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‘Top Gun: Maverick’: The only movie review you need if you’re being honest about Tom Cruise

When Luke Y. Thompson (AV Club) told us he’d screened Top Gun: Maverick but hadn’t been commissioned to write a review, we knew that we needed him to write one for the Underground Bunker. Our association with Luke goes back more than 20 years, to a now defunct publication, New Times Los Angeles, where he was one of the very few reviewers in the country who actually liked John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth. In other words, Luke calls them the way he sees them. We knew he’d have a unique take on Tom Cruise’s new movie, and we weren’t disappointed. (Top Gun: Maverick opens in US theaters on May 27.)

There’s a simple test of whether or not Top Gun: Maverick will work for you. How high is your tolerance for Tom Cruise worship, by every character in the movie? A movie in which even those who stand in the way of the great Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) only do so because they have not yet realized the full goodness and greatness he possesses, and they have tragically misunderstood? If that reflex in the back of your throat isn’t tickled just a tad by this notion, you’ll be fine. Otherwise, feel free to join me in longing for Cruise to stop denying his age, and finally take on interesting roles again that aren’t simply about risking physical danger to prove he’s still got…something.

I have to confess that I’ve never fully watched the original Top Gun from beginning to end. At 12 years old, I was more interested in science fiction than the military, and Cruise’s status as favored pin-up among the girls in my class didn’t exactly draw me to his work. But anyone even remotely pop-culturally savvy of my age absorbs it by osmosis. The Danger Zone. The need for speed. Maverick/Goose/Iceman. “Take My Breath Away.” Homoerotic volleyball.


It was only when Cruise started subverting his teen hunk image that he became interesting as an actor. As the shallow douche trying to make a buck off his disabled brother in Rain Man. As the gung-ho jock who goes to Vietnam and comes back a paraplegic war protester in Born on the Fourth of July. His subsequent determination to work with all the best directors around – Neil Jordan, Stanley Kubrick, Sydney Pollock, Ron Howard, and Cameron Crowe among them – was the smartest thing he could have done. Even the mini sci-fi phase kickstarted by his work with Steven Spielberg subsequently led to the excellent Edge of Tomorrow and Oblivion, movies that could easily have cast another lead and did not absolutely require his particular talents. But he adapted to the project.

Something seems to have broken in him around the 2010s, though. Maybe it was the relative lack of love for his role as a reluctant Nazi in Valkyrie, or the lack of success for movies like Edge of Tomorrow. (Maybe the weirdness surrounding his Oprah couch jumping and hyper-enthusiastic religious video testimonials also didn’t help.) Faced with late middle-age, he’s doubled-down on doing mega-budget versions of Jackass stunts for the Mission: Impossible movies, in which his character, Ethan Hunt, is depicted as the most brilliant, most merciful, most world-saving – yet “realistic” – hero of all time. Determined not to be seen as a guy pushing sixty, he’s consciously created an image of the still-young guy who will outwork everyone in order to entertain you. Top Gun: Maverick is explicitly part of that myth-making. Putting all the younger actors in real jet cockpits, he proceeds to depict his character as still being better than all of them. At everything.

It’s possible he took notice of the reaction to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which disappointed some fans by not having an aging Luke Skywalker save the day as an action hero. (That movie has many problems, but its depiction of Luke, which brings out the absolute best in Mark Hamill, is not one of them.) But it’s more likely that this is simply an extension of his Mission: Impossible mentality, abetted by regular Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, who has a co-writing credit here. Since 2014, McQuarrie has written exclusively Cruise projects, mostly tailored to make the star look like the greatest. This only significantly misfired with The Mummy, which painfully tried to make Cruise both the perfect action hero and the iconic Universal Mummy by movie’s end.

Sadly, it looks like Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski has similarly fallen into Cruise’s orbit and seen the benefits of flattering him above all else. A promising sci-fi auteur (Oblivion) with one solid ’80s legacy sequel (Tron: Legacy) under his belt, he presides here over a hodge-podge of awkward storytelling, admittedly cool cinematography, and non-stop glorification of Maverick, the most awesome guy ever.

When first we re-meet Maverick, he’s breaking the rules to feel the need for speed yet again, taking a new stealth plane up for an endurance test before the Rear Admiral (Ed Harris) can show up and shut the program down. But Maverick’s not doing this for himself, you understand – it’s a selfless act to keep everyone in the program employed, rather than laid off in favor of a drone program. Right.

