The Friendly Film Fan Breaks Down the Epic Marvel Studios SDCC Panel.
This past weekend at San Diego Comic Con – the largest and most popular comic con in the world by far – much was revealed. DC unveiled new looks at their two upcoming end-of-year releases, Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods (while noticeably avoiding any updated on The Flash, Joker 2, or The Batman 2), Prime Video released a new trailer for their Lord of the Rings prequel series entitled The Rings of Power, and we got a couple of teases for some 2023 releases, including a first trailer for Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and a small teaser for the highly-anticipated Keanu Reeves action vehicle John Wick: Chapter 4. But no studio nor streamer has ever been as busy at SDCC as Marvel Studios.
After the official launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 with the releases of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, the MCU has dominated Hall H panels and D23 showcases almost every time they’ve happened. Shepherded by longtime Marvel producer Kevin Feige, their biggest and perhaps most memorable slate of reveals was back in 2015, just before the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. That film’s trailer was played (it had been leaked and then released online a week or so before), and Marvel Studios unveiled their plans for Phase 3, which included the revelation of Civil War as the third Captain America film, the introduction of Black Panther and its principle star, and an eventual culmination in the dual releases of Avengers: Infinity War Part I and Infinity War Part II – the latter would go on to become Avengers: Endgame. (The Spider-Man films were not on the slate at the time of that announcement because the Sony deal had not yet been finalized.) Since that reveal, the MCU has gone through a number of shakeups, including a change of tone for characters like Thor, the passing of one of its most beloved stars in Chadwick Boseman, and of course, a global pandemic which would fundamentally re-alter the release strategy for Phase 4, the original plans for which looked very different from what they eventually became.
To that end, before we dive into where the MCU is going, it may be helpful to take a look back at where it has been post-Infinity Saga, which ended with the Phase 3 closer, Spider-Man: Far From Home. I won’t dive into each release individually, but will list them here for those who need a little refresher. All series are marked, and anything not marked as series is a feature film. (Note that the What If…? animated series is not officially part of the MCU, but is produced by Marvel Studios as part of their release slate.)
PHRASE 4 SO FAR (RELEASE ORDER)
The only real mystery left with this previous release slate is that of Moon Knight, which was initially marketed as a limited series, but seems to have been left open for at least the possibility of a season 2 if Marvel Studios wanted to go for it, given its post-credits scene in the final episode, and several Phase 6 release date not yet having been revealed. Presumably, one of those could be a placeholder for a Moon Knight season 2, but as only three Phase 6 projects were revealed at SDCC, that confirmation or lack thereof won’t be coming for a while. With Thor: Love and Thunder in theaters right now, Phase 4 of the MCU is nearly wrapped up, with only four more projects on the way, two of which act as their own stand-alone adventures.
PHASE 4 ONWARD (RELEASE ORDER)
Though no official release date has been set for the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, it is still slated for a December release this year. The I Am Groot show, which also seems largely disconnected from the wider MCU (and wasn’t on the Phase 4 recap slate, much like the What If…? show) has been dated for an August 10 release. As far as integrated MCU projects, however, there were some significant updates. Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law series on Disney+ released a new trailer with a more detailed look at the world of superhero law, more of Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk spending time with the titular character, and a tease at Daredevil (played by Charlie Cox) making a guest appearance after his MCU debut in Spider-Man: No Way Home. In a less formal reveal, the whole of Phases 4-6 was also officially dubbed to be what Marvel Studios calls The Multiverse Saga.
