‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is a rallying cry for dads everywhere

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness grossed an impressive $185 million domestically in its opening weekend, and while that’s great news for Disney, it might not be considered a major development for everyone. If there’s uncertainty in Hollywood about a movie’s commercial prospects in a post-pandemic landscape, that doesn’t apply to superhero blockbusters, which have continued their dominance at the box office thanks to audiences le more faithful to the cinema: young men. The willingness of guys under 30 to show up at multiplexes means that Morbiusa film so incredibly bad that people should be paid to watch it, is still the 10th highest-grossing film of the year so far.

Ultimately, movie chains only care about the number of tickets sold – and superhero movies are the most reliable way to get butts in seats these days. But this box office resurgence in the age of COVID has largely ignored another key demographic: dads. The beloved Dad Cinema™ genre has tragically faltered to the point where one of the latest projects from Ridley Scott, a filmmaker who made a career of appealing to middle-aged men, bombed at the box office. (Like a shrewd politician, Sir Ridley dared not insult his base, blaming The last duelon “millennials” who don’t want to go to the movies.) Even before the pandemic, major studios favored superhero movies so much that Dad Cinema was becoming an increasingly dying breed. In a world of Avengers and Jokers, a dad-worthy blockbuster like 2019’s Ford versus Ferrari turned out to be the exception to the rule.

The future of Dad Cinema has essentially reached DEFCON 3. This treasured movie category needs a savior, and our country’s best dads need a compelling reason to head to their local theater instead of install for Master and Commander: The Other Side of the World on TNT for the thousandth time. Maybe what they want is a chance to get back into the danger zone.

After years of COVID-induced delays, the highly anticipated Superior gun after, Top Gun: Maverick, arrives in theaters on Memorial Day weekend. The original film, directed by the great Tony Scott – the late brother of Ridley, another author whose projects were made with dads firmly in mind – was a scintillating ode to the 80s. There was Kenny Loggins, enough sunglasses aviator sunshine to fill a Brink’s truck, homoerotic beach sports and, of course, fighter jet sequences that precipitated a veritable surge in Naval Academy applications. Who needs substance when a blockbuster has such an abundance of style? Don’t worry, I’ll melodramatically use both hands to check the time while playing beach volleyball in jeans until you find an answer:

The fact that Superior gun was a true by-product of its time – it’s not the best movie of the 80s, but it might be the more The ’80s film made it a curious candidate for a sequel. But the reason Superior gun comes back is right there lathered in baby oil. In the decades after Superior gun, Tom Cruise’s profile has grown enough for my guy to have his own gravitational pull. At a time when studios believe the best way to sell a blockbuster is with scripted IP, Cruise endures as one of Hollywood’s last major movie stars. And as he nears 60 (!!), Cruise’s calling card is finding new ways to put himself in harm’s way for our entertainment (see: jumping out of a plane in the latest Impossible mission).

With all the advances in technology since the release of the first movie, maverick could easily have relied on compelling special effects for its aerial sequences. But that’s not Cruise’s MO, and if he berates a film crew for not adhering to COVID safety protocols, I can’t imagine what he would do to a studio executive for suggesting to navigate their way through a life-threatening situation. Instead, what makes maverick such a tantalizing blockbuster knows that Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski are committed to making every fighter jet sequence as authentic as possible – hell, the film was supposed to be released in 2019 before its release was pushed back to ensure that all the intricate aerial scenes live up to the hype. Here’s a visual demonstration of what happens when you tell a dad he can’t watch the Superior gun sequel because Cruise and Co. doesn’t think it looks badass enough:

There is a conspiracy to maverick, not that it matters much. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) is one of the Navy’s most decorated pilots, but despite having enough experience to earn an advancement or simply retire, he’s still here for the thrills. Case in point: Maverick opens the film by risking his life and limbs to push an experimental plane to hypersonic speeds. Unfortunately, there is another extremely vague international situation that requires Maverick to train a special group of Top Gun graduates – the best of the best of the best – so that they can destroy a uranium enrichment plant in a foreign country not specified. One of those graduates happens to be Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), who has a rocky relationship with Maverick. (Perhaps it has something to do with his father, Goose, dying during a training exercise in the original Superior gunwhich has haunted Maverick ever since.)

The funny thing about maverick It’s how it mirrors Cruise’s character arcs in other blockbusters: the idea that he’s part of the old guard and should step aside for a new generation of adrenaline junkies. (I mean, dude is almost 60.) But much like when Paramount Pictures tried to hand over the reins of the Impossible mission franchise to Jeremy Renner before Cruise responds by scaling the Burj Khalifa, all Top Gun graduates can do is give a living legend a boost. (As far as actual parallels go, Maverick is basically Chuck Yeager.)

The mission at the heart of the film requires pilots to fly extremely low to avoid radar detection while maintaining a breakneck pace. It is essentially the naval equivalent of the Death Star trench race. Pilots repeatedly fail the mission test before Maverick goes full DIY, and the results are jaw-dropping. Again, Cruise really sits in a fighter jet and shoots G’s, and instead of dialogue we hear Maverick growl at every sharp turn in the plane. It’s hard to tell where Maverick’s fictional escapades end and Cruise’s real-life daredevil routine begins – were all the grunts even in the script? – and that is precisely the point. You can’t separate the two, and that’s the film’s biggest endorsement possible: it’s filled with the kind of thrill only Cruise delivers, and it’s backed by a capable cast of actors (Teller, Glen Powell, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman) following him, even if it meant throwing up a ton in the cockpit during flight practice.

Cruise is one of Hollywood’s biggest proponents of the theatrical experience, and Paramount has responded by seemingly giving maverick an exclusive 120-day window, which is a surprisingly long leash in today’s landscape. The news might as well serve as a rallying cry for dads everywhere. maverick isn’t the type of movie you’d wait until it’s on cable: it’s an adrenaline-pumping event worth stepping out of the La-Z-Boy for a living. We must cherish films like maverick as long as we can. Some of Hollywood’s top action stars – Cruise, Keanu Reeves, Milla Jovovich, Charlize Theron – are running out of time to perform death-defying stunts with no heir apparent waiting in the wings. (Meanwhile, international stars like Iko Uwais have been let down by American productions that don’t know how to maximize their talents.) Even Tom Cruise will eventually lose to Father Time, though he’s not going out without a fight.

While the Marvel Cinematic Universe can casually count on releasing movies that generate nine-figure opening weekends, dad blockbusters are rare. If we want more terrific entries into the Dad Cinema canon, maverick needs the full support of its target audience. I tried to crunch the numbers, but apparently the US Census Bureau doesn’t have that kind of information in their database.

Too bad. I guess there are a lot. And every dad—past, present, guys expecting to be dads in the near future—should check it out. maverick, if not for the sanctity of ensuring Dad Cinema doesn’t fade away, then for experiencing a blockbuster that surpasses its predecessor in every way. (Minus the homoeroticism.) Ken Burns’ documentary can wait; you only have 120 days to rent Top Gun: Maverick breathtaking on the biggest screen possible.

Editor’s note: The author of this blog is 29 years old and will not be silent on the non-fiction book he read last summer on NASA’s Apollo 8 mission.

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