Courtesy, Paramount Pictures

Dueling Critics on Top Gun: Maverick

12:00 June 07, 2022
By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker

Top Gun vs. Top Gun: Maverick

Fritz: I've never been a huge fan of the original Top Gun. I remember it playing in theaters, but I was only 8 years old in 1986, so my parents didn't let me see it in theaters. I saw it on VHS not long after that, which would diminish the visceral impact of the aerial stunts. I didn't hate Top Gun, but its soundtrack has more nostalgic significance for me than the film itself. I wasn't clamoring for a sequel, but I found Top Gun: Maverick to be a fun, entertaining piece of summer blockbuster escapism. I definitely liked it more than the original. You had a similar reaction. Why did you think Top Gun: Maverick was better than the original? What does it do that 1986's Top Gun did not?

David: I was in my early teens when the original came out in theaters and I thought it was cool and saw it multiple times. Throughout the years, however, when I would revisit Top Gun, it seemed sillier and sillier. Yes, the new movie, Top Gun: Maverick, is clearly a much better film. First, it actually has a plot with Tom Cruise's character, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, training a hot shot group of jet fighter pilots for a dangerous mission. I like the way they build up the mission as an impossible task, like the Death Star run at the end of the original Star Wars (1977). That really builds the tension.

The romantic subplot works better here because I think Cruise has good chemistry with Jennifer Connelly, unlike the distance you feel between him and co-star Kelly McGillis in the first film. The drama between Maverick and Goose's son, Rooster (Miles Teller) is good, and again, adds tension.

And the aerial scene, with the actors clearly doing some of their own flying, is phenomenal. Don't you think it adds more when you see an actor doing their own stunts?

Courtesy, Paramount Pictures

Fritz: Yes, Cruise's commitment to the hands-on approach serves the film well. And I when I watched Cruise in this, it did occur to me that I was watching a man about to turn 60.

I think one of the reasons the new film works better is there's an actual high-stakes mission the pilots are training for from the get-go. The original film is more a can-the-rebel-kid-succeed-in-class film that has a mission abruptly added to the story at the end. I'm not the first person to say this, but the original film often feels more like a sports drama than a combat film. It feels kind of aimless for the 1st two-thirds of the film. But the stakes in Top Gun: Maverick are high from the get-go. And it's also refreshing to see a combat film where the person in charge (Maverick) is mostly concerned about preserving life.

While the new film's script may not reach the heights of the best of Tarantino, Mamet, or Sorkin, I also think it's better than the original's script, both for the stakes/structural reasons mentioned above and for the dialogue (the original had exchanges like "You're dangerous." "Yes, I am dangerous." Top Gun: Maverick has a pretty good script.

And while the gung-ho, rah-rah attitude of the original Top Gun was pretty common when it was released in 1986, the same attitude in Top Gun: Maverick feels like a refreshing change of pace in 2022. It's been a rough couple of years for humanity, and a lot of movies (even some good ones) have been very dark and dreary. It's nice to just have fun at the movies again.

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