The return of Tom Cruise as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick sets the stage for the best movie I’ve seen so far this year with a budget north of 100 million. Granted, I haven’t been able to catch the triple-directed (Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark, and Dante Lam) The Battle at Lake Changjin, which I’m going to go ahead and count as a 2022 release, but Maverick has a safe lead for now.
And with a budget of 152 million– a whole 48 million shy of the most recent addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe— Joseph Kosinski’s Maverick squeezes the value out of every penny and then some. The efforts of cinematographer Claudio Miranda stand out all the more with 13 million of that $150,000,000 going to Cruise. It’s the little things that add up. Whereas in most Marvel movies blacks lean a bit more toward grey, Miranda’s blacks are cold and dark—helping add contrast and force to the use of the color. This isn’t to dog on the MCU (though that’s fine too), but the comparison is helpful because of the way Marvel has defined the look of the modern blockbuster. Top Gun: Maverick just looks better.
Several shots stand out for their boldness. There is simply no shame in the silliness of how Jennifer Connelly’s “Penny” may look leaning against her car in a jacket straight from the ’80s with the perfect amount of wind blowing in her hair and staged silhouettes abound as she sends her daughter into the airplane hanger to fetch Cruise’s “Maverick.” Verisimilar interpersonal interactions be damned, Connelly looks amazing in the shot and that’s all that matters.
It’s a good thing it looks good, too, because the plot is bare-thin: Maverick has been called back to the Top Gun Academy to prepare a handful of the Navy’s best pilots for a near-impossible military operation.
The bareness works to the advantage of the filmmakers, though. The operation itself is described in great detail and is easy to follow. Even better, the country they are attacking goes unnamed. I can’t think of any other English language war movie in recent memory that omits the enemy, opting to only call the opponent a “rogue nation.” Hollywood often primes unmatured minds to categorize people that look a certain way or speak a certain language by default by making them the national enemy. Think of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) or Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011). A more interesting case presents in the vilification of Kazakhstan in Air Force One (1997). I’m no expert in geopolitics, but this certainly could serve as a healthier precedent for American foreign relations and global stability than having our Hollywood heroes kill Russian or Chinese soldiers in imaginary wars.
Top Gun: Maverick
dir. Joseph Kosinski
Opens everywhere Friday, 5/27 (though the Hassle, as always, recommends the Somerville Theatre or your local mom & pop multiplex)