There was a glint of mischievous delight in Kate Middleton’s eyes last Thursday night in London’s Leicester Square. She and William were walking the Top Gun: Maverick red carpet with Tom Cruise, the film star taking her hand to help her up the steps in her long dress. Kate’s glint sparked a memory of Diana dancing with John Travolta at the White House almost 40 years ago. That combination of royalty and celebrity, blending to make superstar magic.
It was the first Top Gun film that made a superstar of Tom Cruise in 1986, a year after Diana danced with Travolta. To those of us who were teenagers at the time, it’s hard to believe that’s creeping up on 40 years ago. Even more incredible, though, is how Tom seems almost as bouncy and beaming as he was back then. He has that invincible confidence about him which we normally associate with youth.
Here Tom is, being the utter gentleman to Kate Middleton, who does not hold her husband’s hand in public. And there he was again a week ago at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration, right in the thick of things as if he were a little bit royal himself, like their American cousin over to enjoy the party, on a par with them.
Tom Cruise, now just six weeks shy of his 60th birthday, is still managing to work it as the star attraction. There’s an admirable element of sheer, dogged determination in how he’s done it. It’s almost as though if a movie star sticks at it long enough, he’ll come back into fashion again.
Tom has tenacity. He still does all his own stunts, even if it leaves him with broken limbs, and he didn’t do the Top Gun sequel until it was possible for him to do at least some of the flying. For sheer steely resolve to stay on top, you have to admire Cruise — and there’s plenty of admiration around for Top Gun: Maverick.
It helps, of course, that today’s young people regard the 1980s as vintage and so cheesy they’re actually cool. Little do they know that the bad hairdos weren’t so much a style as a lack of one. Or that our oversized clothes were more a marker of agonising national self-consciousness than a fashion statement. But we got away with both because we were young, and youth has a bloom that can gloss over just about anything.
This is why Top Gun: Maverick was a risky move for Cruise, despite his apparently indomitable self-belief. He’s not a kid any more. He’s not a heartthrob or a pin-up. He’s getting into the granddad bracket, and that’s a tough place to be for an action guy.
In the new movie, Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is still flying planes and so keen to keep flying that he resists the promotions that would keep him on the ground. He’s still a rebel, still taking chances, and there isn’t any mention of him ever having settled down with Kelly McGillis’s intellectual love interest character from the first film.
When a nuclear enrichment plant needs to be taken out, they don’t quite turn to Maverick to do the job, but instead they task him with training a new intake of pilots to do it. He’s not going to be on the mission with them, and herein lies part of the conflict, along with the fact that a cadet going by the name of Rooster (Miles Teller) is the son of Maverick’s late buddy, Goose, of the first instalment.
Maverick has always carried some guilt for Goose’s death, but in Rooster’s opinion, maybe not enough. So we have a young buck/old stag locking of horns, but none of the homosexual undercurrent that contributed to the appeal of Top Gun.
You can’t help but feel that the film might be more fun if there was. But then, that’s being older for you. When you’re young and fizzing, you’re open to interpretation, more light-hearted, less hung up on being taken seriously. Vulnerability when you’re young is a very different look to vulnerability when you’re pushing 60.
Proof of that is in the Val Kilmer cameo. Kilmer played Iceman, the rival Maverick loved to hate, in the original. He appealed to appear in this sequel, despite suffering from throat cancer in recent years and speaking with the assistance of AI.
Iceman is an admiral in the new film, and he is still sparking off Maverick, but the way in which life and time can be cruel is there for all to see in Kilmer.
Part of Cruise’s appeal has always been that he seems so delighted to be Tom Cruise. He has the bearing of a man who became who he was meant to be at a young age, and won’t be giving it up any time soon.
Whether it’s flying fighter planes or helping a fair duchess to climb some tricky steps, Cruise can rise to the occasion.
Still Cruisey after all these years.