As I have observed aging in the real world, I watched with delight two weeks ago as the 60-year-old Tom Cruise showed off his acting and physical chops in “Top Gun: Maverick.” It compared favorably and impressively with the captivating 1986 “Top Gun movie” in which he starred as Maverick, his call sign and standard moniker.
Cruise still has the uncanny ability to fill a movie screen with bravado, charm and physicality. He has learned to exhibit humility and compassion. He no longer must exude utter confidence. He can be vulnerable and still win over the audience.
Also, I just watched the original “Top Gun. “I’m glad I viewed it again after enjoying “Top Gun: Maverick.” Though not quite so dramatic and emotional as the 1986 film, the newly released sequel equally mesmerizes the viewer with its unparalleled photography and, of course, the riveting exploits of an iconic naval aviator, Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise). It may be less jarring. Still, it is first-rate.
In the 1986 blockbuster film, Cruise was mostly cocky, unnecessarily insubordinate, incredibly talented and notably self-centered. He had a soft side shown only to a few people. He disguised his vulnerability for the most part, but not entirely. His magnetic smile and natural charisma dominated the cinema.
The question is whether the gutsy character portrayed in 2022 by Cruise has matured, susceptible to moral defeats, or has this actor actually changed as age has softened his arrogant edges?
I suggest both of the above. In “Top Gun: Maverick,” Maverick continues to break rules and antagonize the admirals who try in vain to control the best—and most reckless fighter pilot in the Navy. His flying is unconventional; his achievements in the air are legendary.
Punished and assigned to teach fighter jockeys 30 years his junior and equally rambunctious and headstrong, Mitchell poses an incredible standard to match in undertaking an absurdly dangerous mission in the Mideast.
What galls a mission-first three-star admiral determined to rein in Maverick is this supremely confident fighter pilot’s overriding concern for his trainees and flight members. He is unwilling to lose one pilot in a mission calling for “miracles.” The critical importance of the mission does not dissuade the teacher, now the flight leader, from bringing everyone back.
Cruise portrays a seasoned aviator and unlikely instructor as an officer obsessed with the lives and dreams of his hotshot flight pilots. He has a heart. His own years as a pilot and military officer are numbered. He is still wracked by memories of his co-pilot and best friend killed during a training accident. His friend’s son is one of Cruise’s charges.
The aging process has instilled in Maverick a concern about his own life and weighed him down with his responsibility for his students and comrades in arms. Any opportunity to rise in rank are foreclosed to the rebellious Mitchell. He’s even learned that the time has come to love a woman justly disenchanted with his wayward ways.
Maturity has imposed itself on the Cruise character. Age and experience do that to all of us. The adrenaline rush, while intoxicating, is not sustainable in the long run. At some point, aerial dogfights and dangerous missions are not enough.
I am not suggesting that “Top Gun: Maverick” is intended to be a metaphor for life. That would be a stretch. I am opining that in the case of this cinematic masterpiece, Tom Cruise and the conflicted character he portrays are alike in seeking a self-peace, a recognition that being wild and reckless is a transitory state of being.
I thought that this movie was captivating. I drew a message related to my senior citizenship. Readers may simply enjoy a great action film featuring a superb actor.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.