By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by Joseph Kosinski
- Starring Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Val Kilmer
What makes a legacy sequel a “legacy sequel”? That term has been thrown around quite a bit over the past few years for any sequel that comes out decades after the original but I think it’s important to recognize what exactly a “legacy sequel” is. In my mind, it’s a sequel that openly reckons with it’s place as a pop culture artifact, both a sequel that works as a comment on the nature of legacy while also showcasing it’s legacy in-universe. Stuff like Blade Runner 2049 and Mad Max: Fury Road, while sometimes described as such, doesn’t exactly do this and thus wouldn’t fit this definition.
Director Joseph Kosinski’s directorial debut Tron: Legacy, a legacy sequel to one of the most popular cult films of the 80s, could be argued as the kickstarted for this recent trend even if the film ended up being something of a financial disappointment in the long run. And Kosinski’s newest, Top Gun: Maverick, is absolutely a legacy sequel, and might be one of the best ever released – a soaring, high-flying picture that both delivers on the high speed thrills and the emotional depth.
Tom Cruise is a genre into his own at this point, so much so that it’s hard to forget that Top Gun was really his first big claim to fame. And while even then he was in the pilot’s chair flying as much as he could, the Cruise of today doesn’t resort for half assed. Instead he’s flying the jet, shooting the guns, firing the missiles, putting himself in harm’s way, and filming the damn movie all at once and while it’s indeed a sight to behold, that’s to be expected from him. What’s even more insane about Maverick is that everybody else is doing it too, and because of that each of the flying scenes is nothing short of a marvel to behold; an exercise not just in taking things to it’s furthest extreme but managing to live to tell the tale. When the last 25 minutes kick in and our heroes head out on their life or death suicidal mission, you feel like that any mistake could immediately turn this into a snuff film.
But what’s really stellar about Maverick, and what pushes it over the edge as one of the best things about this year, is it’s genuine emotional core and thematic depth at it’s center. The truth of the matter is that Cruise is getting old and he’s started to realize that, and Maverick actually confronts the nature of aging and growing old in a world that no longer needs people like Cruise. While it’s ostensibly focused on drones vs. real pilots, one could interpret this as the last gasp of the movie star. Cruise, in a lot of ways, is the last bastion of a bygone era of cinema that has mostly replaced them with IP, franchise, and brand recognition, but as the movie shows you can’t simply beat the old thrills when done right.
And when Kosinski leans into that emotional hook, the movie ends up being shockingly more powerful then you would expect. The handling of Iceman alone is leagues above how most franchises handle returning characters, and Kilmer’s scenes are done with grace and respect that feel both heartwarming and inspiring. And while this is really Cruise’s show, the rest of the cast manages to keep up with him the whole time, particularly Connelly who despite being a new character manages to have realistic, long term chemistry with the superstar.
What Top Gun: Maverick succeeds more then any film recently though is bring back that old blockbuster feeling that’s so missing from a lot of films nowadays. It’s old school in the best way possible and it’s thrills are unmatched in a large screen with a big crowd. Every sonic boom is loud, every turn is felt. It’s the speed of it all, ya know? The need… for speed.