Top Gun Maverick: A meta monument to the myth of Tom Cruise, the best action blockbuster since Mission Impossible Fallout

Post Credits Scene: Top Gun Maverick is a reminder of what Hollywood used to be, a dream factory that relied on tactile spectacle and star-power. But it also offers meta commentary on the state of the film industry, and the power of Tom Cruise.

In 2020, audio of Tom Cruise yelling at crew members for violating pandemic protocols on the (then untitled) Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One set was leaked online. In his rant, which rivalled a similar one that Christian Bale had unleashed more than a decade prior while making Terminator Salvation, Cruise threatened to fire people who flouted rules. “We are not shutting this movie down!” he screamed.
His argument was that thousands’ of livelihoods were at stake, and being forced to shut down because of an outbreak on set would be very unfortunate indeed. Two years later, another report claimed that both Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie ultimately contracted the virus while working on the seventh Mission: Impossible film, which, it is safe to assume, would have halted production.,Post Credits Scene is a column in which we dissect new releases every week, with particular focus on context, craft, and characters. Because there’s always something to fixate about once the dust has settled.
In his tirade, Cruise claimed that the Mission: Impossible crew was leading by example on how to continue working during the pandemic, and that a safe production would help revive the struggling film industry. “No apologies!” Cruise continued in his rant. “You can tell it to the people that are losing their f**king homes because our industry is shut down. It’s not going to put food on their table or pay for their college education. That’s what I sleep with every night.”
I was reminded of this rather unfortunate incident while watching Top Gun: Maverick, pound for pound the best large-scale action movie since Cruise’s own Mission: Impossible — Fallout. In the first scene of the film—after that glorious credits sequence that unfolds essentially like a shot-for-shot remake of the first film’s opening minutes—Cruise’s Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell shows up on base only to learn that the higher-ups are planning on shutting his test flights down. Hardly a stickler for the rules, Maverick makes a quick decision: he’ll go ahead with the test flight regardless, and prove to the naysayers that instead of the Mach 9 target, the prototype plane has the potential to hit Mach 10. This is a recurring theme in the film, which escalates the stakes every time you feel it has reached a crescendo.
“You know what’s going to happen to you if you go through with this, right?” Maverick’s buddy asks him as he’s about to take off. And Maverick replies, “I know what’ll happen to everyone else if I don’t.”
This isn’t the first time that the lines between Cruise and his character have been blurred. In many ways, the actor has always played versions of himself on screen. But Maverick, with his burning intensity and disregard for authority, is a particularly obvious stand-in for the famously demanding Cruise. The film, on the other hand, is a meta commentary on his own career.
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Now pushing 60, Cruise probably understands that he’s working on borrowed time; all actors, especially action stars, have an expiry date. This is perhaps why the seventh and eighth Mission: Impossible films are being shot back-to-back; by the time Dead Reckoning Part Two comes out, Cruise will be 62 years old. This is it. It’s now or never.
Top Gun: Maverick is probably the first time that Cruise’s advancing age has been factored into the plot of one of his films. It might also be the first Cruise movie that doesn’t actively hide the fact that he’s short. But the movie isn’t merely a opportunity for the star to reflect on his reality; it’s more ambitious than that. Top Gun: Maverick is nothing less than an earnest attempt to unpack his legacy.