The biggest update, however, was one for which every MCU fan was supremely nervous: the first trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Following the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman as the titular character, also known as King T’Challa, it has been an unsolvable mystery how the MCU was going to reckon with the course of real-world events in a film series where the character of T’Challa had not passed away, in fact having made a triumphant return to the land of the living in Avengers: Endgame. After the news was released during the Phase 4 reveal that Marvel Studios would not be recasting the part, many speculated as to who would take up the mantle (Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye are the leading theories), and whether Ryan Coogler and Marvel would be able to pull off a second Black Panther film that simultaneously needed to push the MCU forward in telling a Namor/Atlantis-infused story and write out its leading character with enough tact and grace that it wouldn’t feel awkward or forced for the characters within that world (a challenge which even Star Wars couldn’t quite conquer). Luckily, the new teaser does make it seem as if they actually pulled it off, with a somber but inspiring tone of bittersweet triumph, emotional farewells, and national strength for the kingdom of Wakanda. The film itself is slated for release on November 11 of this year and will act as the final project in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Both the She-Hulk: Attorney at Law and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever trailers, as well as the rest of the Phase 4 release slate, can be seen below.
But while the Black Panther trailer was perhaps the biggest unveiling at SDCC this weekend as far as non-announcements go, it was not the only major revelation that Feige and Marvel Studios had to offer. There was also a closer look at Phases 5 & 6 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with some projects receiving official release dates and names, and others receiving major updates as far as release timing and progress. We’ll get to Phase 6 in a bit, but for now, let’s go over what’s been revealed about Phase 5. Those revelations included estimated dates for MCU series Echo, Loki: Season 2 (which is currently filming), Agatha: Coven of Chaos, Ironheart, and an 18-episode series order for Daredevil: Born Again, which will star Charlie Cox as the titular character and Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin (Fisk was last seen in Marvel’s Hawkeye series). It is not known which of these shows – save for Loki – will be limited series or recurring projects. Also revealed were official release dates for films such as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3, The Marvels (which acts as the sequel to Captain Marvel and the Ms. Marvel series simultaneously), and Blade, plus the official reveals of Captain America 4 (which is called New World Order and will star Anthony Mackie as Captain America following The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series) and a Thunderbolts movie. All release dates, estimated and exact, are listed below. (*There has also been a What If…? season 2 announcement set for early 2023, but no season-of-year estimation or release date has yet been made public.)
PHASE 6 PREVIEW
Phase 6 is shrouded in shadow and secrecy, but not all things have been left mysterious. While many of the late 2024 and most 2025 release dates have been kept ambiguous as far as what projects will place where, it’s likely that many of the as-yet-undated projects will fill those spots. Projects such as the in-development and confirmed-to-be-R-rated Deadpool 3 from Shawn Levy will likely factor in here, as will (most likely) Marvel’s Armor Wars and supposedly R-rated Zombies series for Disney+. And of course, don’t be surprised to see some X-Men projects announced for this phase later on once Phase 5 is well underway, especially given some of the stories that are due to come later.
On the end of certainty, however, Marvel’s previously announced Fantastic Four movie has been selected for release on November 8, 2024. There are no details yet insofar as casting or a replacement for Jon Watts, who was picked to helm the project but left the job earlier this year, citing the need to take a break from superhero filmmaking after rounding out his own Spider-Man trilogy with No Way Home in late 2021. There was, however, another pair of announcements to make up for that lack of news which MCU fans the world over have been eagerly anticipating.
If you’re like me or a number of other MCU fans, Phase 4 has likely felt a little bit aimless to you; that’s not to say it doesn’t have a larger point or won’t fit in with the longform story it’s leading into, only that an end goal has been elusive across most of its run; there isn’t really a culmination project like The Avengers to wrap it all up and lead to the next phase, even as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever seeks to close the chapter. Phase 5 will culminate with the Thunderbolts movie, which seems like a logical endpoint for both phases, but fans have nonetheless wondered: will an Avengers movie ever happen again, and if so, when? Well, now we have an answer, and it’s a doozy. It seems that in 2025, we’re scheduled to get not one, but two Avengers films, separated by a matter of months and only two other as-yet-unannounced MCU projects.
