CANNES, Debussy Hall. Strauss’ symphonic poem Thus Spake Zarathustra is playing; on the screen, the film history of a man who has become the figure referred to as the “last movie star.” The images show him hanging off the rims of the Grand Canyon, running from explosions and lip sync-ing in his underwear.
If cinema is emotion, all emotions are contained in the honoree’s films. His repertoire is equally at home in the most varied of genres: sci-fi thriller, sports comedy, or war docudrama. No less impressive is the list of directors of such films: Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, De Palma, Stone, Mann… In short, the most important names in productions are framed by the Hollywood canon.
The most prestigious film festival in the world has confirmed what only those who are not afraid of being accused of being cultural philistines would dare to claim: Tom Cruise is one of the greatest actors of his time. La Croisette surrendered to him, installing a giant Maverick helmet, the Top Gun hero that introduced him to mass audiences, and today, after 36 years, he reprises in the sequel that bears his name. Even the French air patrol joined in the welcome. The act was a bit pompous, for sure, but never undeserved.
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The cherry would come later, when Thierry Frémaux, artistic director of the event, announced that he would award him the Honorary Palme d’Or. A prize that was inaugurated with Swedish master Ingmar Bergman as its first winner in 1997, and which has been received, though with certain intermittency, by the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci and Clint Eastwood—a full-fledged coronation. Cruise’s last appearance at the French event was at the screening of Far & Away, an epic film by Ron Howard, with his then-wife Nicole Kidman in a distant 1992. He, in the meantime, became a legend.
Cinema belongs in theaters
Curiously enough, by embodying two seemingly antagonistic visions (cinema as art and cinema as an industry), Tom Cruise and the Cannes organizers are championing the same cause: the preservation of cinema as a collective fact. Top Gun: Maverick represents the definitive return of cinema to theaters, as opposed to the self-absorption of the smartphone screen to which the coronavirus had condemned us. Asked about the possibility of releasing his films on a streaming platform, the New York actor was categorical: “That did not happen and will never happen.”
An additional aspect that Cruise wanted to highlight was the opportunity to meet his audience again, seeing their faces, without an awful mask, all in praise of normality — the old normality — which must prevail over the dehumanizing and Orwellian “new normality.”
Is Top Gun: Maverick worth it?
Aside from his eccentric religious beliefs and his media outbursts — which range from jumping on the couch of Oprah to attacking Brooke Shields for taking antidepressants — it is difficult to question whether Tom Cruise is as professional as a pine tree top. Some have even suggested that the complete physical delivery of his performances, where he dispenses with stunt doubles, carries as much merit as anyone who uses the Stanislavski method to immerse themselves in the skin of a character. That, leaving aside that Cruise is not only the action hero Ethan Hunt of Mission Impossible, but also the Ron Kovic of Born on the Fourth of July.
A mix of all those skills is present in Top Gun: Maverick, proof of his incombustible magnetism. The film stands on its own and is not a mere nostalgic exercise (although nostalgia is certainly present from the start). The aerial scenes are realistic and exciting.
While not breaking away with the dynamic of sequels, prequels and spin-offs that recycle already known stories, it shows that the summer blockbuster can survive without the need to incorporate capes and superpowers. A great relief for those of us who are somewhat saturated with this formula. There have been some complaints about the lack of strong female characters or the exclusion of Kelly McGillis, but it is clear that the commitment of director Kosinski and his protagonist is to entertainment. Entertainment in the purest sense of the term, uncontaminated by leftist moralizing.