TOP GUN: MAVERICK motion picture review

What a picture! Cinema at its finest! Top Gun: Maverick is the high energy, funny, exhilarating motion picture cinemas and audiences need–and–it’s full throttle heart! Furthermore, the absolutely brilliant combination of screenwriting, directing, and all the technical elements combine to acknowledge and build upon the nostalgia without resting its laurels on it or hiding behind the cultural and cinematic touchstone that was the original Top Gun. I didn’t know a long-awaited sequel more than 30-years from the original could be THIS good–in fact–it’s better than the original. We are talking Wrath of Kahn compared to Star Trek the Motion Picture here. Maverick represents that some stories, characters, and themes are truly timeless. Even the most casual fans of the original will be touched by everything this film has to offer. I cried several times, and I am not alone. Multiple fellow critics have remarked this film moved them to tears as well. Familiar, yet fresh doesn’t begin to capture the magnitude of diegetic and cinematic success of delivering the surprisingly perfect experience of this film that could very well be on its way to Best Picture of the Year nominations. Maverick is the film that we need as a country, as a world right now! Its plot is equal parts character and action-driven, and no scene or character is wasted or simply inserted to satisfy some nostalgia checkbox. Not only a love letter to the cinematic phenomenon that was Top Gun, it’s ostensibly a love letter to the cinematic experience in terms of scale and scope of the adrenaline-pumping high-flying adventure! We need this film at such a time as this. It’s an uplifting, positive, constructive motion picture for all! Fly, don’t walk to your nearest cinema that offers premium formats like IMAX or Dolby to experience this epic story on the BIG SCREEN.

After more than 30 years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. Training a detachment of graduates for a special assignment, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who choose to fly it.

What is Top Gun: Maverick‘s secret ingredient, wherein lies the magic that made this motion picture work on every single level? The answer: there is no single element. Maverick an incredibly rare lightning in a bottle sequel! Moreover, it’s a lightning in a bottle film period. But if I was to hone in on what I feel is the reason why this film is as impactful, humorous, and exciting as it is, then I’d place a little more credit on the power of Peter Craig and Justin Marks’ screenplay! Yes, Joseph Kosinski’s direction and Tom Cruise’s creative producer guidance play a major roles in the visual storytelling, this action movie owes the depth of its storytelling to the screenplay. While we could boil down the screenplay to a combination redemption-hero story, there is so much more to Maverick than that.

Since this is at the beginning, it’s not a spoiler. The film opens in a nearly carbon-copy to the original, down to the text on screen, Top Gun theme, Danger Zone, and sequence of shots. The mention of the opening is incredibly important for you to know. There is no doubt that Kosinski and Cruise intentionally crafted the throwback opening to channel the nostalgia factor at the very beginning. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come from the story Craig and Marks wrote for you. From the very beginning, audiences are invested in this story because their nostalgia adrenal glands have been stimulated. And as far as direct throwbacks, that is pretty much were it stops. Is that to say there aren’t a few strategically placed (and very brief) flashbacks sprinkled throughout the film? No, there are perfectly setup and executed flashbacks and visually and dialogue-driven references (and Easter eggs) used in the film, but they are supportive, yet pay off dramatically. No moment or reference from the original is simply used to remind you that this is a Top Gun film.

Simple plot, complex characters. It’s a lot easier said than done. When teaching screen writing for film or situation comedies, I drive this point home nearly as often as dramatize don’t tell. The plot of this film is very simple: thwart the enemy from illegally enriching uranium. The depth of the film comes from the well-written and developed characters. And our characters in this larger than life film are few in number. And because it’s not overstuffed with lead and supporting characters, the characters are each given agency (granted, some characters are given a higher degree of agency than others, but my point is that they have purpose, needs, wants, and flaws). Because I am avoiding spoilers, I am not going to go into any details because you need to experience these characters for yourself.

There are many rich themes in this film. From a commentary on advancement in technology versus the human spirit to a commentary on not being so quick to discount the wisdom of those who have come before, to an exploration of redemption, ego, and sacrifice, there is something for everyone! The screenwriters chose to focus on telling a good story and not any of these things. Yes, these elements add immense richness to this motion picture, but at the end of the day, it’s simply a great story with excellent plotting.

Undoubtedly, something you’re looking forward to is all the aerial cinematography! It helped make the original the visual spectacular that it was! And that same quality is true in Maverick, but with an exception. It’s an extension of the storytelling NOT the focus of the film. The film isn’t saying “here, check out my stunning, high octane cinematography and effects (which are used to cover up a mediocre story);” it’s saying to audiences, “hey, check out my stunning, high octane cinematography and effects that pair excellently with my powerful, compelling story!” The attraction isn’t the cinematography or editing (tho, both are exceptional), the attraction is/are the story, plot, and characters! You will be moved by this film, and driven to laughter, tears, and excitement!