The two films are entitled Avengers: The Kang Dynasty (slated for release on May 2, 2025) and the big reveal, Avengers: Secret Wars, which is dated for November 7, 2025. The former of these two titles will likely deal with the Marvel villain Kang the Conqueror - played by Jonathan Majors – who will appear in Ant-Man 3 and an approximation of which was already revealed in the season one finale of Loki on Disney+. The latter, titled after the beloved Secret Wars Marvel comics run, will supposedly feature the collapse of the multiverse as the MCU universe (616) collides with another, eventually causing the demise of both. These events have been teased in other MCU projects but were seemingly actually triggered in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness by an incursion caused by its title character (the mid-credits scene of that film addresses this). In theory, Secret Wars could provide Marvel Studios with the opportunity to reboot the whole of the MCU completely, allowing them to start from scratch in a way that feels like both like a finale for the current MCU and an organic start to a new version of it; in effect, it would be a true finale to the whole enterprise. Either way, only one thing is certain: Marcel the Shell had better make an appearance, toenail skis and all.
UNDATED MCU PROJECTS (ANNOUNCED)
Which of these newly-announced/newly-dated MCU projects are you most looking forward to? What did you think of the trailers for She-Hulk and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever? Let us know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
The Friendly Film Fan Discusses the Latest from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
After Marvel Studios rolled out Thor: Ragnarok in November of 2017, courtesy of director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows), the entire landscape surrounding the character changed, seemingly overnight. Gone was the self-serious, dour god with his grandiose Shakespearean aura and booming voice, and gone was the dramatic emphasis on world-ending stakes (at least in Thor’s own movies). Also gone was Jane Foster, Thor’s love interest in the first two of his solo films, and the driving force behind the plot of the second. With a striking tonal shift and Natalie Portman refusing to come back for the third film due to its fallout with original Dark World helmer Patty Jenkins, Ragnarok felt like a reset, a fresh-faced new start for both the character of Thor and for the way in which the MCU would handle most solo films going forward, at least if they weren’t already in production. Even with the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy films – which thrived on their absurdity and James Gunn’s comic sensibilities – no one knew if people would buy into a character whose entire mode of being was revamped just before he showed up for the grand finale of the whole Infinity Saga with everyone else. For any other character in the MCU, the switch would have come way too late. And yet, the gamble paid off. Not only was Ragnarok a bigger hit than the first two Thor films, it was a major hit on the critical scale, its highest praises being Chris Hemsworth’s comic timing and Taika Waititi’s heartfelt storytelling. It came the closest of any solo film apart from Captain America: Civil War to grossing $1 billion at the domestic box office (Black Panther would shatter that record only three months later). Naturally, Marvel Studios wanted Waititi back for another go-round, but unfortunately, Love and Thunder isn’t nearly as successful in its storytelling (and is likely to be less successful in its box office) as its predecessor was.
To be sure, there is a lot to like about Love and Thunder, from its design work to most of the performances. Chris Hemsworth is so much Thor now that seeing him outside of the MCU feels alien, as if those are his alternate personas whereas Thor is his real one, and it works here just as well as it always has, with great comic timing per usual. Christian Bale - easily the best part of the movie – is gripping as Gorr the God Butcherer, wringing a genuinely terrifying, nuanced performance out of a character whose screen time essentially amounts to threats of action but little else. And of course, as heavily advertised, there is the return of one Doctor Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to the franchise. Portman is definitely having a lot of fun here, and you can feel it coming through the screen (though her character’s story leaves a bit to be desired, which will be discussed in the spoiler review I may or may not forget to write). Who wouldn’t love wielding Mjolnir with biceps like those and summoning lightning from the heavens? Essentially, almost everything that worked last time – good performances, cool villain, fun side characters, uniquely styled production, solid classic rock-heavy soundtrack – works again. Even some of the jokes land in unexpected ways. But that’s not enough to carry a movie that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be or what story it wants to tell. As a matter of fact, it seems like it doesn’t know whose story it wants to tell.
