Directed by: Joseph Kosinski || Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, David Ellison
Screenplay by: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie || Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer, Lady Gaga, Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe || Cinematography: Claudio Miranda || Edited by: Eddie Hamilton || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 131 minutes
A film I’ve meant to see for a long time is Joseph Kosinski’s Tron Legacy (2010), with its stylized neon visuals, intriguing virtual-reality, Matrix (1999)-type premise, and distinguished cult following despite my complete disinterest in the original Tron (1982) and its dated, cornball special FX. Regardless of its box office impact — the film is either described as a moderate financial success or another big-budget cultural misfire — the film was in many ways ahead of its time, a precursor to the endless waves of Hollywood remakes of classic titles from the 1980s like Conan the Barbarian (2011, remake of Conan the Barbarian ), Total Recall (2012, remake of Total Recall ), Robocop (2014, remake of Robocop ), etc. that populated 2010s cinemas. Just as if not more important was its status as a vanguard of the modern franchise soft reboot (also known as a “legacy sequel”) craze, where Hollywood reboots a decade(s)-long dormant franchise by disguising that new reboot as a sequel (i.e. it preserves franchise continuity) a la Jurassic World, The Force Awakens (both 2015), Halloween (2018), and The Matrix Resurrections (2021).
Kosinski has had a successful career since his feature directorial debut in Tron Legacy and earlier work on iconic videogame commercials (e.g. “Starry Night” for Halo 3 , “Mad World” for Gears of War ), producing original intellectual properties (IPs) with Tom Cruise (e.g. Oblivion , based on Kosinski’s original unpublished graphic novel) as well as tearjerker biopics with Miles Teller (e.g. Only the Brave [2017). His biggest film yet by far, however, is this summer’s Top Gun: Maverick (also known as Top Gun 2, henceforth TG2), the latest Hollywood soft reboot and one of the few that exceeds their franchise predecessors (Tron Legacy is sometimes cited as another example). As cynical as I often am with regards to Hollywood tentpole movies in general and blockbuster remakes in particular, TG2 is the latest example of big-budget filmmaking done right thanks to a simple, efficient, straightforward narrative, an eclectic blend of practical and digital FX, great production values, and relatable characters.
TG2 is not innovate spectacle, to be sure; its conflicts are in may ways formulaic and its romantic subplot, obligatory and by-the-numbers, but like most of the better Hollywood crowdpleasers, where TG2 excels is in its great execution of established tropes. First and perhaps most important is its screenplay’s simplicity: Has-been Navy test pilot and former Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor (SFTI, or TOPGUN) graduate, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise), is ordered by friend and formal rival, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer from the original 1986 film), to teach a new generation of TOPGUN recruits for a secret mission to bomb an unnamed country’s unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant. That’s it! There are some plot embellishments, sure, like Jennifer Connelly’s shockingly age-appropriate love interest for Cruise and Cruise’s father-figure guilt complex with costar Teller, son of Anthony Edwards’ character from the first movie, but these are minimalist and well executed like the greater story.
Further well executed are TG2’s plethora of special FX and standout blockbuster cinematography, including but not limited to documentarian aesthetics, supersonic aircraft camerawork, and seamless computer generated imagery (CGI). The dramatic, dialogue-driven camerawork is well blocked, lit, and efficient, ensuring stylistic continuity with the fighter jet action sequences in stark contrast with most FX-driven Hollywood blockbusters, superhero tentpole features most of all in recent years, whose character sequences and CGI spectacle never seam to gel when not directed by Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Nolan, James Gunn, or Matt Reeves (i.e. auteurs given relative creative freedom by their respective studio executives).
As for the stars of the show, TG2’s aerial combat and training sequences are a tour de force of unique action filmmaking that don’t feel like much else in world cinema at this moment. The vast majority of the movie is formulaic to its core — not a criticism per se, just a design feature— but its specialized aircraft cinematography, featuring beautiful wide-angle lens camerawork from both the interiors and exteriors of various aircraft, feels anything but conventional. Extensive yet seamless digital FX populate these aerial photography sequences to expand their scale, which make these set-pieces feel like actual roller coaster rides instead of just another CGI mess.
Off the top of my head, the only Hollywood/Anglophone series reboot I can recall more successful than Top Gun 2 is George Miller’s Fury Road (2015), which didn’t have to concern itself with preserving franchise continuity (i.e. it was a “hard,” not a soft reboot, a standalone entry) unlike Joseph Kosinski’s latest. I have nothing negative to say about this film beyond its boilerplate characterizations, predictable narrative structure, and somewhat longwinded running time, but those features almost feel par for the course for blockbusters like this. Everything else positive about this Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Cruise, and Christopher McQuarrie production is a function of terrific directorial execution, the result of which is one of the few notable Hollywood IP resurrections superior to what came before. Now that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying Kosinski’s second franchise legacy sequel, maybe I can find the time to enjoy the director’s first; I just hope I enjoy Tron Legacy as much as Top Gun 2.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Traditional in its script but distinct in its directorial vision, Top Gun 2 is Hollywood action filmmaking at its most effective and close to its most efficient. Joseph Kosinski may not be a unique storyteller, but he is an expert audiovisual conductor of diverse visual FX who manages a likable cast to the best of their abilities. Not many people aren’t gonna enjoy this movie…
— However… snobs who can’t bring themselves to embrace mainstream movie production values or who would prefer that blockbusters censor themselves to appeal to a global audience will find a way. Top Gun 2’s screenplay and character arcs are as predictable as a chocolate chip cookie recipe.
—> Top Gun’s long awaited sequel comes RECOMMENDED.
? So, what’d you think about that Lady Gaga song at the end?