the Barbarian successfully, and there’s a huge plummet in quality after the first three Die Hards when it shifted from a character driven saga with huge excitement to trailer stunt after trailer stunt after trailer stunt. To look at Maverick and think you need to reboot or continue your greatest blockbuster hits is to completely misunderstand why people love Maverick.
People are flocking to see Maverick because it was made with heart. A pro-military, apolitical movie with a budget of around $170 million is clearly not the bastion of the indie spirit, and it was made to make money for sure, but it was also made to stand the test of time. Can Terminator: Salvation really say that? Can A Good Day To Die Hard? If you really want to copy Maverick’s success, you need to back your blockbusters and let them do it their way, even if there’s a cheaper alternative that ‘people won’t really notice’. That, or put Tom Cruise in an aeroplane and let him do his thing.
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