As Korg narrates (which happens multiple times), we’re taken through the storylines of a few different characters, and while I won’t spoil much more than that here, a lot of time is spent with each before we have to go back to do the whole thing again with whoever’s next in line. This causes the film to feel messy, unfocused, and improperly paced. If anything, Love and Thunder isn’t quite long enough to give the necessary space to everything it wants to do. The adventure this time around has almost nothing to do with helping the characters resolve any inner conflicts – as all the best stories do – and that adventure occupies most of the runtime without ever truly coming together with what the characters are going through except by proxy or when it’s unavoidable. This is where the issue arises wherein the film doesn’t seem to know what story it’s telling, or whose.
Plot-wise, this one is already pretty thin, so any time devoted to non-plot-essential stuff has to focus on emphasizing whatever themes the movie has through its characters’ actions. The first Thor was about humility being the key ingredient in leadership, knowing that one cannot lead without first humbling themselves. Ragnarok was about a civilizations demise in the wake of their own genocidal past not only being justified but righteous and that any true nation is made up of the people within it rather than the ground they stand on (it really is a subtly deep movie). In fact, The Dark World is the least liked Thor film largely due to the fact that it’s not actually about much other than setting up what’s to come (that and its first half is genuinely boring). Love and Thunder – though it’s not setting up anything in particular – has the same problem.
There doesn’t seem to be a unifying theme or message here. What is this movie about? The question isn’t “what happens in the plot?” or “what beats does the movie hit before moving on to the next?” or even “what do the characters have to do to advance the story,” but what is this movie about? Having seen it a few days ago, I still don’t really have an answer. The film doesn’t really have an identity of its own, only one similar to its predecessor and nostalgic for its franchise beginnings. And as far as whose story this is, that sort of thing would typically arise from whose internal conflict the movie is attempting to resolve. Some would say Thor’s, but there’s not a lot of emphasis on his “figuring out who he really is,” as the marketing told us, since the conflict with Gorr takes up most of that space and doesn’t really explore that aspect of Thor’s character at all. Others may say Jane’s or even Gorr’s, but Jane doesn’t really have an internal struggle to speak of, and while Gorr does have both internal and external conflicts, they don’t really match up with each other very well.
As far as character, Love and Thunder also skews fairly close to the bones of what it needs for any interactions between them, and apart from Thor and perhaps Valkyrie, hardly any of them are given anything interesting to do. To justify bringing Jane Foster back into the fold so she can become “The Mighty Thor,” the film doesn’t really give more than a half-assed answer, and the rest of the time, she doesn’t really drive the plot forward at all. It’s as if she’s “along for the ride” but never actually gets to drive. Gorr, too, is also given almost nothing to do for most of the film, which testifies to Christian Bale being one hell of an actor, since his performance remains the best part of the movie. Even Korg and Valkyrie don’t really do a whole lot. As I’ve noted before, though, these are larger issues kept beneath a shiny surface, and that surface does look pretty nice on the whole.
All in all, the MCU’s latest entrant is a fun summer romp, tailor-made for a casual Sunday afternoon viewing, but doesn’t have much else going for it beneath the surface. Unfocused, oddly paced, and thinly plotted, its best moments can’t suffice for the fact that it doesn’t really seem to have much substance beneath its candy-coated exterior, or anything it wants to say. Even Doctor Strange 2 at least had Sam Raimi’s whacky filmmaking to keep it interesting, but this one doesn’t really make a lot of interesting choices in that vein, at least not choices that haven’t been proven to work before. It mostly succeeds on its own terms, and it’s hardly the most aimless thing or one of the worst efforts that Marvel Studios has produced thus far, but Thor: Love and Thunder will likely rank pretty low when paired with the whole of what the MCU has to offer.
I’m giving “Thor: Love and Thunder” a 6.5/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
The Friendly Film Fan takes a closer look at the “epic conclusion of the Jurassic Era.” Minor spoilers ahead.
