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Cruise Rides Into the Danger Zone 

'Top Gun: Maverick' improves on the original in every way

It finally happened, for the first time in years. It was perfect. It's opening night of "Top Gun: Maverick," the sequel to a 36-year-old movie that is mostly loved today for nostalgic or ironic reasons. The new "Top Gun" should be terrible, a jingoistic Tom Cruise vehicle that is only good for a few forgettable hours inside some air conditioning. The IMAX auditorium is almost completely sold out and it feels like a wall of humanity waiting for their favorite band to start playing. I'm fully expecting my eyes to roll back in my head so hard that I break my own neck.

click to enlarge Just let Tom Cruise be your wing man. It's all he wants. - COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT
  • Courtesy of Paramount
  • Just let Tom Cruise be your wing man. It's all he wants.

Then the lights dim, the trailers end and that synth-y goodness from Harold Faltermeyer's original score kicks in. A lone gentleman and American hero, somewhere back in the darkness of the auditorium, yells in a perfect moment of silence: "I FEEL THE NEED...THE NEED FOR SPEED!" The entire theater erupts in laughter and, in that moment and for the entire run time of the film, we're all together. We've forgotten about COVID, about gas prices, about baby formula. It's just us and Tom Cruise, who learned how to fly a damn jet in order to entertain us.

Look, I get it. People hate Tom Cruise. Half the people I talk to about him tell me they won't even sit through one of his movies because they hate his face so much. Yeah, Scientology is definitely strange and kinda unnerving and Cruise sometimes acts like a Child of the Corn all grown up and famous. I don't want to like him, and I mostly have to separate the art from the artist. I sometimes have to get past the uncanny valley of his face to enjoy one of his films.

Here's the thing though: the movie theater is an important place to me. It was my escape during a middle school period I hated and during a high school career that was even worse. The flickering lights of a movie in a dark room feel holy to me in a way that church never did or could (even after several years of Catholic school). And somehow, this sequel to a 36-year-old advertisement for the Navy has made a quarter of a billion dollars over this last weekend, quite possibly helping to save the theatrical experience for me and the people like me who give a damn.

What's even more surreal is that the film deserves it. "Top Gun: Maverick" is an EVENT MOVIE in all capitals. The flying sequences will (ahem) take your breath away, each and every performance is designed to generate empathy so you care about all the characters. The pacing is so fast and intense that by the end it genuinely felt like a rollercoaster ride had ended.

There's also no pro-military saber rattling. It's just a full-blown Hollywood blockbuster designed to pin you to your seat and drop your jaw and, in IMAX, make you feel like you're in the cockpit of a Super Hornet. While Tom Cruise most certainly won't die for your sins, he absolutely will for your entertainment. With "Top Gun: Maverick" he not only entertains but reminds us that he's the biggest movie star on the planet for a reason. That reason might be that he's an adrenaline junkie and that he's a little insane, but if it brings people like the guy who made us all laugh to my screening, then I guess he's my kind of crazy.


Top Gun: Maverick
Director Joseph Kosinski
Regal Old Mill, Sisters Movie House, Odem Theater Pub, McMenamins

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