Summer Hits & Misses – ‘Elvis’ vs. ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

As summer winds down, we will soon say goodbye to our very hot weather and the mega-blockbusters it usually brings. After all July and August is really a time to escape our everyday reality and what better way than to head to the movie theater with your favorite person(s). That said, it’s clear that this year had more misses than hits, and shockingly films I expected to be flops turned out to be fabulous, while movies I earmarked as marvellous were mediocre at best. Two such flicks stand out in this regard, though notwithstanding the hit-or-miss status I assign, each has a very interesting life lesson in common that will resonate with all ages. So let’s dig in and find out what it is.

ELVIS: This true rags to riches glory story about the ‘King of Rock’ is steeped in history and packed with talent, tunes, tinsel, triumphs, and tribulations. But unfortunately, even with all its star-power, glitz, and glam this film misses the mark in effectively portraying Elvis Presley’s life, despite its long running time of 239 minutes. The narrative, as told by Elvis’ (Austin Butler) long-time manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) tries to slowly spin a tale of deceit and betrayal with both seasoned actors doing a decent job playing their respective roles. In fact, Austin Butler’s singing is quite impressive as is his mastery of Elvis’ trademark mannerisms, smoky voice, sexy sneer, and unmatched hip swivel. Tom Hanks, whom I like very much also has no trouble transforming into a despicable carnie type agent, whose deplorable presence on screen becomes cringeworthy fast. So where did this film go wrong?

When actors are more than capable of fulfilling their roles but the movie still faulters the finger always points to the script and the director. Filmmaker Baz Luhrmann chooses to frame this picture from the Colonel’s perspective, which shouldn’t have been a problem, but the end message was supposed to be how this cheating crooked manager took advantage of an unsuspecting trusting phenomenal one-of-a-kind winner of an artist who in the end was duped. Not so fast. The reason this premise is unsuccessful is because for most of the movie Elvis is constantly defying his manager’s advice, suggestions, orders and instead opts to do whatever he wants, which lands him in hot water more than once. So, when the film suddenly pivots, insinuating that the Colonel has been a crafty conniving puppet master all along it doesn’t really work. Let’s face facts, as Elvis’ career evolved, he developed serious substance abuse problems. He was after all the first ever ‘rockstar’ and created the stereotypical hard-living template that his successors notoriously imitate to this day!  In short, being zoned out all the time equals a lack of control that flows into all areas of life, thus requiring some type of management. The inconsistencies in the dialogue is the reason why this film doesn’t impact audiences as much as it should. The words simply don’t match the actions. Regardless of the discrepancies avid filmgoers and fans of Elvis will still most likely enjoy this film for its incredible soundtrack, singing, and trivia, particularly how R&B, jazz, and gospel heavily influenced Elvis’ unique approach to music.

Top Gun: Maverick: This movie directed by Joseph Kosinski is a soaring success of a sequel to the original Top Gun (1986) that takes place three decades on and is an exelerating adrenal rush right off the hop. This film lives up to the hype and is another hit for Tom Cruise who famously plays Maverick, a rebel navy pilot billed as ‘the fastest man alive’. Cruise does an exceptional job as always displaying his acting and stuntman chops, which is why this movie rocketed to the top at the box office. Yet the plot is fairly basic. There is an unnamed threat to national security (probably Russia) and a precarious mission to complete. New talented graduates need an experienced veteran to teach them the ropes as they are skilled fighter pilots but still green.  Senior officer and former nemesis Iceman (Val Kilmer) insists that the only man for the job is Maverick, who is on the verge of being discharged from his post for breaking rank. Of course, one of the newbies in training is the now grown son of Maverick’s deceased co-pilot/friend who died in Maverick’s arms when their plane crashed into the ocean years ago; an incident he forever blamed himself for. As the crew get prepared to fly into the ‘Danger Zone’ reconciliation is at the top of Maverick’s agenda on several fronts including with former flame Penny Benjamin (played by Jennifer Connelly – a new character that is referenced in the original movie but not seen) and sparks fly. Will the crew succeed or not? Does Maverick live or die? Will there be a happy conclusion or will it all end in tears? It’s the suspense that gets this film off the ground and the desire to know what’s coming next coupled with the right amount of nostalgia that keeps it airborne. It’s a suspenseful ride all the way through and well worth the watch! BTW I love Tom Cruise’s preamble prior to the film starting. Very classy way to thank viewers for coming to the theatre to watch his movies. Say what you want about Tom Cruise but he’s a master showman who can truly act.