On June 11, 1993, audiences were treated to the most fulfilling summer blockbuster event (without Star Wars in the title) since Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, a pseudo-horror film from the same director which substituted the boogeyman for the world’s most dangerous predators that we didn’t even know enough about to realize that many were covered in feathers and sounded almost nothing like the echoing roars coming from their animatronic throats. The film – a hard one to guess, I know – was Jurassic Park, which earned almost $1 billion during its original theatrical run, and held the record for the highest-grossing film of all time until James Cameron’s Titanic released four years later. Today, articles, think pieces, rankings, reviews, and analyses continue to be fascinated by the main draw of the film: the dinosaurs.
Based on a combination of animatronics, model work, and early-development CGI, the dinos in that original film are still viewed as the most life-like ever created (though their realism has since been called into question), a towering achievement in visual effects that not only pushed the CG era forward in good and bad ways, but became the gold standard for the whole of the movie industry. To this day, the visual effects of nearly any major blockbuster with creature effects are compared to them, and four sequels later, even the film’s own franchise has been unable to capture the same magic. But what made the dinos themselves iconic – apart from the VFX – was their use in the story to teach humanity a lesson in hubris. When you unleash a monster, it’s going to do what monsters do. The dinosaurs’ presence in the film was essential to telling its story. So why is it that the supposed final film in the whole franchise seems so disinterested in its flagship creatures?
Jurassic World Dominion – directed by returning Jurassic World helmer Colin Trevorrow – picks up some time after the events of its immediate predecessor, Fallen Kingdom (directed by J.A. Bayona), with a literal plague of locusts threatening the world’s food supplies that aren’t grown by the most subtly-named big tech company ever, BioSyn. This where the returning legacy characters are brought into the fold, as the scientist who begins investigating this phenomenon is none other than Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), who recruits the help of Alan Grant (Sam Neill), and eventually re-teams with Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to stop BioSyn from destroying the world’s crops. That’s the first story. The second story is that Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are now harboring the clone girl from the last film, who is kidnapped along with Blue the Velociraptor’s child, and they must launch a rescue mission to get both children back. If these sound like two ideas from two separate movies, neither of which has much to do with the other apart from simply being in the same franchise, they are. In fact, the former has almost nothing to do with anything from the previous two films. And within all of that, where are the dinosaurs? The film’s answer? “Around.”
It may be genuinely astounding to hear, but the dinosaurs themselves are actually the least important element in Jurassic World Dominion’s bloated runtime. They happen to be where many of the main characters go due to their being unleashed on the world at the end of Fallen Kingdom, but they are not the enemy, nor are they especially helpful. If anything, the creation of a “Joker-like” dinosaur in this movie is proof positive just how little thought went into the one element most people are paying to see when they go to the theater. In Dominion’s terms, the dinos are simply there because the word Jurassic appears in the title, not because they are at all essential to telling either A-plot story or to the B-plot underneath them. In fact, if one took the dinosaurs out of Dominion entirely, the main thrust of the film would not really change at all. The only times they actually matter are at the beginning, at the end, and whenever the film wants to falsify and then immediately deflate any tension it presents. Hell, even Fallen Kingdom had the guts to literally blow up the island and wring some emotion out of the moment.
This isn’t all to say that Jurassic World Dominion is an outright pile of garbage in film composition or storytelling – it’s certainly a failure, but not even the worst film in its own franchise – but in practically abandoning its flagship creature’s essence to the story in favor of concluding a story from Fallen Kingdom that no one really cared about and having to justify bringing back franchise legacy characters that have nothing to do with the main thrust of the film itself, it loses the magic of what made this all happen in the first place. Jurassic Park movies are (or should be) about how mankind reacts to the presence of dinosaurs and vice versa, but instead, Dominion’s only real showcase of them is once at the beginning, and once at the end. The rest of the time, they’re in a manmade valley that BioSyn created specifically so that they couldn’t get out into the world, which was the whole point of the last film’s conclusion. It’s never actually explored – apart from the two segments I mentioned – what dinosaurs living amongst humanity would mean to the common man or to those not directly tied to either of the two main stories, except in the film’s most effective sequence (also towards the beginning) when the manufactured locusts surround a barn with children inside. So, if the film can’t justify the presence of dinosaurs in its own narrative, what about the legacy characters it brought back? What makes Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum so essential to concluding the franchise that they needed to be in this movie?
