Top Gun: Maverick – Woo!

I’m not the world’s greatest movie critic. My rating scale is simple:

  • Hated it.
  • One big okay.
  • Good.
  • Awesome. I recommend it. 48 hours later, I’m still thinking about it.

Top Gun: Maverick strikes all the right notes for me. The first official trailer dropped in 2019. There’s a nostalgia factor for me that’s off the charts. The franchise anthem gives me goose bumps. I’m a sucker for action films (I’ve watched a lot of bad ones). Most of the action films I like were made in the 1980s. The movie industry had a few great action stars, clear and compelling villains that could play off our foreign policy concerns, and the limits on special effects kept run times between 90 minutes and two hours.

Top Gun was one of those “good” action films that I enjoyed as a young person, albeit in the edited-for-television format. The first movie debuted when I was seven years old. But Kenny Loggins’ hit “Danger Zone” had been cemented in my mind thanks to radio play, and as a Nintendo kid, the 1987 Konami Game was a staple among my friends.

I also am a fan of Tom Cruise. Like a lot of people, his acts of insanity in the early 2000s turned me away from a while. But after Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation, and my enjoyment of his performance in Edge of Tomorrow (science fiction is another favorite genre of mine), I was back on board. I was happy to see him back in the role of Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, too. I wanted to see what an older Cruise would bring to the character. I wasn’t disappointed.

Top Gun: Maverick has a lot of throw-backs to the original film. A friend said that the movie lacked the number of great one-liners the original film had, and that the score wasn’t as good. He immediately went to the comparison game. But both movies can be great, in their own way.

This film has a faceless, nameless enemy. It has a battle plot that exactly parallels the final run on the Death Star in Star Wars: A New Hope (also known as “Star Wars“).

It contains a romance subplot between Mitchell and Penny Benjamin, a single mom and local bar owner, played by Jennifer Connelly.

The main plot driver is that of the relationship between Captain Mitchell and Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, son of Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, whom we know from the original film. Not only does Mitchell still carry feelings of guilt from Goose’s death, he sees himself as a failed father-figure for Rooster, too, and is resented for it.

The film also comments on the need for the older generation to hand the baton to an emerging generation, and old debates over technology–its use, advantages, and disadvantages. In this film, the case is made for the human pilot over and against drone technology.

And it all works.

When this movie was over and the credits rolled, I had seen everything I had wanted. There was great action, character development, and plenty of thrills. This movie was a wonderful depiction of the miracle of aviation, the valor of military service, the stakes in warfare, was filled with incredible camerawork and stunning color, had moments of humor and tenderness, and was a lot of fun. Molly liked it, too.

It was awesome. I recommend it. More than 48 hours later, I’m still thinking about it.

Marvel: Going the Way of Star Wars

Photo by Pete Alexopoulos on Unsplash

Nothing’s really been right since Iron Man died, has it? Everything the MCU has given us since Avengers: Endgame has carried a whiff of the sideshow. These days, the Marvel brand stands for prodigious quantity but so-so quality. The series miraculously got us emotionally invested in a broad range of compelling characters, but is now morphing into merely a factory that emits product. Marvel used to make us feel we really couldn’t skip a single episode of the saga. Now that it’s lobbing many hours of decreasingly interesting entertainment at us each month, though, it’s hard to keep up, and there is no longer any particular reason to do so.

Kyle Smith, “Bland Widow

I’m afraid he’s right.

Not Even Funny, Bro

Stalin was a monster.

Stallone is a hero.

I shared this with a friend and he said, “Blasphemy.” Yes. Indeed.

But then I replied and said that at the rate we’re going in movies these days, it is only a matter of time before the Rocky franchise is rebooted with a protagonist representing a totalitarian regime, wrought through with strongly anti-American themes.

The anti-Rocky. Starring Sylvester Staline.

The horror.

Kyle Smith Slams WW84 for its Shades of Blart

Having forsaken the charred moral landscapes of Nolan/Snyder but unable to match Marvel’s sly self-awareness, WW84 (like Aquaman before it) reverts to the mode of pre-2005 superhero movies built around campy set pieces and moronic plotting. Diana, for instance, comes across the plot’s instigator when she thwarts . . . a jewelry-store robbery in a shopping mall. A mall robbery? What is she doing at this crime scene in the first place? She’s supposed to be a goddess, not Paul Blart in a tiara.

