Top Gun: Maverick (12A) ****
Lancaster (PG) ***
The Bob’s Burgers Movie (PG) **
Almost everything about Top Gun: Maverick is ridiculous – except Tom Cruise’s commitment to delivering a proper big screen action movie experience. Delayed by the pandemic for two summers, it arrives on screen 36 years after the Tony Scott-directed original crystallised the idea of the high-concept blockbuster in the public mind and made Cruise a mega-star – a position he alone still holds: the last A-lister standing whose name can still sell a movie ticket. He knows it too. “Your kind is heading for extinction,” a gruff Ed Harris tells Cruise’s Maverick near the start of the movie. “Maybe,” smiles Cruise. “But not today.” Indeed, the whole film functions as a reaffirmation of the power of a movie star to transport you to another world, from the way a bewildered kid in a diner looks at Maverick like he’s just arrived from outer space to the reminder it provides of how a precision crafted set piece is nothing without a close-up of Cruise and an intercut shot of a speedometer clocking the envelope-pushing mach numbers Maverick is racking up as he flies into the danger zone one more time. As he repeatedly says, “It’s not the plane, it’s the pilot” – and it’s impossible to ignore the subtext of this message in a movie competing with superhero films and next-generation Star Wars reboots.
Of course there are plenty of other life-lesson-style homilies in the self-consciously corny script. “Don’t think” is another Maverick favourite, a trust-your-instincts bit of advice that he doles out to the Top Gun recruits he’s been press-ganged into training, but also a plea, perhaps, to check your own brains at the door for some uncomplicated summer movie fun. There’s certainly nothing very challenging about the plot, which revolves around a mission to take out a secret factory in an unnamed country that’s enhancing uranium as part of a nuclear weapons programme. Providing emotional ballast is the fact that one of the Top Gun pilots Maverick has to teach is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s former wingman Goose, whose tragic death in the first film (he was played by Anthony Edwards) Maverick still feels guilty about, so much so that his efforts to keep Rooster out of the skies earlier in his career have driven a wedge between them.
Director Joseph Kosinski (who directed Cruise in the the sci-fi epic Oblivion) uses digital trickery here to turn scenes from the first film into little home-movie-style memories, but there are plenty of other call backs too, including a brief in-person cameo for Val Kilmer’s Iceman, one that poignantly takes into account Kilmer’s own health struggles over the last few years. He has a nice little scene with Cruise, cutting through the sentimentality by reigniting their playful rivalry. There’s a homage to the original film’s blatant homoeroticism too, something that subsequently became the source for an amusing Quentin Tarantino monologue in the indie movie Sleep With Me, but which here is reduced to a self-aware nod to the first film’s infamous beach volleyball scene (it involves American football and a lot of sweat).
Away from the testosterone and the high-octane dogfights (as slick and impressive as you’d expect from a Cruise movie), Maverick’s mostly interested in reconnecting with an old flame called Penny (Jennifer Connolly), a token love interest in a film that pointedly makes no reference to Kelly McGillis’s centrality to the original (weirdly it does find room to include Meg Ryan's character in its multiple flashback clips, even though probably no one remembers Meg Ryan was even in Top Gun). Not that any of this really matters. Unless you’ve not seen a mainstream movie in the last 30 years nothing will comes as much of a surprise in Top Gun: Maverick – except, perhaps, the simple pleasure of watching a movie star go to work.
Doubtless timed to coincide with Top Gun, the new documentary Lancaster looks back at the role aerial warfare played in the Second World War, specifically the Lancaster bombing raids over Germany conducted by RAF Bomber Command. Though valorised in movies such as The Dam Busters (1955), the firebombing of Dresden irreparably tarnished the reputation of the Bomber Command and called into question the morality of strategic bombing campaigns – a perception Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war classic Slaughterhouse-Five played a role in shaping. That book is never mentioned in David Fairhead and Ant Palmer’s film, but the surviving aircrew they interview do provide fascinating and very open insights into their own struggles to reconcile their often crucial contributions to the war effort with the human toll it took. The film provides a rounded portrait of what life was like for these servicemen and though there’s no real need to see this on the big screen, the first hand accounts are worth hearing.
Based on a long-running adult animation TV show that’s got a devoted enough cult following in the US to have lasted 12 seasons, The Bob’s Burgers Movie nevertheless arrives with none of the pop-culture-penetrating cachet of The Simpsons or South Park. For the uninitiated, it revolves around a family running a beachside burger bar who have fallen on hard times, but soon spins off into a goofy mystery involving the discovery of a dead body and a conspiracy to build a huge theme park. It’s also a musical. File under “fans only”.
All films on general release from 27 May