Cruise Control

Got yet another opportunity courtesy of my cinema-loving, blissfully old school roomie to join the millions who have flocked on two consecutive weekends to see the resurrection of the TOP GUN franchise in my local dine-in.  Within five minutes of settling in, I was reminded exactly why despite every shred of doom and gloom being forecast by the pundits and cowards who believe traditional movie theatres are doomed, there may be hope yet.

As the lights dimmed, Tom Cruise, looking visibly closer to his actual 60 years of age than how he appeared virtually unchanged from his look as Pete “Maverick:” Mitchell which we originally saw in 1986 when TOP GUN: MAVERICK was shot several years ago, addressed the crowd and thanked them for their patience and support in respecting his desire to release this exclusively in movie theatres.  He explained that the usage of actual F-18s, his commitment to shoot many of the video-game like scenes realistically, using actual pilots in the process, warranted holding off on the knee-jerk reaction of most studios, including the beleaguered Paramount he has enjoyed a long-term relationship with, to opt for a PVOD release during the more severe months of the pandemic.  The lengthy delay in finally getting this released caused consternation among many of the studio’s top brass, even outlasting the tenure of his friend and former head  Jim Gianapolouos, whio initially greenlit Cruise’s vision of the sequel.

Sure, there’s a bunch of films that could easily, and frankly, more enjoyably be seen in the comfort of a media room nervouslyslipping hunks of caramel popcorn under indoor-worn KN 95s.  TOP GUN: MAVERICK is mot definitely not one of them.  Much like the newer iterations of STAR WARS, production technology and the quality of a theatrical print is dramatically better now then it was then, and the film from beginning to end was a throughly enjoyable, escapist joy ride that recnnected us with characters and a time where bravado was celebrated, leather jackets were worshipped and Cruise’s trademark characteristic of the pretty, bad boy pushing against the establishment with justification was born.

Maverick may not look it, but he’s older now, still a captain by choice, but is now faced with the last laps of his career with a Navy bureaucracy growing increasingly intolerant of human beings staring him down.  He is now teamed with a new generation of pilots in a mentoring-type role, and they are less reverant and more skeptical of his legend than his colleagues of decades past were.  For obvious reasons, the most skeptical of all is the son of his late friend who clearly harbors resentment toward Maverick.  And from there, TOP GUN: MAVERICK morphs from simply homage to its past to a showdown with mortality and a confrontation with the winds of change.

We are reminded that so many of the supporting players in the first film have died or moved on, both as characters and as people.  Flashbacks scenes featuring a young, stunning Kelly McGillis, as well as Anthony Edwards’ Goose (whose son, Rooster, is this film’s protagonist), are grim reminders that even if Cruise has found the Fountain of Youth through scientology’s tithing, his world (and ours) has not.  The brief reappearance of Val Kilmer’s Iceman,

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JULY 20: Val Kilmer attends The NOVUS SDG Moonshots Summit at United Nations on July 20, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

who, like Kilmer himself, no longer has the ability to physically speak is an even more sobering reminder of the passage of time.  Major kudos to Cruise for devising a way to work Kilmer’s health issues into this film’s plot and give a much-troubled actor a chance for a curtain call this late in life and career.

‘I won’t spoil the plot line of what ensues, but suffice to say the seeds of a spin-off series are sowed as we meet newer, younger iterations of the cocky, impossibly attractive residents of North Island and the San Diego naval bases where this world is set,  It sure beats Tattooine and Theros for atmosphere.  And given the response to this film with a box office that, remarkably, lost a relatively small peercentage in week two off a nine-figure opening weekend, it’s pretty clear that Paramount Global has now found another tentpole IP franchise to build upon.

There’s no question that the temptation of adopting the Disney/MCU (and, perhaps, the Warner Discovery/DC) model of interchangably using theatrical releases and streaming series to cross-pollinate each other’s existences is there.  It would not surprise me to see a Paramount+ series featuring one or more of the newer casrt members and their lives and journeys.  Many are multicultural, and we know there are strong business and generation reasons to pursue that path.  Their stories could easily be told in a 10-episode series.

But Maverick Mitchell, and Cruise, belong to the old-school world of putting your pants on, getting into the teeth of life, riding the motorcycle or settling into the actual cockpit and actually enjoying a movie the way he–and many other artists–still believe it should be.  When it’s worthy of it, it should be–no questions asked.  Apparently, given the fact that a midday, second week showing at my local outlet had perhaps the largest, mostly maskless crowd I’ve seen in years, my opinion and belief that there’s still some normalcy left in this insane world isn’t as foolhardy as so many in my orbit feverishly believe.

Some voices online have criticized both the delay and the decision to withhold this as long as Cruise did and to not embrace releasing it to households immediately.  It certainly would have benefitted Paramount+ dramatically.  They’ll indeed have it in about a month, and given how BATMAN has performed for HBO Max with a similar strategy, there’s still more than enough room for mutliplatform success down the road.   Some mocked Cruise’s determination as “feeling the need for greed”.  I’ll offer instead he was “feeling the need to EXCEED”.   And he most certainly did.

Until next time…

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