His subsequent dressing-down seems to set up a conflict of drones versus human pilots, which might have been interesting. Instead, that’s dropped and never mentioned again – the whole thing is just set-up to get Maverick sent back to Top Gun as a teacher for his punishment. (It may or may not be coincidence that long before their current military usage, drones were the evil Psychlos’ favored method of exterminating humanity in L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth. Those alien invaders would ultimately be defeated by cavemen who learned how to fly jet fighters.)

Also, in case you were wondering, even the angry Rear Admiral expresses out loud for all to hear that Maverick has balls. This after a tech has admiringly proclaimed that Mav is “the fastest man alive.”

Returning to San Diego, Maverick reconnects with his old flame…Penny. Who? Well, let’s just say Kelly McGillis was not asked to return as Charlie, probably because she’s five years older than Cruise and has aged gracefully. Instead, we’re asked to imagine an entirely new romantic backstory between Maverick and Penny, played by Jennifer Connelly, who is eight years Cruise’s junior. Connelly, to her credit, convincingly portrays desire for Maverick. Cruise likewise convincingly portrays love for Maverick, so they have that in common. In their big love scene, he lays her down, kisses her once…and then they’re in bed talking, him shirtless, she fully clothed. Hardly a moment to take the breath away.

As an instructor, Maverick’s job is to prepare the best of the best for a mission against an unspecified “enemy” developing WMDs. For all their high-tech planes and head-to-toe black gear that even obscures any ethnic identification, they might as well be Cobra The Enemy from G.I. Joe; any real country thus named would undoubtedly ban the movie, and we can’t have that. One of said upcoming “best” is Rooster (Miles Teller), son of Goose, whom Maverick accidentally caused the death of in the last film. Burdened with the same crappy shirts and pornstache as Anthony Edwards, Teller gives the part his all, even late in the game winning an argument with Maverick, which is the only time in the movie Maverick legit loses anything through a fault of his own.

Would it surprise you to learn that Rooster’s anger towards Mav is based primarily on a secret that the latter kept because he’s so noble he’d rather the kid was angry at him than at his mom? Probably not, if you’ve read this far. As my online friend and movie podcaster LexG is fond of saying, “GOD CRUISE. BOW.”

Cruise apparently fought for Val Kilmer to return as Iceman, now an Admiral pulling all the strings to make sure Maverick always gets second chances. Kilmer’s voice in real life has been savaged by cancer, rendering him barely audible. Per the documentary Val, he’s fully recovered aside from that, so it’s great to see him show up and act, mostly silently. Naturally, the whispery dubbed lines he does get are all about how badly Top Gun and the students NEED Maverick. Not even cancer – which the character Iceman has worse than his performer – can stop the praise from flowing.

But the plot doesn’t really matter, right? It’s all about getting the actors up there in real jets for the best-looking aerial combat ever! As with Cruise’s repeated life-threatening stunts, this feels like a misdirect. Movies are about illusion. If I can’t tell if an effect was done for real or faked in a studio, it shouldn’t matter. I shouldn’t have to be told how it was done in order to appreciate it – the movie needs to speak for itself. And as movies that put real actors in the air in real planes go, Top Gun: Maverick doesn’t hold a candle to Wings, the 1927 silent epic that won Best Picture at the first Oscars. William Wellman’s tale of two friends going to war became the template for nearly all that followed, with a compelling story and technical wizardry even in the earthbound scenes that weren’t sending actors up in rickety biplanes.

That said, yes, of course the cockpit stuff looks amazing. If you only want to see the movie for that, it’s hard to blame you. And the sparing reuse of Harold Faltermeyer’s old synth score is enough to make any ’80s kid want to see a movie go full-on with synth soundtrack again. Provided it’s genre-appropriate, natch. We don’t need another Ladyhawke. Nor do we particularly need extra scenes of Cruise running and Cruise speeding on a motorbike sans helmet, but they’re practically contractual obligations now.

It’s tough to know when to critique a movie’s script, since what makes it to the final cut may be very different than what’s on the page. With that said, the storytelling here is often sub-film school 101. There’s the introductory pilots versus drones/super plane bit that never pays off later. There’s the scene where Maverick goes to the bar, and the camera takes a detour to all the younger characters, conveniently telling their names to one another and defining their characteristics. There’s the entire inferred Penny backstory. And honestly, nobody really cares about this stuff when they came to see the world through Imax cockpit-cams. Surprising nobody, Maverick comes out of teacher retirement to lead the final mission himself, because nobody on the planet has ever been – nor will ever be – as good as he is.


Saying that Top Gun: Maverick is exactly the movie you expect is doing a disservice to your own thinking process. You’d probably predict something even slightly more interesting. Hell, even a little jingoism and flag-waving would liven it up. At least in the first film, Maverick actually made a mistake with major consequences. This version of him can do no wrong, and if he does, it’s because you misunderstood him, and mitigating circumstances will emerge later.