Again, don’t miss seeing. Top Gun: Maverick on–not only on the big–the BIGGEST SCREEN in your area! If you sleep on this film, and wait for it to hit Paramount+, then you will deprive yourself of what is the greatest cinematic experience since, since, since I don’t know when.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” movie review

jackreacherposterOutstanding action movie! Paramount Pictures and Skydance’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back simply does not disappoint. Jack Reacher may never become a household name like James Bond or Jason Bourne, but Tom Cruise proves once again that he truly is an action hero. Furthermore, Cruise is probably the best example of a movie star in the classical sense. You know an actor is truly a movie star when the public refers to his or her movies as “the new Tom Cruise movie.” Even the Bourne and Bond movies are not referred to by the respective actors. Lee Childs’ best-seller makes for an excellent cinematic military conspiracy action thriller! Separating this Reacher installment from the previous one and the Bond and Bourne movies is the fact that Childs and writer-director Edward Zwick give Reacher a pseudo-nuclear family. Although action movies are the epitome of high concept films, by adding a pseudo-nuclear family, a very human element is added to the story that adds some depth and allows for humor that otherwise wouldn’t work. Never Go Back comes complete with equal amounts of bad ass action and levity. Not terribly cerebral, this action-thriller provides audiences with a couple hours of high impact cinematic entertainment at which you can sit back, take your mind off life outside of the auditorium, and enjoy the action that only Tom Cruise can bring to the screen.

The Clint Eastwood-esque action hero is back. After busting a corrupt sheriff’s office in Oklahoma, Reacher (Cruise) finds himself amidst a conspiracy and coverup involving the C.O. (commanding officer) who took over his previous position. Mgr. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) is arrested on charges of espionage. Believing strongly that Turner is being setup, Reacher doesn’t hold back in solving the mystery and taking out those who would stand in his way. Crossing paths with the military police himself, Reacher soon finds out that the corruption runs deeper than he first thought. When faced with not only the dilemma of Turner but also the possibility that he may have fathered a child, Reacher must fight two concurrent battles. With mind and body under attack, Reacher stops at nothing to exonerate Turner and provide protection for his possible daughter.

Upon watching this film, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Never Go Back and Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales, by all accounts a masterpiece by the legendary actor and filmmaker. Both stories are about a renegade/loner who acquires a family of sorts. Although the film is very well produced, there is a flaw in that it is apparent that Reacher wants to ‘reach’ further and delve deeper than the superficial plot allows for. Evidence of this is in his dialog that suggests that he wants to be a more dynamic individual who is capable of love and devotion but gets stuck being the action hero all the time because violence is the only thing at which he excels. One of the most prominent themes in the movie is the juxtaposition between high intensity fight scenes and deadpan humorous family drama. By including contrasting elements, the film provides a real opportunity to love the protagonists and hate the antagonists.

Cruise definitely displays some of the best acting of his career in this installment of the Jack Reacher series. He does an excellent job of communicating the difficulty in balancing both the defensive and offensive in terms of protecting his “family” and providing empathetic nurture. I suppose one could infer that the film contains a reimagined “nature vs. nurture” quandary. His reaction to his possible daughter is classic. Throughout the dialog and blocking, it is clear that Reacher is struggling with how to be a dad-like figure but also keep his focus on solving the mystery. Just like any Eastwood-esque story about a loner who has a taste of what being part of a family  is like, the movie ends with a fated goodbye scene between his ‘daughter’ Samantha (Danika Yarosh) and himself. But just before it get too heartbreaking, Zwick throws in a pleasant twist.

If you are in the mood for a good old-fashioned military conspiracy action drama, then look no further. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back strikes a fun balance between kung-fu movies and quirky family dramas. Cruise will definitely not disappoint in this film He does what he always does. Provides us with solid action-star acting coupled with some humor along the way.

“Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation” movie review

MI5Mission: Resurgent. The fifth installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise is surprisingly good. Ordinarily, this far into a franchise, the stories and plots can begin to suffer; but, Paramount Pictures continues the TV series turned cinema powerhouse with great promise for a continued successful run. I don’t think the Mission: Impossible library will ever have quite the allure that James Bond has, but it fairs better than the Bourne franchise. All three definitely perform well, but Mission: Impossible is unique in that Tom Cruise truly sells the movie. Unlike in Hollywood’s Golden Age (~1920s-50s) when particular actors were truly regarded as stars and would essentially sell the movie to audiences and investors, most of today’s movies are not built on the backs of particular fixtures in the star system. There are a few exceptions out there, but Tom Cruise is definitely an actor that is as close to an old-fashioned movie star as we can see and have in contemporary cinema. If you’re looking for a great popcorn movie that you can just chill-ax at, then checkout the latest movie in this unkillable franchise.

With the IMF now disbanded and Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out in the cold, a new threat — called the Syndicate — soon emerges. The Syndicate is a network of highly skilled operatives who are dedicated to establishing a new world order via an escalating series of terrorist attacks. Faced with what may be the most impossible mission yet, Ethan gathers his team and joins forces with Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a disavowed British agent who may or may not be a member of this deadly rogue nation. (IMDb, 2015).

Due of the very nature of these movies, I don’t feel it necessary to pick apart the plot because it is purposely high concept and requires the audience to engage in a momentary suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the action and adventure. That being said, the movie is pretty solidly acted, written, shot, and directed. I was a little disappointed in that the most impressive sequence of events, involving the plane taking off with Ethan hanging on for dear life, is right at the beginning of the film and everything else pales in comparison. It follows a fairly standard order of tropes common to high concept espionage-action-adventure films. Despite the very contemporary nature of this espionage movie, there is a classic feel that is successfully woven throughout the narrative.