A disappointing date with Top Gun: Maverick
I know this will come as a terrible, crushing blow to him, but sometimes you have to speak bluntly. And there’s no easy way of saying this.
I don’t fancy Tom Cruise anymore.
Like millions of others around the world, I fell in love with him as the unruly fighter pilot Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, with the gelled black hair, cool Ray Bans, racing motorbike, and 1940s leather bomber-jacket, in 1986’s smash-hit fly-boy movie Top Gun. I even devoted a whole chapter to him in my first book, Male Impersonators, in which I basically argued, with footnotes, that he – or rather, his on-screen persona – wanted to sleep with me.
We had a love, a love, a love you don’t find every day. But the magic eventually left our relationship. Maybe his success drove us apart. Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, then perhaps the incest taboo. I’m not sure when exactly, but it was before Jack Reacher, or The Mummy. Probably around the time of The Last Samurai. We still see one another, we’re still friends, and I will defend him from those who slander his acting chops – he’s certainly better than many if not most of the pretty boys who followed in his footsteps. But our special connection has crashed and burned. I’ve lost that loving feeling. Starting to criticise little things he does.
It’s terribly ungrateful of me, I know. Tom has toiled incredibly hard and spunked wads of cash over the last quarter century or so, to remain forever Maverick. Just for me. His face has defied gravity: that skin is still tight – tighter, even. That chin still sharp. Those teeth whiter and straighter than ever. Those eyes still clear, piercing and preternaturally unbagged. Hair unfaded and un-thinned. The body looks, if anything, through the filters, long shots, and careful edits in his latest iteration, even better than it was when he first flew into our hearts. Waaay back in the 20th Century.
Top Gun is Tom’s Picture of Dorian Gray.
And have I mentioned how he still ‘does all his own stunts’? His PRs usually do.
Tom was always a trier – and that, along with his cheeky, slightly jagged grin, was what made him so engaging. He wasn’t flawless, and was in fact a bit of a dick, but he was also boy-next-doorsy, and worked tirelessly to make you pay attention. To make you… pay. But now, alas, he is flawless. So flawless my eyes slide off his face when I’m looking at him.
Mr Cruise, it also needs to be said, is fifty-fucking-nine. Born on The 3rd of July, he’ll be 60 in a few weeks. He’s ancient. He’s archaic. He’s a fossil. He’s – and this is the killer – even older than I am. (Three years, to be horribly exact.) But the fact that that he looks younger than I am – MUCH younger than I am – has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I don’t fancy him anymore, OK??
I have a hunch it’s not just bitter old me that notices these things. As the most famous, most successful ageing film star of his ‘new wave’ 1980s self-loving male sex-object generation, and possibly in Hollywood today, part of seeing a new Tom Cruise movie is constantly scanning his face on the big screen for evidence of ‘work’, his hair for weaves, and colorant – in the way that female stars have been used to for eons. It’s like… an interview with a vampire.
I feel the need to tell you all this because you may want to bear our history in mind when I report that the much-awaited, much-delayed Top Gun sequel Top Gun: Maverick didn’t bring back that loving feeling.
The original, as it’s producer the late, great Don Simpson would have put it, was sexy as fuck. Tom as ‘Maverick’ the spunky, rebellious fighter jock who “flies by the seat of his pants” was sexy-as-fuck. The jets were sexy-as-fuck. The music was sexy-as-fuck. The Tony Scott-directed movie was essentially the ultimate pop-promo for the sexy-as-fuck 80s itself. As one of the pilots says in the lecture theatre on dogfights: “This is giving me a hard-on!”
Top Gun: Maverick did not make me hard. Not even semi. (Though, admittedly, it takes a lot these days.) It is not sexy-as-fuck. I’m not even entirely convinced it’s alive. It’s more of a nostalgic simulation, with an inevitably very contrived storyline/backstory. It’s nice-looking, of course. It’s watchable, and better-made than probably most action movies these days, and has some great if absurdly unrealistic live-action flight sequences. But essentially it seems to be about watching people you mostly don’t care about, playing an expensive computer game. In another room.
For me the most enjoyable part of the movie for me was the opening titles, which deliberately reprised the original synth-rich sound, look and heavy-filtered feel on busy flight deck of a super-carrier.
Though in fairness, this is not entirely Mr. Cruise’s fault. Or even the director, Joseph Kosinski’s, who wrote and directed the rather good Oblivion in 2013, which presented a dystopian future Earth populated by cloned blue-collar Toms. Let’s face it, Top Gun 2 was never going to be sexy-as-fuck because Hollywood is no longer sexy-as-fuck. The digital and online streaming world have drained it (and me) of fuck-ness.