But to plenty of audiences, and even a hefty percentage of critics, Cruise is Maverick these days, and he can do no wrong. Should you disagree, take the highway out of the danger zone, and into a different movie.

— Luke Y. Thompson

Full disclosure: Luke was compensated his going rate for this review. And here’s a reminder that we incur numerous costs here at the Bunker that include paying for downloading court documents and other expenses, and you can help us keep this show on the road with your generosity. You can find a donation button at the upper left of the page. As always, all donations to the Bunker are handled by our attorney, Scott Pilutik, who keeps the source of all donations to us anonymous in order to maintain our editorial independence. — The Proprietor


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Source Code

“A special story I wrote was taken to the NY Times reporter and she was very pleased. It was about the Marines and Corfu. Remember? We have to get the 19 crew members who wrote affidavits in this up to the US Embassy to get them notarized. They go to the US Congress and assist in the Life suit. (We have to get Life sued fast. The Sat Eve Post has gone out of business and Time-Life is fading. Like the Daily Mail, newspapers who attack us fail, strange coincidence.)” — L. Ron Hubbard, May 13, 1969



Avast, Ye Mateys

“GROUP CONFESSION is group confession. It is done with the whole group present. It is not done divisionally and it is not done by unit. Try this and you’ll see it work. This is a team and not individuated.” — Lt. Cmdr. Diana Hubbard, CS 1, May 13, 1969


Overheard in the FreeZone

“I have seen the dark energy and dark matter. I have seen the other side of this universe, my hearing ability was magnified just before this happened. A thetan is capable of doing anything and can exist in the absence of MEST or in the dark form of it or in between. I am not sure if dark is the right word to use, however, this is magical indeed. Thank you Master LRH for your return. I wish I can express my gratitude for you in all the world alphabets, master, as you are the alpha (α) and omega (Ω).”


Past is Prologue

1998: Downtown Clearwater, Florida is preparing for the construction of the Super Power building. City officials want Scientology to provide more parking spaces for the center. From the St. Petersburg Times: “The reaction in the community was a mixture of admiration for the project, angst about the air of permanence it will lend to a church that has often been at odds with the city, and questions about such key issues as parking and how much control city officials will have over the project. Despite its massive size — a 300,000-square-foot building and a 3,500-seat auditorium linked to the Fort Harrison Hotel — city commissioners probably will have no direct say over how the project is carried out. In a version of the church’s plans released last summer, the southeast corner of Franklin Street and S Garden Avenue was to be the site of a parking garage. However, the latest plans call for the auditorium at that site. The church has released no specific plans for a replacement parking site, but is seeking to amass more land along Franklin and Court streets. Asked whether the church planned to buy the block for parking, Scientology spokesman Brian Anderson said: ‘It’s always a possibility. It’s nothing set in concrete at this point.'”


Random Howdy


“The world is disconnected because of technology, it turns people into zombies. A handful of corporations control all the the media, the arts, and what passes for popular culture these days. What happened to rock’n’roll? It’s been replaced by no talent moop thugs who can’t play an instrument and can’t write lyrics above the 4th grade. There is no more rebellion. They’ve won. It’s ‘Tittytainment’ from here on out. Detroit has gone bankrupt and the corporations are going to run the city. Didn’t they make a movie about that 20 years ago?”


Full Court Press: What we’re watching at the Underground Bunker

Criminal prosecutions:
Danny Masterson charged for raping three women: Next pretrial conference May 31. Trial scheduled for August 29.
‘Lafayette Ronald Hubbard’ (a/k/a Justin Craig), aggravated assault, plus drug charges: Last hearing was on January 18, referred to grand jury. Additional charges also referred to grand jury after January 5 assault while in jail.
Jay and Jeff Spina, Medicare fraud: Jay sentenced to 9 years in prison. Jeff’s sentencing to be scheduled.
Rizza Islam and other family members, Medi-Cal fraud: Pretrial conference May 20 in Los Angeles
David Gentile, GPB Capital, fraud: Next pretrial conference set for June 2.
Joseph ‘Ben’ Barton, Medicare fraud: Pleaded guilty, awaiting sentencing.
Yanti Mike Greene, Scientology private eye accused of contempt of court: Found guilty of criminal and civil contempt.

