Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Not on the 2022 List: Top Gun: Maverick

I don’t begrudge this movie its tremendous success. If anything was going to get people back into theaters, I’m glad it was a fun, old-fashioned, they-don’t-make-em-like-that-anymore nostalgia fest.

But lord-a-mighty this movie was dumb. The dumbest movie to ever get a Picture nomination? Possibly. Specifically, it was a lot dumber than the first Top Gun, which is saying a lot.

Somehow, I had never managed to watch the original over the last forty years, but finally watched it in preparation for this movie. I could see how the movie earned its reputation for cheesiness and the dumbing down of movies. Watching the volleyball scene, cut like a music video in a way that made it impossible to know who was winning the game, was infuriating. But I was shocked at how grown-up the movie was. Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer are competing to see who will be the best pilot. Then Tom Cruise’s copilot dies in the air. At this point, I fully expected Tom to have to overcome this obstacle and win the competition anyway. But no, there’s no longer any thought of him winning, and he graciously concedes to Kilmer, as he struggles to get back into the air at all. I respected that.

Compare this to the far-cheesier sequel, where nobody ever accepts the consequences of any setback. The movie reaches its apotheosis of dumbness when Tom Cruise is shot down in Iran and Miles Teller goes back in his fighter jet to rescue him. It turns out that Teller arrives just in time, because Cruise is about to be shot by the guns of an Iranian helicopter, which Teller blows up. But what’s the plan now? How do you rescue a civilian on the ground when you’re flying a fighter jet? How do you land? They’ve already established that the only nearby runway has been carpet bombed. So what is Teller’s plan for picking up Cruise? What happens is the only thing that could have happened: Teller gets shot down too. Once they’re both on the ground, they can work together to steal a plane from the busted-up runway and get out. But what was Teller’s plan if he hadn’t been shot down? This is never explained. We’re just supposed to understand that this is a very dumb movie. (And why were the Iranians going to kill Cruise instead of capturing him? Surely he would have been a high-value hostage?)

Unlike its predecessor, this movie is pure cheese. I’m glad that we’re learning to have a cheesy good time at the movies again. But Best Picture??

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