There was a trivia question I remember from the late 80s or early 90s. What two movies from the 1960s were followed by sequels in the 1980s? The answer: Psycho II and The Color of Money (The Hustler being the original tale of Eddie Felson). It was a fun question because it was so rare to have two chapters in the story of a character separated by 20 years, if at all.
In the 21st century, when originality at the mainstream level of cinema died, there are dozens of these kinds of ‘follow ups.’ This does not include the phenomena of prequels and origin stories, which also overcrowd the landscape.
From Danny Torrance (The Shining) to Prince Akeem (Coming to America) to Bill and Ted (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure), it seems if you were a popular character in the 80s or 90s, you had a decent chance of getting a follow up starting around 2010.
I could cite many more examples, but the point is, once the horse was out of the barn studios were all too willing to oblige, lazily packaging nostalgia with loose stories that audiences were all too eager to lap up. I count myself among these suckers. Coming 2 America was terrible, but even I had to see what was up in Zamunda and Queens 30 years later.
So now we come to one of the most iconic 1980s movies, Top Gun, a film about naval aviators starring Tom Cruise as a cocky and always sweaty ace pilot and his dogfighting with friend and foe alike. Its follow up, Top Gun: Maverick, was about 35 years in the making (Covid delayed filming and release).
Maverick was Tom Cruise’s character’s pilot ‘call’ sign, but it also defined his persona—a cocky, rule-breaking, pretty boy who you’d hate if he wasn’t on your team. The filmmakers were smart not to dub the film, simply, Top Gun II, but include Maverick in the title, because the harkening of Maverick stirs emotions in anyone who came of age in the 1980s.
The problem, I think, will be that, unlike the Star Wars follow ups, which blended classic characters with approachable new ones, the contemporary players in Top Gun: Maverick are too uninteresting for any younger viewers to appreciate. The only audience for this will be children of the 1980s.
So how does one such child of the 1980s –yours truly– rate the next chapter in Maverick’s life? It was good; flat but good. It hits all the same beats as the original. Its plot is bland and almost immaterial. There’s a mission, and the best man for the job is someone the brass can’t stomach. But stomach him they must if they want to win the day.
There are interior dramas –not just defeating the bad guys—intercut with an absurd love story that makes me think the producers included it so the movie could reach feature length (or because some cynical executive said “we need an element of romance like there was in the first film”). The action and the technology afforded the filmmakers today might make the movie visually better than the first, but since it’s stuffed with derring do we’ve see so many times before it fails to be memorable outside of its nostalgia.
This was the first film I have viewed in a theater since February of 2020, so it was fun to get back in there with a light, send-me-back-to-my-youth picture. But if I took that experience out of the equation, Top Gun: Maverick wouldn’t even rate as part of a decent trivia question.
Blast Rating: 2 out of 4 stars