Civil litigation:
Baxter, Baxter, and Paris v. Scientology, alleging labor trafficking: Complaint filed April 28 in Tampa federal court.
Luis and Rocio Garcia v. Scientology: Eleventh Circuit affirmed ruling granting Scientology’s motion for arbitration. Garcias considering next move.
Valerie Haney v. Scientology: Forced to ‘religious arbitration.’ Valerie’s motion for reconsideration denied on March 15.
Chrissie Bixler et al. v. Scientology and Danny Masterson: Appellate court removes requirement of arbitration on January 19, case remanded back to Superior Court. Next hearing scheduled for June 29.
Brian Statler Sr v. City of Inglewood: Third amended complaint filed, trial set for December 6.
Author Steve Cannane defamation trial: New trial ordered after appeals court overturned prior ruling.
Chiropractors Steve Peyroux and Brent Detelich, stem cell fraud: Lawsuit filed by the FTC and state of Georgia in August, now in discovery phase.



We first broke the news of the LAPD’s investigation of Scientology celebrity Danny Masterson on rape allegations in 2017, and we’ve been covering the story every step of the way since then. At this page we’ve collected our most important links, including our four days in Los Angeles covering the preliminary hearing and its ruling, which has Danny facing trial and the potential sentence of 45 years to life in prison.


After the success of their double-Emmy-winning, three-season A&E series ‘Scientology and the Aftermath,’ Leah Remini and Mike Rinder continue the conversation on their podcast, ‘Scientology: Fair Game.’ We’ve created a landing page where you can hear all of the episodes so far.


An episode-by-episode guide to Leah Remini’s three-season, double-Emmy winning series that changed everything for Scientology watching. Originally aired from 2016 to 2019 on the A&E network, and now on Netflix.


Find your favorite Hubbardite celeb at this index page — or suggest someone to add to the list!

Other links: SCIENTOLOGY BLACK OPS: Tom Cruise and dirty tricks. Scientology’s Ideal Orgs, from one end of the planet to the other. Scientology’s sneaky front groups, spreading the good news about L. Ron Hubbard while pretending to benefit society. Scientology Lit: Books reviewed or excerpted in a weekly series. How many have you read?


[ONE year ago] Tom Cruise said he needed only an hour to sell Scientology: What would he do in that hour?
[TWO years ago] Scientology trying to sell Irish reporters on the idea that interest is booming there
[THREE years ago] Scientology admits it’s selling ‘magic’ at its Florida spiritual mecca
[FOUR years ago] We have the detailed specs for your dream job: Public Relations officer in Scientology
[FIVE years ago] Scientology’s casting calls get nuttier all the time. Who would you hire to fill them?
[SIX years ago] Document leak: How Scientology freaked out over losing Lori Hodgson and her mom
[SEVEN years ago] Hand out L. Ron Hubbard literature and score a date with a Scientology sweetheart!
[EIGHT years ago] DOX: The appeal to restore the class-action lawsuit against Scientology’s rehab network
[NINE years ago] Will Scientology’s Motion Demolish the Garcias’ Federal Fraud Lawsuit?
[TEN years ago] Lisa Marie Presley Says “So Long” to Scientology
[ELEVEN years ago] Scientology Thunderdome: Commenters of the Week!


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley (1952-2019) did not see his daughter Stephanie in his final 5,667 days.
Valerie Haney has not seen her mother Lynne in 2,663 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 3,168 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 2,718 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 1,708 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 1,599 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 4,905 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 2,774 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 3,548 days.
Doug Kramer has not seen his parents Linda and Norm in 1,879 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 4,352 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 3,668 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 12,234 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 8,153 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 4,321 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 3,901 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 4,163 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 3,199 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 2,914 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 2,439 days.
Julian Wain has not seen his brother Joseph or mother Susan in 794 days.
Charley Updegrove has not seen his son Toby in 1,969 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 6,520 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 3,669 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 3,989 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 8,844 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 3,963 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 2,319 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 6,622 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 2,728 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 3,126 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 3,002 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 2,585 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 3,080 days.
Mary Jane Barry has not seen her daughter Samantha in 3,334 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 14,443 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on May 13, 2022 at 07:00

E-mail tips to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We also post updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our new book with Paulette Cooper, Battlefield Scientology: Exposing L. Ron Hubbard’s dangerous ‘religion’ is now on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Our book about Paulette, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2021 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Underground Bunker (2012-2021), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Other links: BLOGGING DIANETICS: Reading Scientology’s founding text cover to cover | UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists | GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice | SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts | Shelly Miscavige, 15 years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Watch our short videos that explain Scientology’s controversies in three minutes or less…

Check your whale level at our dedicated page for status updates, or join us at the Underground Bunker’s Facebook discussion group for more frivolity.

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news | Battling Babe-Hounds: Ross Jeffries v. R. Don Steele


Tony Ortega at The Daily Beast


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