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The Generalist - Top Gun:Maverick

Who ever decided that fan service was a bad thing?

It’s no small task to try to recreate the magic of a movie made a quarter-century ago. There has to be a balance of the nostalgia that will bring in past fans with enough stand-alone excitement to keep a new generation of movie-goers happy. Before I saw Top Gun: Maverick, most of the conversation I heard from others was tentative at best. How could this possibly live up to the hype?

Maverick was not the best movie I had ever seen, but it MIGHT have been the most fun I’ve ever had at a movie theater. There is something invigorating about watching fighter jets zipping through the air, making magnificent stunts and jaw-dropping thrills. Most of us know nothing about planes, at least in any meaningful way. We don’t know about top speeds, we don’t know about model numbers, and there is very little reason to care. The magic of the movie is that we are completely invested despite our lack of information to back up our rapt attention.

What made the movie so distinctly entertaining was the way that the writers merged together the past storyline that had led to worldwide fandom while also creating a compelling enough narrative for new arrivals to the franchise. We were able to understand Maverick’s character, regardless of our past connection to him. There was enough emotional depth to the relationship between Tom Cruise and Jennifer Connelly’s characters that you could invest. And most importantly, the dynamic between Cruise and Miles Teller was, at the same time, complex and digestible, allowing past fans to feel the connection of the previous movie without burdening the current movie with too much baggage.

One of the elements that was particularly noteworthy was the identity of the “bad guys” in the movie. Throughout the story, the identity of the enemy was kept obscure, as had been the case in the previous movie. While the original movie would have likely been about the Russians, the irrelevance of the “other” is compelling when creating a “timeless classic.” The terrain of the final sequence clearly shows that this is not taking place in the Middle East, the classic “enemy” of America in the past two decades, but we don’t need to know the identity of the opposing combatants; we are invested in our characters far more than we are worried about who the bad guys are.

Top Gun: Maverick was a rollicking good time. It was the perfect combination of wistful memories of the movies of my upbringing and the modern approach to storytelling. There was enough nostalgia and fan service to allow for a coming-home type of feeling, without burdening the viewer with the need to remember every detail from the past. And, perhaps most importantly, the movie does a compelling job of drawing us in to invest in an area where we know next to nothing, yet we care a great deal at the end of the day.

The parking lot coming out of the movie theater was a treacherous place. It was full of people getting into their cars hopped up on adrenaline, ready to take off for the next adventure. For two hours, we had gotten to see actors bring to life a world so few of us could imagine on our own. Unlike in a fantasy or sci-fi movie, everything we saw in Top Gun was real, just on the far side of our grasp. And it was incredible to think that unlike some of the outlandish superheroes we see in comic books, these were people not unlike those that truly exist. It makes it easy to walk off into the sunset, imagining how expansive our world can be.

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