Legacy character fan service can be fun. In fact, it can even be one of the best parts of films that know how to both honor and build upon those legacies. In successful attempts, you get Creed, Blade Runner 2049, and most recently Top Gun: Maverick. Even in The Force Awakens, one can see how Han’s presence is not made redundant even as it is largely unnecessary (though the circumstances by which that film came about are entirely different). But in unsuccessful attempts, one is left with films like Ghostbusters: Afterlife and the film to which Dominion is most often compared to, The Rise of Skywalker. (Jury’s still out on Spider-Man: No Way Home.) These are films that use legacy characters for one purpose, and one purpose alone: to nostalgia-bait audiences into buying tickets while never doing anything interesting with those characters. They don’t grow, they don’t change, they don’t really affect the narrative at all, but they’re always brought in as some part of an “epic conclusion,” even when they don’t really matter. Dominion falls under such a curse, as it only gives Sam Neill and Laura Dern one thing to do for two-and-a-half hours, and leaves poor Jeff Goldblum (who is weirdly bad in this) to the dinos. I’m sorry, no, to the locusts.
Jurassic World Dominion isn’t the worst film in the Jurassic Park franchise (Fallen Kingdom continues to hold that distinction), but it’s certainly not doing itself any favors by extending its already overly-bloated runtime only to include stories and characters that don’t end up mattering while it flip-flops between what story it wants to tell. It’s not thrilling, interesting, subversive, or satisfactory. If anything is true of it, it’s actually the most boring one of the bunch. All this to say, a Jurassic movie can’t be a Jurassic movie without dinosaurs playing an essential part in the narrative. Dominion sees treats both them and the human legacy characters as box office punchlines.
I’m giving “Jurassic World Dominion” a 4.6/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
The Tom Cruise-Led Sequel Aces Its Mission and Then Some.
As at-home viewing services become overloaded and tedious, as Marvel Studios is beginning to feel aimless in its constant output, as Netflix is struggling to manage the weight of expectations placed upon it and falling fast in the process, one thing becomes unmistakably clear: no streamer can handle big-budget, classic tentpole filmmaking at a level which exceeds the need for grand-scale, theatrical spaces. Some streamers have opted into using them for initial openings and preview showings, but few – if any – have truly understood the necessity of movie theaters to envelop viewers within the art they produce. Leave it to the one and only Tom Cruise to remind them all how it’s done. Enter Top Gun: Maverick.
After a multi-year, COVID-fueled delay, as well as a string of refusals from the titular star to sell the film to any streaming service that approached, the sequel to 1986’s Top Gun will finally hit theaters this Friday, and fans of the original film should be overjoyed to learn it’s a smashing success. Not simply an appropriate tribute to or emulation of Tony Scott’s source material, but an elevation of it in nearly every form, Maverick flies high over nearly everything that’s been released in theaters over the past five months. The film, though not brimming with action to the point of bursting, is teeming with top-scale filmmaking the likes of which just doesn’t occur anymore without Cruise and company in the producers chair. What action it does contain is masterful, its aerial sequences may be the best ever put to film, while its performance ooze charisma, charm, its heart beating as loud and as hard as it can. In nearly every possible sense, this is the kind of movie that movie theaters were made for. It’s not that a giant screen and big sound is the only way to enjoy it; there simply is no other answer to the question of what the definitive best way is to experience it, and make no mistake – it is an experience above all else. The final 30 minutes alone is enough to remind viewers of just how thrilling theatrical moviegoing can be under the right circumstances. It leaves one breathless in only the way a Tom Cruise-led action movie can.
