nobody movie_Maverick’ flies into the race for the best picture

Tom Santilli is a respected journalist and has been a member of the Critics Choice Association, the Detroit Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society since 2010. Tom Santilli is Executive Producer and Co-Host of the syndicated TV show “Movie Show Plus,” which has aired in the Metro-Detroit and Midwest markets for more than 20 years. He is also a film critic for WXYZ-TV. Twitter: @tomsantilli, Facebook & Instagram: @filmsurvivor.

Yes, I said it: Top Gun: Maverick has what it takes to contend for best movie of 2022.

And why is this not taken into account? Sure, it’s not even June yet, and most “award-worthy” films don’t get released until the fall season. Action blockbusters are not often, if ever, remembered at the end of the year.

But I think this one has what it takes. This is about as exciting and fun as movies can get, folks. Top Gun: Maverick pushes the boundaries of filmmaking in a way no other film has truly done. Tom Cruise is in a league of his own when it comes to Hollywood superstars, and he’s showing – even as he’s approaching 60 – that there’s no one who can command the silver screen quite like him, with just a look or that iconic smile.

If it’s not the best picture, it’s certainly recognized in a number of technical categories, from stunning cinematography to score and sound that puts you right in the cockpit.

But it also deserves a look for the best picture.

In an age of cinema where new ideas seem to be few and far between and huge corporate conglomerates scour their film libraries to find lost franchises from which to squeeze a few last drops of blood, Top Gun: Maverick strikes the perfect balance between old and the new. It dabbles in nostalgia without relying on it. It takes the spirit of the first popular movie and instead of giving us the same moves as before, it expands on the story and its characters. It takes a few chances. It’s pushing the limits. Like Maverick, the film isn’t ruthless, it’s just willing to do whatever it takes to be the best.

Class: A

Top Gun was the biggest box-office success of 1986 and is one of the most viewed films of all time. When I first saw it I was only seven years old, it scarred me for life… when Goose died (spoiler alert!), it was perhaps the most traumatic thing that had ever happened to me at that point in my life. It crushed me.

A recent reboot of the classic Top Gun gave me a slightly different perspective. First of all, the supposed “bad guy” pilot named Iceman (Val Kilmer) had… done pretty much everything right? Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) really took unnecessary risks and was untrustworthy, even though the film manipulated us into cheering for him. Mav wasn’t a particularly developed character…aside from being a hot-shot pilot with an ego, there was little chemistry between him and his co-star Kelly McGillis and little more to move on. His selfish approach eventually cost his co-pilot Goose (Anthony Edwards) his life, and in the end Maverick seemed to humble himself and learn some very hard lessons.

The Goose/Maverick relationship was the best thing about Top Gun, so it’s cleverly used as the core of Top Gun: Maverick. Some 30 years after the events of the first film, Maverick still holds the rank of Captain, having never climbed the ladder of the US Navy due to his reputation and persistent rebelliousness. However, Iceman is now an admiral and has been on the lookout for his old friend, and is basically the reason Maverick is allowed to remain in the Navy at all. Adm. Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm) dislikes Maverick and isn’t afraid to show it, but unlike countless antagonists from other films, Simpson has at least one reason to doubt Maverick’s abilities as a “team player.” “That he never really was one.

Even the normal 2D character types like Cyclone are well written? Color Me Fascinated.

Maverick ends up back in the Top Gun program, this time teaching a crew of new pilots – the best of the best the Navy has to offer. He is supposed to train her for a seemingly impossible mission (a “Mission: Impossible” maybe?). There are “Phoenix” (Monica Barbaro) and her wingman “Bob” (Lewis Pullman), “Payback” (Jay Ellis) and “Fanboy” (Danny Ramirez). Then there’s the pompous “Hangman” (Glen Powell), which feels like a cross between Iceman’s arrogance and Maverick’s selfishness from the first film.

But it’s “Rooster” (Miles Teller) that drives the drama. Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw is actually Goose’s son who has since grown up and followed in his father’s footsteps and become a top pilot. The man who flew with Hahn’s father is now his instructor? That seems ripe for drama.

Filling in the romantic beats this time is Jennifer Connelly, who stars as one of Mitchell’s old flames, Penny Benjamin (Penny’s name was actually mentioned in passing in the first film, although the character never appeared). Penny has returned and now owns the iconic bar where the Top Gun pilots all hang out. Maverick, who has flown solo for most of his life (pun intended), may finally try to ditch the proverbial landing gear once and for all. And unlike the lack of chemistry between Cruise and McGillis in the first film, Cruise and Connelly smolder.

In an early scene in the bar, Hangman approaches a jukebox to play a song and I winced…surely he would play “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” which was one of the most memorable scenes of the original film. But it doesn’t play… it ends up as a different song. I exhaled at that moment, realizing that this movie wasn’t just going to try to rehash the first Top Gun. phew!

One of the main things that sets Top Gun: Maverick apart is its heart. The story feels like a natural progression from the first film and unfolds realistically. There’s a tearful, powerful scene in the film where Maverick visits an old friend, and it brought sniffles and cheers from the packed theater where I saw the film. It’s deserved, like every other moment in this film, and it never feels flattering to its fans.

With some real life missions and characters that we care about in the cockpit, what the film achieves in the sky is nothing short of amazing. I sat in awe for most of the film and nearly passed out as I prepared to write this review to discover that very little CG was used. At. All. All of these actors went through months of intense physical training and actually flew those jet planes! They staged themselves with cameras in their respective cockpits – while actually flying fighter jets, folks! – and the result is a rush of realism I’ve never seen in a movie before.

Where Top Gun was exciting, Top Gun: Maverick is a more cohesive, exciting, and ultimately more impactful overall film. There’s no reason to disparage the first film, though, to hype this one…both were groundbreaking for their time, to be sure.

Top Gun: Maverick brought me back to childhood, watching impossible dreams unfold on a big screen while staring wide-eyed at the utter amazement of it all. Let me tell you how rare that feeling is for a film critic who views hundreds of films a year. I didn’t think about how the film was shot, I didn’t notice the score and the sound (see you later). At that moment, I was on the plane with Maverick, on this mission with the Navy, sharing every twist and turn the film offered me.

There’s no better argument FOR the survival of cinemas than Top Gun: Maverick, the kind of theatrical experience that simply can NEVER be achieved at home. Don’t miss this in theaters folks!

Why no A+ for Top Gun: Maverick? Call me an optimist, but I wanted to leave room in case there’s anything that could possibly be better this year.

I can’t imagine what that would be. But Top Gun: Maverick restored my faith in the movies, with a sonic punch and perhaps a charismatic smile from our greatest living superstar.

Class: A

Genre: Action, Drama.

Running time: 2 hours 11 minutes.

Rated PG-13.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Ed Harris, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Monica Barbaro, Val Kilmer.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski (Only the Brave, Oblivion, TRON: Legacy).

Top Gun: Maverick hits theaters on Friday, May 27, 2022.

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