Kyle Smith, “Movie Review: Where’s the Beef, Wonder Woman 1984?

Kyle Smith’s overall assessment of the DC Universe is one I agree with, and, despite his negative review of WW84, I still plan to see it (if I can find an open theater around here). As for the review excerpt I cited above, there is a world of difference between Kevin Smith and Gal Gadot, but Smith’s choice to compare these stars’ signature roles made me laugh, and also raises all kinds of amusing questions about the hero stories we tell, and how we tell them.

I loved Wonder Woman. And I’m bummed to hear the follow up may be a step backward for the franchise. I guess I’ll see what I think.

Pop Culture Art – Sam Gilbey

I’m a fan of film and certain elements of pop culture, and Sam Gilbey has produced interesting and visually compelling representations of several cinematic classics. I came across his work here. Below are my favorites.

Back to the Future Delorean (licensed by Universal Studios and produced in collaboration with Fanattik).
Die Hard (licensed by 20th Century Fox and produced in collaboration with Fanattik).
Jurassic Park (licensed by Universal Studios and produced in collaboration with Fanattik).
Jaws (licensed by Universal Studios and produced in collaboration with Fanattik).
Prince Vultan (official Flash Gordon print produced in collaboration with Fanattik).

The Jurassic Park and Jaws prints make fantastic use of perspective and foreshortening. The Die Hard image makes me want to demand someone bring me my detonators, and Prince Vultan brings to mind the query, “Gordon’s alive?

Flash. He’s for every one of us. Singing Queen’s “Flash Gordon Theme” yet?

Good.

And you’re welcome.

Gilbey’s website has even more cool images. Check it out.

Star Wars: A Brand Experience

The movie has moments of great potential. A pivotal lightsaber fight between Rey and Kylo Ren is reminiscent of the fight between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Even some of the moves used mirror those of Skywalker and Kenobi—this battle should have echoed theirs while also including a surprising twist of some kind. Star Wars has always featured this kind of intertextual referencing, of course. At their best, the movies make references but with slight alterations to surprise the viewers and shift the meaning. What made the throne room scene work in The Last Jedi, for example, is that it echoed a similar scene in Return of the Jedi but went in a wildly different direction.

Abrams never takes these kinds of risks. He makes no attempt to play with past scenes in these ways; in the two Disney trilogy films he directed—The Force Awakens and Rise of Skywalker—he simply repeats past scenes or rhymes them in unimaginative ways. Thus the Death Star becomes Starkiller Base which becomes an armada of star destroyers armed with Death Star-style weapons. Thus the first trilogy concludes with a simultaneous space battle featuring the Millennium Falcon and Wedge Antilles and a separate lightsaber battle—and the Disney trilogy ends with a simultaneous space battle featuring the Millennium Falcon and Wedge Antilles and a separate lightsaber battle. This is storytelling with recycled parts, devoid of imagination or risk-taking.

– Jake Meador writing at First Things, “Why the Rise of Skywalker Fails

Meador’s review basically says, “Disney has abandoned storytelling in favor of making money.” Sadly, Star Wars has become a brand experience, with each new film designed to evoke feelings of nostalgia and the brief satisfaction that comes with seeing familiar characters and our favorite fantastical machines on screen. Nevermind dialogue, nevermind story, nevermind compelling themes, nevermind myth or cosmic struggle. Fan service and the almighty dollar reign supreme.

Yet, I continue to be a fan. I love Empire, A New Hope and Jedi (in that order). I enjoyed Rogue One and Solo, despite disagreements I have with how they massaged Han’s character arc. When I left The Phantom Menance I begged friends to tell me it was good and then hated every successive prequel. I can accept the soft reboot of The Force Awakens but The Last Jedi gave us numerous confounding and stupifying plot decisions.

Finally, as I walked to my car following The Rise of Skywalker, I said, “Thank the Maker the Skywalker saga is over.”

Perhaps there will be other Star Wars flims that tell us stand-alone stories in an expanding universe. Maybe there is a compelling character remaining buried deep within the canon, waiting for their on-screen debut. Maybe the murkiness of Episodes VII-IX will drive writers back towards a story about good and evil, and give us sympathetic heroes, interesting rogues, and disgusting villains.

I doubt it. I anticipate films that pander to a certain segment of the Twitter commentariat.

But whatever they make I’ll be there to watch, and that is part of the problem.