Top Gun: Maverick pushes its title character to his absolute limit, not simply in terms of where his career has gone over the past 36 years, but where he aims to drive himself, physically and psychologically. He has actively refused to move ranks despite every chance to do so, consistently testing the boundaries of his own importance and those of his superiors in dangerous fashion. With every flight he takes, with every aircraft he flies, with every moment he spends in the air or on the ground, he inches himself closer and closer to the point where he may not come back from wherever he goes, partly due to his concern over whomever he’s worried may not come back from the mission this time around. There’s a beating undercurrent to this film which hinges on how Maverick reacts to and engages with Rooster (Miles Teller), whom the film tells us right away is Goose’s son (something the trailer also told us a month ago). Expectedly, Goose’s death in the original film informs a lot of what occurs between the two characters, but what’s more surprising is just how much it informs what occurs between Maverick and everyone else. Whereas the original Top Gun didn’t really have an emotional center for viewers to latch onto until the tail end – no pun intended – Maverick succeeds by making Goose its heart, and that heart pervades every decision, every moment of this film in such a way that one may mistake its success for having always been there since the beginning.
But it’s not only Maverick or Rooster that get a boost in characterization this time around. Jennifer Connelly, one of the most underutilized actresses alive given how often she nails whatever she’s given to do and how watchable she is as a screen presence, stars as Maverick’s former love interest Penny – a far cry from Top Gun’s Charlie, given how believable her connection with Maverick is in this film. As much as Top Gun: Maverick is concerned with the legacy of Maverick’s connection to Goose, Iceman, Rooster, etc, it never forgets to really hammer home that there are people who are afraid of losing him too, whom he might leave behind if he doesn’t come back home at the end of the day. That fear really hits home in this film; you believe that Cruise and Connelly had a connection before, despite never having seen it happen. You believe that Maverick’s attachment to Goose wasn’t as superficial as the original film feels on reflection. And most importantly, you believe in Maverick and his entire team from the moment they begin training to the moment the movie is over. Hangman, Payback, Coyote, Bob, Phoenix, Fanboy, and Omaha are one of the best ensemble teams assembled for a motion picture since the original Avengers lineup, and every one of them sells their mission perfectly.
If there were any improvements to be made to this movie, perhaps one more set-piece could have been added and the second act a little faster-paced, but shaving minutes off this movie would end at a count of 2-3, not 15-20 the way most films with room to trim do. It’s not quite the wall-to-wall action sensation that something like Mission: Impossible Fallout was, but it’s every bit in the vein of what a sequel to Top Gun should be, its focus more on the Navy and its pilots than on what they do. The mission may be some of the most stressful, thrillingly-edited action filmmaking this side of Mad Max: Fury Road, but there is a leadup to it that takes its time and isn’t in a hurry to keep butts in seats. The film trusts that its audience will stay on the strength of its buildup alone; it seeks to earn your attention, not to capture it straight away.
Top Gun: Maverick is proof positive that no amount of superheroes, fan service, cameos, or franchise potential is a proper stand-in for classic, big-budget tentpole filmmaking, the kind where everything you see on screen is happening for real, and the kind that is not only elevated by but necessitates theatrical moviegoing. The final 30 minutes of it are absolutely breathtaking, as tense as any action sequence of the past five years and as thrilling as being in a fighter jet likely feels. A perfect summer sequel that builds upon and improves the original’s legacy without sacrificing it in the process, and a world-class example of just how righteous Tom Cruise’s one-man fight for the theatrical experience really is, this truly is something you don’t want to miss. I can’t wait to see it again.
I’m giving “Top Gun: Maverick” a 9.1/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.