Saturday 11 June 2022

Top Gun: Maverick (Movie Review)

Long before he became one of Hollywood's most recognizable leading men, Tom Cruise had starred in Top Gun, a film that would go on to become one of the biggest breakout movies of the 1980s. Not only would it gross several times its production budget during its original theatrical run, but it would also produce a successful soundtrack album that would earn it an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Despite all that success, it would take three and a half decades before we finally got a sequel in the form of Top Gun: Maverick. Now that the new film is out in theaters, I figured I would share my thoughts on whether or not it was worth the wait.

The film takes place 36 years after the original, with Captain Pete Mitchell, aka Maverick (Tom Cruise), still working as a naval pilot. Unlike most of his peers, he has refused to advance within the Navy's ranks, just so he can continue flying. But after a reckless maneuver during a test flight causes his superiors to ground him indefinitely, he is given a lifeline by an old friend (Val Kilmer). He is to return to TOPGUN, a school where the very best naval aviators get trained. But not as a student, but rather as an instructor for a new batch of hotshot pilots, as they prepare for the most dangerous mission of their collective careers.

On the surface, a movie like Top Gun: Maverick might look like yet another attempt by a Hollywood studio to revive an old intellectual property using nostalgia and star power. But to dismiss it as such would be doing a disservice to the amount of love and care that has gone into crafting the film. Director Joseph Kosinski has already shown that he has a keen eye for striking visuals through films like Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, and the same vision is on full display in his latest film. The whole thing was filmed in 6K IMAX with over 800 hours of aerial photography captured. The result is some of the most breathtaking visuals to be shown at the cinemas all year and a movie that simply begs to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

All those beautiful shots wouldn't mean anything if the film itself didn't have a decent enough story holding everything together, or if that story didn't center around a cast of relatable characters. Thankfully, the movie has both those areas covered with a solid script that hits all the required story beats as it builds up to an intense climax. Tom Cruise also gives one of his better performances while his co-stars all get to shine in their own ways. The fact that a lot of the film was filmed inside the cockpits of actual fighter jets thousands of feet in the air lends those performances a believability that can't be replicated on a green screen, and the film is better for it.

If there's one aspect of the movie that I could single out for criticism then that would have to be just how heavily it leans into the nostalgia factor. The film practically opens with a shot-for-shot reenactment of the first film's title sequence. It also has a number of callbacks sprinkled throughout its runtime. These include everything from Miles Teller's Rooster rocking the same mustache as Goose, as well as an overreliance on flashbacks to help fill in the gaps of its story. But it is hard to truly fault the movie for any of this, not when everything else is handled so well.

Top Gun: Maverick is another rare sequel that manages to improve upon its predecessor in every conceivable way. It joins the ranks of Blade Runner 2049 and Mad Max: Fury Road to serve as shining examples of how old franchises can be updated for a modern-day audience. While its success is only going to open the floodgates for even more 80s films to be revived or rebooted in the months and years to come, I am still glad that we got this one and that it turned out as well as it did.

Jurassic World Dominion (Movie Review)

The third movie in the Jurassic World trilogy has finally arrived following the surprising turn of events at the end of the last one. Billed as the final film in the larger Jurassic Park franchise, this entry serves as a union of old and new, bringing back beloved characters from the original movie. But does the new film give those characters a worthwhile adventure to embark on or is this merely another retread that relies too heavily on nostalgia?

Set four years after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the film takes place in a world where dinosaurs run rampant and mankind has quickly adapted to their presence. And by adapted, I am referring to the fact that the nefarious among us have found creative ways to exploit the situation, be it through black market auctions or what have you. The new balance would soon be upset though when the greed and ambitions of yet another bioengineering company threatens to bring both species to extinction.

The Jurassic Park movies haven't really had to do too much to justify their existence over the years. Ever since the brilliant original,  all subsequent entries have adhered to the same basic template, for better or worse. They've all had serviceable stories interspersed with some tense dinosaur encounters and setpiece moments. And going by those standards, Jurassic World Dominion is up to snuff.

That said, I must first start by acknowledging that its well-worn formula has started to show its age. There are only so many times a T. Rex can show up at the last minute to save the day after all, before the whole thing starts to feel stale. So the new film certainly won't be scoring any points for inventiveness. Also, the sequels have never quite been able to replicate the awe and wonder we all felt the first time we saw dinosaurs milling about in Jurassic Park, and the same holds true for this one. The film tries hard to replicate shots and key moments from the first film, none of which ever manage to reach the same heights or capture the same thrills.

But all that should go without saying at this point, and Jurassic World Dominion isn't without its own share of thrills. It does take a while before the movie really kicks into gear but once it does, you'll be pretending to fear for the safety of our protagonists along with everyone else. It was nice seeing all three actors from the first film together again, though to call their inclusion in this movie anything other than nostalgia bait would be disingenuous. 

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard likewise continue to prove themselves capable leads. But make no mistake, the dinosaurs are the true stars of the show, with old favorites like Blue the velociraptor and the T. Rex making a return, as well as a pair of new apex predators that look like the stuff of nightmares. The film has all the tense moments the franchise is known for, even if none of it looks quite as cutting edge as it once did.

My biggest issue with the movie, however, stems from how it manages to gloss over its intriguing premise. Given how the last film had ended, it is a bit disappointing to see how quickly the entire world has come to grips with dinosaurs walking among us. Granted, it's been four years since those dinosaurs broke out from their confines on Isla Nublar, but it would've still been nice if we had gotten to see at least some of that initial chaos hinted at in the prologue for the film that was released last year.

Jurassic World Dominion brings both the new trilogy and the overall franchise to a somewhat subdued close. It does more than enough to be considered an entertaining time at the movies, no doubt, but it does so without any of the flair and brilliance that started the whole thing in the first place. And even though the film has been heavily marketed as the final one in the series, we all know it is only a matter of time before we get another new entry or trilogy. Because much like those shady bioengineering companies, the one thing a Hollywood studio can't pass up on is an opportunity to make even more money.