I feel the need ...
We should object to the ‘America – fuck yeah!’ jingoism, but a lot of us don’t. We should be nauseated by the best of the best of the best cliches and trite relational chicanery, but few of us are. The paper-thin plot and symbolic foreign-evil-that-must-be-destroyed-to-protect-the-free-world trope, too, should be a turn off. Credulity should also be stretched way beyond breaking point by some of the action. But a lot of us don’t care. Bums-on-seats prove it. Pro and user reviews mostly prove it. Above and beyond all, our instincts prove it. TOP GUN: MAVERICK rocks. I think so. You may think so. Jimmy Hoffa thinks so.
I don’t think it’s rocket science. Some of the most successful films are quite simple. Rambo. Rocky. Crocodile Dundee. Toy Story. The first and fastest Fast films. Simple stories told in ways people can understand, but more importantly, buy into. It’s all about emotion or aspiration. We fall in love with characters, or we want to be them and do what they’re doing. We dig these stories instinctively. Our hearts pulse along with the story beats. We get goosebumps and we don’t know why. We don’t need to.
Check out most of the films Tom Cruise now acts in (and produces). What do they have in common? Emotion. Mr Cruise’ team seems to make sure that the main focus of the films is emotion. This is true even of the Mission Impossible films. Watch them with this in mind. These films have heart. Characters we can care about. Tough guys who get scared and don’t know what to do, and then suddenly do – or will try anything to get the right thing done.
Ethan Hunt’s super power is his ethics.
When I write screenplays I write about emotion and psychology. The action emerges organically from this priority.
It seems that TOP GUN: MAVERICK is a hot-snot, cynical popcorn film about American machismo and awesome machines. But it isn’t. TOP GUN: MAVERICK is a film about being human. MAVERICK is a film about emotion. It’s a film about what it means to get old and get locked out of the cool place where young people are having fun - and how you can deal with that. Because no one can deal with it.
Enduring biological time takes heroism. And so it is for Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell.
It’s time to hand over the reins to the youngsters, but if I do that I’m over. Ahead, there is only a slow road to extinction. The fossil will get buried. So what am I going to do? I’m going to give reality the finger, that’s what. I’m going to show the kids how it’s done. Then, OK – the slow road.
But not today.
For all its frankly average direction and screenwriting and gung-ho cliché and tequila sunsets and silly flight-deck machismo, TOP GUN: MAVERICK is a high-quality piece of film making. Why?
Because the decision makers clearly understand their market and how to give that market what it wants.
These are abilities that so few film makers seem to possess, or if they do, seem afraid to demonstrate it. So many modern films are preoccupied by trying to get a certain message across and failing because they are lecturing us. Tom Cruise et al seem to understand why people watch films: to be entertained. It’s an old-fashioned notion, but if you want to make barge-loads of money by making films, try it.
TOP GUN: MAVERICK made me, a parent, cry for personal reasons, but mostly because I was a kid in the 80s, and this film is so much more powerful for people who were. Incredibly, it’s a hyper-commercial film with appeal for mature people. Those who were once, surely split seconds ago, right? – too young and beautiful to care about anything. Kids who had all the time in the world.
And then the world comes along and says no; actually it’s curtains, or nearly. Tomorrow, maybe.
But not today.