Return of the Fly

As sequels go, “Top Gun: Maverick” does exactly what I detest: in an effort to not offend fans of the original, it directly copies scenes from the original. Add stealing subplots from other aviation movies and “Maverick” makes lazy screenwriting seem like an art form.

 Granted, Tony Scott’s “Top Gun” wasn’t exactly Shakespeare but it did entertain. The flight sequences with F-18s in dogfights featuring Tom Cruise as a young, cocky, arrogant yet amusing naval flight officer named Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell who backs up his bravado proclaiming he’s the best had a certain silly charm. Add a taboo romantic entanglement with flight school instructor Charlie (Kelly McGillis) and a sarcastic sidekick/wingman “Goose” (Anthony Edwards) and “Top Gun” may have seemed like a teen “An Officer and a Gentleman” but remains a breezy, bubblegum blockbuster regardless.

 “Maverick” picks up Mitchell’s story over 30 years later. Now a Captain, Maverick still flies and is testing a jet to achieve Mach 9. While learning the project’s been pulled, Maverick does what you’d expect- he takes the jet on one last ride, much to the chagrin of Radm. Cain (Ed Harris). Instead of making a meal of Maverick, Cain is forced to send him back to Fightertown, U.S.A. to serve as flight instructor to a dozen naval pilots who are being prepped for a secret mission. The orders come from Commander/rival hotshot pilot whose life Maverick saved in flight school “Iceman” (Val Kilmer).

 So back to flight school Maverick goes and so begin the woes. In addition to seeing old flame Penny (Jennifer Connelly) owning the bar where the flight school flyboys get their drink on, in walks ex-partner Goose’s kid Bradley (Miles Teller) a.k.a. “Rooster.” One immediately recognizes Rooster as Goose’s kid because they look the same: dressed alike, Rooster even has Goose’s moustache (note: as much as I loved my father, I’d be hard pressed to want to walk around in what he wore when he was in his 20’s). Maverick’s got to train him for the mission too, and there’s bad blood between them from what we know of Maverick’s past history with Goose.

 What follows are rehashed scenes: after the flyboys toss Maverick out of Penny’s bar, they find he’s their instructor (like Maverick finding Charlie was heading their class after hitting on her). The iconic shirtless beach volleyball scene has changed to a shirtless beach football scramble. Even the flight scenes complete with Maverick’s trademark inverted ‘flipping the bird’ to the plane’s pilot below seem staid despite the advanced aerial camerawork. 

 While the drama’s supposed to be in Maverick’s training Rooster for the mission, there aren’t scenes of real conflict and catharsis between the two. Instead, the audience is treated to focusing on the mission and that’s where the movie begins to flounder in familiarity.

 Immediately, having to watch Maverick achieve Mach speeds and then enter the bar in Fightertown, I was reminded of Chuck Yeager’s bar stints from “The Right Stuff.” The mission itself includes Maverick and Rooster stealing an enemy aircraft complete with subsequent aerial dogfight that seemed too much like Clint Eastwood’s “Firefox” and the mission itself of flying low into trenches and then shooting into a small hole to eradicate a secret uranium stronghold was just how Luke Skywalker destroyed the Death Star in “Star Wars.”

 Fans of the first film may get exactly what they want from “Maverick,” but for me it’s too much of what I’ve seen. Even when Maverick is called to save the day and show why he’s the best, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” doesn’t kick in because they’ve played it recreating “Top Gun’s” opening credits. Had “Maverick” saved the song for the nostalgic nudge this movie needed to get back into the cockpit with the cocky pilot we remember, I might have felt some surge of sentiment. By playing its cards early, “Maverick” deprived me of that.

 The only surprises “Maverick” held for me was not ripping off “The Dirty Dozen” in Maverick’s training twelve pilots for a suicide mission and the cameo by a voiceless Val Kilmer who, if you’ve squirmed watching post-stroke Dick Clark give a small speech on New Year’s Eve before his passing, may make you uncomfortable save for the fact that Kilmer seems to be doing well in his battle with throat cancer.  As a bubblegum movie, “Maverick’s” stale and bland.  While not a completely boring crash-and-burn, it’s enough of a bummer to not be the movie of the summer.

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