'Why was Top Gun: Maverick made?
'And the only reason I can think of is that the new film was made to emphasise and re-establish Tom Cruise's superstar status,' notes Aseem Chhabra who watched the Top Gun sequel at its premiere in Cannes.
There was a time when Tom Cruise was a very big global star. And if we had any doubts, the Cannes film festival this week showed a 13-minutes-long showreel before the world premiere of Cruise's latest film Top Gun: Maverick.
There were clips of Cruise dancing in his underwear to Bob Seger's Old Time Rock and Roll from one of star's early film Risky Business (1983); to his burst of anger at his autistic older brother, played by Dustin Hoffman in Rainman (1988); his explosive courtroom scenes facing Jack Nicholson, from A Few Good Men (1992); to one of his most famous lines 'Show me the money', from Jerry Maguire (1996); a collection of sequences from the Mission Impossible franchise that has continued to maintain his stardom; and a lot more.
Of course, the showreel also included quite a few clips from Cruise's first international hit -- Tony Scott's $350 million-grossing Top Gun (1986).
Cruise's Maverick was cocky, utterly charming and sexy in the film.
In the sequel Top Gun: Maverick, Cruise still has the charisma, his winning smile that lights up his face and eyes, his perfect teeth. But he is older.
The actor turns 60 in July although he still maintains his body and does all his Mission Impossible stunts. But he also looks tired, perhaps bruised and battered with all the negative publicity he has earned since he became the celebrity spokesperson for the Church of Scientology.
Top Gun: Maverick -- delayed by two years because of the pandemic -- is ridden with nostalgia for the 1986 film which I loved.
Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell is still the fastest test pilot and has a way to push the envelope by challenging his superiors.
The cast includes another generation of young, good looking mostly white and very cocky trainees at the elite navy pilots' school in San Diego.
They engage in a team-building football scene on the beach, showing their glistening, bronze bodies, similar to the volleyball scene with glistening, bronze bodies in the first film.
Cruise also has a love interest, this time played by Jennifer Connelly.
And there is even a nod to Val Kilmer's uber-confident Iceman with a very brief appearance by the cancer-stricken actor.
Kilmer speaks a couple of lines, barely audible since he has throat cancer.
In the first film Cruise's Maverick was one of the many characters that defined the narrative. Cruise became a big star after the film's humongous success.
While Cruise got the top billing, Top Gun was an ensemble piece with Iceman, Kelly McGillis' Charlie, Anthony Edwards' Goose, and Meg Ryan who played Goose's wife Carole. They were equals to Cruise's Maverick.
In the sequel, every character whether played by Jon Hamm, Ed Harris, Connelly and all the young good-looking supporting actors play subservient roles to Cruise's Maverick.
The jingoism and the arial conflict in Top Gun was inspired by the on-air shoot-out between American and Libyan fighter jets.
In the new film, the conflict is mostly fictionalised -- a rogue nation is processing uranium or something like that. And this effort has to be stopped.
In 2022, the US has fewer enemies. Russia and China do not count since the US would never go to war with the two countries.
Donald Trump is no longer president, so the chances of US airstrikes on Iran are nil.
The US left Iraq in a mess after years of a meaningless war.
Just last year, the US faced one of the most humiliating defeats in Afghanistan as the Taliban occupied the entire country without any challenge.
And so in Top Gun: Maverick, the film's writers make up a conflict to give the feel, the sense of the original drama. But the matter lacks the urgency, the compelling notion that the US is in trouble, and these elite fighters will come to the rescue of the nation.
Which begs the question -- why was Top Gun: Maverick made? And the only reason I can think of is that the new film was made to emphasise and re-establish Tom Cruise's superstar status.
Otherwise, the film ---a wannabe of the original -- has no purpose. It is a poor reflection of the first film which seemed so sharp, clever and entertaining.
So if you ever liked Tom Cruise and perhaps still like him, Top Gun: Maverick will work for you. Because the whole film has Cruise saying, 'Look at me. I am still the biggest star like I was in the 1980s and 1990s.'
But if you belong to a generation that do not know or care about who Tom Cruise is, or rather was, once upon a time, the new film will perhaps not work for you.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com