What’s more, Maverick was steam-catapulted at the world when it was “morning in America again”. Now it looks a lot like midnight.
At the start of the sequel, Maverick is working as a test pilot, still gung-ho and still rule-breaking, and still just a Captain as a result – more than three decades into his career. He’s still single and childless. (Though he does have a really cool P-51 Mustang that he tinkers with, as you do, in his hangar-garage.)
His rival/lover from the first movie Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazanksy (played by a sadly ailing-in-real-life Val Kilmer), has aged as much as Maverick hasn’t, has a family and a big house, and is a four-star admiral, commanding the Pacific Fleet. And dying from throat cancer.
This busy schedule doesn’t stop him, at least for the earlier part the movie, from acting as Maverick’s guardian angel/daddy: sending him intimate text messages and getting him out of scrapes. As he says at the end of the original film: “You can be my wingman anytime!”
It’s terribly unfashionable now, if not actually illegal, but Sigmund Freud, who believed in a universal bi-responsiveness, postulated that male homosexuality could be seen as a form of arrested development. That all boys went through a ‘homosexual phase’, which some never got past. I certainly didn’t.
So, in a sense, forever-boyish, late middle-aged, un-married, un-reproduced Maverick is still ‘gay’. If on the downlow. Perhaps this is why he keeps looking at old stills of himself and Iceman in their prime from the original film, apparently thinking wistful ‘what if?’ thoughts.
Thanks to Daddy Iceman’s intervention once again, instead of being cashiered, he’s sent back to Fighter Weapons School to train a team of ‘the best of the best’ for a special military operation: bombing a uranium enrichment plant belonging to an unspecified country (which looks a lot like Russia) that is in violation of a ‘multilateral NATO agreement’ – whatever that means.
Naturally, the plant is in an underground bunker, under a mountain, heavily defended with SAM sites, and the only weak spot is reached by death-defying, “seat of your pants” flying along a winding gorge (“miracle number one!” as Maverick describes it), and then pin-point bombing accuracy at high speed (“miracle number two!”). It’s a risky business, if not a mission impossible.
And yes, it’s the Death Star meridian trench-run sequence again from Star Wars. Feel the G-force.
Mind you, Top Gun was intended from the beginning as an earth-bound space opera. “It’s Star Wars on Earth!” is how producer Jerry Bruckheimer pitched the original idea to his producer partner Don Simpson. While at the dentist, he’d seen a magazine feature on Fighter Weapons School, and thought the F-15s looked like X-Wings (the F-18 Hornets used here instead of F-14s look even more like X-Wings). And let’s not forget, the Star Wars trench-run sequence was itself inspired by that jolly-hockey sticks 1955 British film The Dambusters.
Anyway, nerdy details aside, in contrast to the original ‘toxic’ movie, and as a nod to the passage of three decades or so, many of the ‘best of the best’ at Top Gun are non-white, and one of them is even a woman. Though none of them are central characters.
Lieutenant Jake “Hangman” Seresin, a cocky (white male) Iceman wannabe is, and so, most particularly, is Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, son of Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, Maverick’s pillion-riding weapons officer and karaoke-singing best buddy in the first movie, who died during a training accident that Maverick blamed himself for.
Though he’s less his son, more his reanimation. Not only does he look like Goose – if a better-looking, more worked-out, 21st Century version of him – he has Goose’s moustache. He wear’s Goose’s Hawaiian shirts and shades. And like Goose he performs Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Great Balls of Fire’ at the piano. Causing Maverick more heart-rending flashbacks.
The only thing that isn’t Goose-like about him is that he is a pilot not a weapons’ officer – and, much more jarringly, he doesn’t love Maverick. Which was the whole point of Goose (“God, he loved flying with you, Maverick!”). Instead, he hates and resents him. Getting Rooster/Goose to love him again, is essentially the love-story and drama of the sequel. It’s Maverick’s ‘second chance’. Again, Maverick does a lot of wistful gazing at old stills from the original movie, of him and Goose enjoying good times together. (While we notice how much smaller Maverick seems to be in the original film.)
And can we pause, momentarily, to reflect on how Maverick’s bestest buddy’s callsign was “poke in the ass” – and his son’s is “cock”?
