Rated: 3.5 / 5
I thought it would be another 5-8 years before films of this quality started coming out again. Films with honest-to-God effort behind them. Sure that effort isn’t seen in the story or character department, at least beyond my standards of B-movie fare; but this isn’t one of those types of movies you watch for story and characters anyway. If nothing else, at least it’s more investing in that department than those trash superhero films made by both Marvel and DC (the latter of which excludes Zack Snyder’s films; say what you will about his 3 DC films, at the very least, he tried). The reason anyone would watch this movie is for the jet stunts. This film delivers on that front, in a manner exceeding all expectations.
What I heard about it leading into the film is true. Virtually all of the jet sequences that don’t involve missiles are the real deal; no CG substitutes for this stuff. The most impressive sequence is when Maverick himself (played by Tom Cruise) is flying through the gorge. There’s plenty of other impressive sequences, but that remains the highlight for me. And considering this was also the main reason people fondly remember the first film (aside from beach volleyball, the “Highway to the Danger Zone” song, and “I feel the need! The need… for speed!”), I’d say this ends up being superior to the 1980s classic. Considering the times we’re living in when it comes to film adaptations, sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, I think hell must’ve frozen over.
But this also being the PC culture environment we’re living in these days, there was no way something like this would be made without some form of wokeness inserted into it somehow some way. And while that stuff is present, and while I am about to bitch about it because I have low tolerance for that stuff, understand that it is marginal compared to just about everything else released these days (main reason I’m picky about is because I was raised in better times with better movies on-average). First off, black people. In particular, Maverick’s best bud Hondo (played by Bashir Salahuddin) who is with him from the start to practically the end of the film, and this semi-superior officer Warlock (played by Charles Parnell, who you probably know from Transformers: Age of Extinction, and Venture Bros.). Neither of which were in the first film, clearly in there just for the sake of forced diversity. Token black characters who are obvious well-intentioned good guys unlike the hardass Cyclone (played by Jon Hamm; with that name, you’d think he’d ham up the role a bit more) who is a less obvious well-intentioned good guy. Both of them basically cheerleaders who mine as well as have the theme song “I’m Black Y’all!” playing in the background. But because the wokeness is more on the dialed down subtle side compared to most we get these days, the volume level of that theme song is dialed down considerably; you can still see it playing, but it’s possible to ignore it.
And then there’s the feminist factor. The main culprit being Penny Benjamin (played by Jennifer Connelly), with her daughter taking second place. Again, because this film somehow managed to figure out the forgotten practice of subtlety, it’s dialed down to where you can’t hear the theme music blaring out at you like it would in a Captain Marvel movie. She’s a character who can do no wrong, but also doesn’t make any long-winded speeches about her perfection. Her character interactions with Maverick, always the morally superior one, always the guiding light of encouragement when our protagonist is facing a post-midlife crisis (ie his career being threatened). Never needing any help herself. Always being the boss in the relationship who always calls the shots. It’s a tad heavier compared to Charlie in the first film.
The problem with both of the above cases of forced diversity & feminism, albeit with compromise of taking the megaphone away from both, is that it results in Maverick having at least 2 instances of going a bit out of character. When Maverick is getting chewed out for a stunt he pulled a little past the halfway point in the runtime, he had to be naive about what direction Cyclone was going to take the conversation for the sake of having Warlock reigning him in; which is the only time he does something that doesn’t equate to cheerleading. You know, because obviously Maverick wouldn’t be used to getting his ass chewed out by superior officers at this point in his life. And then there’s that whole life-crisis moment where he’s facing the potential of having his career finished, and thus needing Benjamin to take a penny to give him some advice that everyone should already know: “I know you, you’ll find a way.” Because, obviously, we can’t have her learn about the situation some other way, share in his doubts, and allow Maverick to show some self-confidence on his own, as he should if he’s to be a proper flight instructor. I mean, this film wasn’t going to win any awards for having any deep characters in it at all (it isn’t even capable of having any epic speeches, which the scene between him and Ice should’ve been able to do if better script writers were involved), but still.
That all being said, it’s not as if I can’t handle some amount of diversity. For instance, I didn’t have any problem with Phoenix and Payback, both of which are pilot characters (who are solid, no better or worse than anyone else, aside from Hangman who is meant to be a substitute for Ice). It’s just that I can tell when some decision was made pre-production, whether via the scriptwriter, casting director, actual director, or someone in production and/or on comittee, made some call to have something involving racial diversity, feminism, or anything antiwhite and/or anti-masculine-heterosexual-alpha-male put into the film somehow someway. The difference here being that at least this film didn’t have enough in it to create enough drag to cause the overall experience to be less fulfilling. Like watching some video online and only having a couple ad commercials throughout the viewing instead of a dozen. I’d still prefer something ad-free, or at least keeping the ads strictly “Boo-Ra! Join the military!” as is expected in a film like this. But compared to the last several years of content, this is refreshing.
Difficult to bring up anything else about this film that doesn’t just end up praising the jet sequences over and over again (plus the cool finale with a retro jet vs a futuristic jet). I guess I can just cover character interactions one more time. Despite my wish that the sequence between Maverick and Ice was better, it was still nice to see them interact; particularly with how it handled Val Kilmer’s current health situation. As for the central character conflict in the whole movie, between Maverick and the son of Goose, Rooster (I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere about what other kind of bird he could’ve been named after), I was just, “Meh, whatever,” about it. It’s fine, just nothing special. The typical plot beats and speeches you would expect in something like this. Standard B-movie fare in that regard.
There’s also this stuff covering the theme of old-timers from a past time who are on their way out along with their lifestyle. Jets of the future won’t be manned by, well, men (let alone human beings), but will be more computerized. Stuff that’s also been covered in other films (granted, most are inferior to this one), but it hits a bit more here considering this film benefits utilizing this theme by having a prior film made in the 80s starring the same main character, thus having over 30 years to build upon this concept, making viewers who grew up with the original classic having the theme hit harder after those decades and memories. Things can’t stay the same. Things are bound to change. The past must eventually give way to the future that it helped bring about, and those living in the present must realize this. But it at least has the decency to state that today is not that day where these old timers will retire. Not yet. Not while there’s still stuff they can offer for the current generation. Not when they can show that training the new generation should be done old-school style, where their limits will be tested and pushed beyond what they thought possible. That one shouldn’t be content to settle for the easy route, as that will only set yourself up for failure against those who have trained in that old-school method. Just because certain conveniences became more readily available to many in the current age, doesn’t mean we should be so accustomed to them that we’re unwilling to push and improve ourselves and others. In other words, at some point in our lives, we have to get on that highway to the danger zone.
The past isn’t something that should just be killed and/or forgotten, we wouldn’t be here without it. At the very least, the past should be used as a respectable stepping stone to build upon. Hopefully a time won’t come when the hardened old-timers will pass away before enforcing this lesson upon the current age, lest the current age discard that stone and attempt to make due without it.
In other words, this film can also be viewed as a metaphorical critique on the current lax teaching system (militarily or otherwise). It’s also a criticism upon being over-reliant on technology, having computers take over too much from the human factor (as the finale fights imply). Just a pity that corruption within the system is beyond the scope of this film. For something that only aspires to be a B movie with A+ stunts and action, it had some potential to be a little more. Regardless, it’s good as it is. And “good” is something sorely missing these days. Recommended film to watch.