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‘Top Gun’ and Tom Cruise return to the danger zone

NEW YORK (AP) – In 1983, producer Jerry Bruckheimer was flipping through the May issue of California magazine when he was struck by a story. Top Guns read the headline, with a large photograph from inside the cockpit of an F-14 fighter jet.

The story opened: “At Mach 2 and 40,000 feet over California, it’s always high noon.”

“I saw that cover and I said, ‘We gotta do this. This looks great,’” recalls Bruckheimer. “It’s Star Wars on Earth.” And at the box office, Top Gun did nearly reach Star Wars proportions. It was the No 1 film of 1986, a rocket-boosted, testosterone-fuelled sensation that established the then 24-year-old Tom Cruise as a major star.

It made Bomber jackets, Aviator sunglasses and playing games of beach volleyball in jeans hip just as it did military service. In the jingoist Reagan-era 80s, Top Gun was about as American as it gets. The Navy set up recruitment tables in theatres. Enlistments soared.

If all of that -the go-go patriotism, a star-led blockbuster, magazines – sounds like a like time ago, it was. But almost four decades later, and after sitting on the shelf for two years due to the pandemic, Top Gun: Maverick is flying full throttle into a new world.

Tom Cruise at the United Kingdom Premier of Top Gun. PHOTO: AP

In the film, directed by Joseph Kosinski, there’s a new mission to win and dogfights to wage.

But this time, the task of Top Gun feels even weightier. It’s here to, in a CGI, Marvel world, prove that a propulsive brand of moviemaking fuelled by star power, practical effects and filmmaking prowess can, still, summon the need for speed.

“I wanted it to have that old-school experience,” said Kosinski, director of Tron: Legacy and Oblivion. Just as Maverick is going back to Top Gun, I wanted to take the audience back to that type of filmmaking.”

Paramount Pictures, which held off on pushing Top Gun: Maverick to streaming, has put a military-grade push behind the sequel.

After kicking off aboard the USS Midway aircraft carrier in San Diego (where Cruise arrived by helicopter) a worldwide promotional tour has included stops at the Cannes Film Festival (where Cruise received an honourary Palme d’Or) and a royal premiere in London.