Yes, there is a heterosexual love-interest involving a strong-minded, very assertive if not actually bossy middle-aged old-flame, Penelope “Penny” Benjamin (Jennifer Connolly), with a young daughter, who owns the base bar. But, as is usually the case in Cruise movies, the heterosexual romance storyline isn’t something you’re supposed to be too invested in. Though it does provide Maverick with a ready-made family at the (sorta) straightened-out end.
Rooster also has a defect that is holding him and the team back, a tendency to overthink and not trust his instincts – essentially an echo of Maverick’s own issue after the accident that killed Rooster’s father in the first movie. But, and I think I can say this without giving too much away, Maverick will cure him of that.
How homoerotic is Top Gun 2? Well, nothing could come close to the original, so it’s probably just as well that they didn’t really try. Especially now that I don’t fancy Tom anymore.
There are no lingering locker-room scenes. Or in fact, locker room scenes of any kind. Yes, the famous beach volleyball scene – a very early sighting of sporno – is reprised, with the totally-worked-out pilots playing beach football shirtless.
But it just wasn’t like the old days anymore. And they didn’t use Kenny Loggins’ ‘Playing With the Boys’ (the 1986 promo for which, by the way, seems to have set out to un-do what Top Gun did to it). The beach football scene is far too tastefully shot. The outrageous, cheap, thrilling homoeroticism of the original depended on the novelty of oiled-up male objectification, and the still-just-possible-then, official innocence – even though director Tony Scott admitted years later that he deliberately shot this (wonderfully superfluous in terms of plot) scene as pure Bruce Weber-inspired ‘soft core porn’.
Both the novelty and the official innocence have of course been completely vaporized in the 36 years of hot male tarting since Top Gun took our breath away. It’s the beach volleyball scene every night at the multiplex. And on TikTok and Instagram. (Let’s not even mention Only Fans.)
In fact, Maverick director Joseph Kosinski had a mutiny on his hands when he announced that the scene would be shot skins vs shirts:
“I was kind of dividing it up, and very quickly found out that no one (was) looking to keep their shirt on. They were like, ‘No way, I worked too hard’.”
The homoeroticism in Top Gun 2 is mostly nostalgia for the homosocial homoeroticism of Top Gun 1. Which isn’t really going to butter any parsnips.
The beach football scene, and the artful way it’s shot, also seems to aim to present Cruise’s body as being as fit as the guys less than half his age. And – again, I think I can tell you this without spoiling any ‘surprises’ – despite being originally tasked with training up the young whippersnappers for the mission impossible but not actually taking part (coz he’s MUCH TOO OLD), he ends up… leading the mission. Having demonstrated that he can fly the route faster than anyone else – and that his fillers can withstand the terrifying G-forces involved.
The movie is not about Maverick’s battle against automation. Or about his mastery of the skies, but of time itself. He’s an ageless, analogue Hollywood star in a CGI world where the TVs got way bigger, and the pictures got smaller. But unlike Norma Desmond, he’s still big box-office.
Which reminds me, sorry to harp on, but Cruise looks a lot younger here than ‘Viper’, his instructor in the first movie. Played by Tom Skerret, who was 53 at the time – six years younger than Cruise is now.
But, as you may have intimated, you can’t entirely trust my feelings about this filum – which will, I’m sure, hit the spot for most, and make scads of moolah. Or, for that matter, about the first.
I first saw it back in the 80s on a vomit-scented over-night ferry to Amsterdam. In a gale. Tipsy. The rolling of the ferry in the heavy North Sea adding a bit of G-force. I was also absurdly young and had my life ahead of me – stretched out and inviting, like, well, Amsterdam. And boy, back then my libido was always ready to ‘go ballistic’.
In fact, unlike Tom, who was far too buttoned-down, business-like, and thinking about the neighbours, I really did fly ‘by the seat of my pants’. Another reason why we couldn’t be together.
Today however my libido needs to book an appointment several weeks in advance and take plenty of zinc and fluids. And my voyage is now closer to the end than the beginning.
Yes, I fancied Tom, but the really kinky part was that I also fancied being Tom. I didn’t want to just fuck the rebellious fighter jock with the cheeky grin. I wanted to steal his life. Have really great gelled hair, cool shades, live life at Mach 2 in heavy filters, backed by power ballads. To be American. Surrounded by really hot, worked-out buddies who would do anything for me.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, that maybe the real reason I don’t fancy Tom anymore is because I don’t fancy myself anymore. I’ve lost that self-loving feeling.
It’s gone, gone, gone, whoa-oh.