Reviewing a movie was not my plan for this blog today. After doing multiple sports and culture related blogs, I thought it was time to write about the importance of mythology and why every historical culture has their own religious belief system that often defines and give context to their actions. And then I saw TOP GUN: MAVERICK and I thought to myself, “Fuck Off, Expert. You need to write about that movie.” What follows is a summary (No Spoilers) and review of the latest Tom Cruise blockbuster film.
Before diving into the details of TOP GUN: MAVERICK, I think it is important to explain how this movie was experienced in the theater. At my local theater, there were four different ways to watch the film; the classic 2D, IMAX, ScreenX, and 4DX. Since I had never seen a movie in the latter two formats, I decided to take a plunge and watch the film in ScreenX. Not understanding what ScreenX or 4DX were, I decided to research these formats before watching the film. So what is ScreenX? According to Woojer.com:
“Screen X is an immersive technology that projects footage onto the sidewalls as well as the main screen of the theater to create an immersive experience. It has enlisted since 2012 and was developed by the same company - CJ 4DPLEX - that created 4DX motion-theater technology that augments the movie-going experience with seats that move, wind effects, strobe lights, simulated weather effects, and olfactory experiences. The Screen X process can come in post-production, which is more common but not as preferred, or in pre-production, using three different cameras.”
This differs from 4DX in two key aspects. 4DX is a higher resolution picture and the theater itself becomes a sensory experience.
“4DX is a state-of-the-art film technology developed by CJ 4DPLEX which delivers an immersive multi-sensory cinematic experience. 4DX incorporates on-screen visuals with synchronized motion seats and environmental effects such as water, wind, fog, scent, snow and more, to enhance the action on screen. It is the world’s first and leading 4D movie technology brand for feature films including Hollywood blockbusters, local films, and alternative content such as concerts and commercials.”
During TOP GUN: MAVERICK, the ScreenX experience activated during each flight sequence in the film. The story and character development were isolated to the normal one camera shot which is viewed on the main screen like a normal movie-going experience. ScreenX adds two additional cameras into the shot that project onto the sidewalls of the theater on both the left and right side. Sitting inside the theater makes it feel like you are in a box surrounded by images with surround sound blasting you like a wind gust across your face. It is an overwhelming experience and definitely made the film more enjoyable.
Second, I have been reading about the technological innovations surrounding this film since they started shooting it four years ago. Because Tom Cruise and the actors became trained pilots for this film, the director decided that the most realistic flight footage would be placing the cameras onto the military jets themselves with the talent inside. The creation of these cameras and the engineering required to allow six IMAX cameras to survive the high speeds of a military fighter jet is fascinating in its own right without even watching one image from this film. The cinematography is stunning and an evolution for flight based storytelling. If this film does not win the Oscar in 2023 for the technology that was invented so this picture could exist, then the Academy will have lost the last speck of respect that I have for it. The only other film that compares is 95 years old. WINGS, the first Best Picture Winner from 1927, actually used cameras in the air that were activated by the pilots involved. Real explosives were used to give the movie a realistic feel. The cinematography from this almost century old picture still holds up in the present day.
This brings us to the review of the film. What can I say about it? Most of the enjoyment comes from the incredible flight sequences mixed with the wonders of experiencing the innovative cinematography and the new movie theater technology. The whole 137-minute experience left me flabbergasted. My 24-year-old daughter, who was also impressed with the movie trailer when it was released back in 2020, accompanied me to the theater and her opinion mirrors mine. This movie is why we go to the movies every summer. To have as enjoyable of a time in a two-hour window as possible. Does the movie have a story? Not really. The basis of the film revolves around Pete “Maverick” Mitchell being called back to the TOP GUN program by his old friend and rival, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky to train the next generation of pilots for a dangerous mission to disable a nuclear power plant built into a mountain that is posing a threat to the United States. The country is unnamed but resembles Iran by description. But the story is only a small, minor detail used as an excuse for the airborne training sequences that take up the majority of the first half of the film. The movie is a character study. It even throws in healthy doses of nostalgia by recreating the bar and shirtless beach scenes for the present-day audiences. Much to my satisfaction, the movie also engages in multiple close ups of Tom Cruise’s on-and-off again relationship with Penny, played by the 51-year-old Jennifer Connelly. Like so many movies from the 1980s do, the camera focuses on Jennifer’s body in multiple situations as she is walking away from “Maverick.” Watching these scenes, it feels like the filmmakers are telling the audience, “We made this film for everyone born between 1969 and 1980” using one of our favorite sex symbols from our childhood as bait. Watching Jennifer Connelly light up the screen took me back over 30 years to when I fell in love with her in the first place, in films like LABYRINTH and CAREER OPPORTUNITIES. This is one of the few films I have ever watched where leaving the theater left a gigantic smile of my face.
In conclusion, if TOP GUN was not your thing, I still recommend going to see this movie just for the experience. I was not a fan of the first film and only came around to appreciating it once it gained iconic status. If Grand Theft Auto V is satirizing the film and the music, then the movie has achieved a historical status that only few films ever can. This is not even bringing up Sterling Archer’s admiration for it. Does the movie gloss over the fact that the United States has the largest and most technologically advanced military in the world which makes the mission seem kind of ridiculous? YES. Do other countries have more advanced military jets than us? THIS IS HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE. Does the movie feel like an updated remake more than a sequel? ABSOLUTELY. Should this movie only be seen in a movie theater? ABSOLUTELY. Did the film images on the left and right side of the ScreenX movie theater not look as clear and focused as the main screen in the front including the fact that it seemed to get blurrier the farther the image was from the screen? YES, but this can be forgiven due to the fact that this technology is new, and it will likely be resolved as the technology starts to mature. I also do not recommend waiting to see this on home video because the experience will not be as enjoyable on a modern home theater system and the flaws of this film will come into deeper focus. But none of this matters. Go see TOP GUN: MAVERICK as soon as possible, damn it. You will not be able to take that smile off your face.
EXPERT OF SOME