Netflix & Chill #101-102: Top Gun: Maverick and Sully
I don't know why I got away from watching movies, but for some reason I did- but even I was shocked to find out that I hadn't posted a Netflix & Chill since the archive went up on November 16th, 2021. Once I saw that, it felt like it was well past time to bring it back, so with a double feature, let's talk about Top Gun: Maverick (we had been meaning to see this one for a while, but finally got around to it) and Sully (TikTok does this thing where they post clips of movies and after a while, when you see enough of them, you just sort of throw up your hands and say "Fine, damn it, I'll watch the whole movie." Sully is the second movie I've dug up and watched purely because I got tired of seeing it in bits on TikTok.)
(drumroll, movie fanfare, etc.)
Top Gun: Maverick
Set 30 years after the events of the first movie, Captain Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is still a
test pilot and still just a captain. His tendency towards insubordination has kept him from advancing up the career ladder and his friend and former Top Gun rival, Iceman (Val Kilmer), now an Admiral protects him. Maverick is fine with all of this: he's a test pilot and loves being in the air and flying planes and at the start of the movie he's flying some very cool planes-- specifically, a hypersonic scramjet. There's pressure from above to ditch the human-piloted fighter for unmanned drones, but Maverick meets the parameters of the test and gets the jet to Mach 10, but can't resist pushing over Mach 10, which shreds the jet and forces him to eject.
Iceman steps in to save his career again, this time sending him back to Top Gun.
The Navy has been tasked with destroying a uranium enrichment plant, in an underground bunker at the end of a canyon before it goes live. It's defended by surface-to-air missiles and fifth-generation fighters plus older F-14 Tomcats. Maverick is tasked with coming up with a plan for fighters to take it out and then training an elite group of Top Gun graduates assembled by the Air Boss, Vice Admiral Beau 'Cyclone' Simpson (Jon Hamm.) Maverick dogfights his students and prevails in every contest, winning their respect, but he's also got ghosts of the past to confront as the son of his late RIO and best friend Goose is one of the Top Gun pilots he's training, Rooster (Miles Teller.) But he's also got an old flame to contend with as well when Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) turns out to be the owner of the local bar.
Rooster hates Maverick for torpedoing his initial application to the Naval Academy- not knowing that Maverick had promised his mother (now deceased), that he wouldn't let Rooster become a pilot. The pilots themselves, being elite Top Gun graduates get competitive and clash, and eventually, the competition leads to the loss of a jet when Iceman dies of cancer, Maverick is removed as team leader and the parameters are softened so the mission can be accomplished, but escape for the pilots is much less likely. Maverick, of course, proves that it can be done the way he planned it and is reluctantly given the go-ahead for the mission.
The mission goes ahead and it is largely successful, except that both Maverick and Rooster have to eject and then steal an old F-14 from the damaged air base and escape. They almost take out all of the enemy fighters save one and run out of ammo and countermeasures until Hangman comes to save them just in time. Rooster and Maverick bury their hatchet and Maverick fixes up an old P-51 Mustang and flies off into the sunset with Penny Benjamin.
Overall: Okay, y'all I will temper this by saying that I have not seen any of the Godfather movies, so can't speak to just how good The Godfather Part II, actually is, but this might be the best sequel I've ever seen. First of all, I honestly think the opening credits are the exact same as the first movie and actually legitimately thought the Missus had accidentally clicked on the wrong Top Gun movie at first. Second, Penny Benjamin is actually referenced in the first movie, so this was an excellent tieback to the first movie she's awesome and she gives Maverick shit for being in the Navy and not knowing a damn thing about boats and in general- though I have nothing against Kelly McGillis in the first one- has a much better dynamic with Maverick. (It helps that she's got a kid, life, and her own business I think- there was a student/teacher aspect to Maverick/McGillis in the first one that worked, but could have been better.)
Rooster is excellent. Perfect casting, a perfect amount of resentment and respect, and rage all built into Teller's performance. His character arc of going from resenting Maverick to rescuing him is beautifully done.
Iceman: the cameo from Val Kilmer is perfect and I know he's facing health challenges of his own, but I hope we can see him on screen more.
The whole first sequence when Maverick is in the scramjet ends up being a beautiful homage to The Right Stuff and I did see an interesting theory that Maverick actually dies in the crash and the rest of the movie is just a dream sequence of him sorting out, resolving his life before flying off into the afterlife with Penny Benjamin- it's an interesting theory and one I might be inclined to get behind, but this movie is just too good. My Grade: ***** out of ***** Perfect, no notes.
I watched Sully because of TikTok, so you're welcome Clint Eastwood. I think my initial reaction to
this movie was: "They made a whole-ass movie of this?" And really, I think after watching this movie that's still my question. I get why you'd want to make this into a movie, I really do- it captivated the nation if not a large part of the world because, well, it's kind of ridiculous when you think about it. Bird strike takes out both engines of an Airbus A320 and the pilot lands it safely in the Hudson River and gets everybody off in one piece- minus some bumps, bruises, and relatively minor injuries.
The problem is that after that, you've still got to have something of a movie.
The crash was (as all crashes are) investigated by the NTSB and the movie tries to mine what I imagine was a fairly mundane, bureaucratic hearing for some drama and it feels like something of a stretch. When they get preliminary data suggesting that the left engine had enough power to make it back to the airport, Sully asks for simulations to be run as his career is at stake.
The NTSB thinks it was a pilot error and seems convinced that Sully (Tom Hanks) and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart with an awesome mustache) could have landed at an airport. Their simulations seem to confirm this, but Sully correctly points out that none of the simulations account for human reaction to the problem. They don't allow for working the problem, running through the procedures or anything- so the NTSB agrees to add a 35-second delay to allow for that, and when they do, the simulations that seem to indicate that Sully could have made it back to the airport ended in crashes short of the runway.
By the end of the movie, of course, Sully is completely vindicated as the recovered left engine shows signs of major damage from a bird strike. Sully credits everyone on board, the air traffic controllers, the ferry crews, and the emergency responders for the success, because they all made it happen.
I think that last part is where the movie really shines- I think Eastwood doesn't explore how Sully deals with the after-effects and the sudden rush of publicity enough-- he touches on it, but the main focus is on the NTSB investigation and as I said, mining that for drama feels like a stretch and doesn't land as effectively as I think focusing more on Sully's aftermath would have. Where Eastwood does deserve full credit is that he takes Sully's 'thesis statement' of crediting everyone else at the end of the movie and demonstrates is beautiful. From the ferry response, to Air Traffic Control and the emergency responders, I'm sure it's not a perfect re-enactment of what happened that day, but it sure feels like it and it's beautifully done. The chaos, the tight quarters of the airplane, everyone bracing as they come in for a landing on the river. There's a ton of emotion and tension built into that entire sequence that is excellently done.
(Eastwood also doesn't really touch on it, but when it happened in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession starting was a nice fillip to the tremendous amount of cynicism in the air at the time. Sully's conversations with his wife (Laura Linney- who is woefully underused, but makes the most of what she's got, as always) sort of hint at ongoing financial stress brought on by the economic crisis, but it's another thing that doesn't get a lot of screen time.)
Overall: I think if you're going to name a movie after a guy who came across as humble, unassuming, and incredibly good at his job, then Tom Hanks is the perfect person to star in it and Clint Eastwood is probably the perfect person to direct it. Workman-like, humble and unassuming is also probably three good words to describe this movie. It's well done, but I can't, in all honesty, say it knocked my socks off. My Grade: *** out of *****