Shared Life Lesson: With the storylines out of the way let’s flesh out the important life lesson these two very different movies have in common. Is it bromances, or perceptions of friendship, loyalty vs. disloyality, or perhaps the fact that both main characters are flying high most of the time? No, no, no, no. If the truth be told both these films reflect a deep-seated sense of irrelevance that seeps in as we age. It’s a feeling that makes us question our place in life, are we still significant, what’s our worth, are we valued, or is there a timestamp that labels us inconsequential at some point. Where do we fit, in an everchanging world that’s moving so fast it feels like it’s leaving us behind. This begs the question; do we actually expire before our expiration date? As the years advance Elvis and Maverick both feel the wolves nipping at their heels, hungry to replace them, thus leading each to engage in risky behavior. But is this really the case or is it just a lack of effective transitioning? Do we cause ourselves unnecessary grief trying too hard to hold onto the illusive spoils of our youth? This is the real question. Unimportance vs. Usefulness – ‘It’s not how old you are. It’s how you are old.’ – Jules Renard

Maturing is something we cannot avoid. Either we get old or die in the attempt. However, in order to grow into the practice, we need to change. So how do we accomplish this goal? It’s said that ‘Only The Brave’ seek and find a blessed second life when the former one(s) no longer serves them. In fact, this may be the secret to successfully navigating through the aging process. Each step of the journey is just a temporary landing pad where we stop to gain and share our knowledge but then we must keep moving forward in order to go anywhere in life. But then again such choices are much easier for fictional characters. In short, the consensus is that aging isn’t for sissys. When it comes to real-life some ‘grace’ is involved to get to the promise ‘land’.

P.S. I love watching movies on the big screen, especially summer sizzlers. So any chance I get to go with my beautiful daughter, who doesn’t love movies as much as I do (yet), I drop everything to share that special moment with her, which is exactly what I did on several occasions. BTW Top Gun fans in the spirit of celebrating ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ the Owen Hart Foundation has secured a USS Midway Museum Package graciously donated by the USS Midway Museum located in San Diego, home of the real Top Guns, thanks to OHF Committee Member Tam Tam. Be sure to check it out at www.hartauction.com

7 thoughts on “Summer Hits & Misses – ‘Elvis’ vs. ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

  1. I saw neither. I never saw the original Top Gun as a kid, & I have a feeling if I saw it now I’d find it just cheesy junk. I immensely dislike Baz Lurhmann, & honestly would rather stick with John Carpenter’s TV miniseries of Elvis with Kurt Russell in the role.. Baz Luhrmann is a terrible director & I think his movies are so obnoxious.

    Thanks for sharing. Glad you enjoy going to the movies with Athena.

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    1. Well Baz definitely missed the mark for sure with his version of ‘Elvis’. Top Gun Maverick is very good for what it is (mainly action) and you don’t necessarily have to watch the first one to appreciate the second as they do a good enough job laying out the storyline so you get the gist of what’s happening and why. However I would have to say that this summer was disappointing for movies overall. 😦

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      1. Maybe I might get around to Top Gun, but I can’t really afford to see movies at the moment as I’m saving for a trip overseas. I am using a free month on a streaming service which does have the original Top Gun, so maybe they may get the sequel. I plan on subscribing after my trip.

        I’m just not interested in summer movies (or winter here in Australia). I’d rather try to catch up with classic films, or obscure films. Martin Scorsese has set up an online screening room to show restored classics, & lesser known films monthly, which has excited me.

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      2. LOL, true. Last movie I saw in a cinema was Jurassic World Dominion, which I surprisingly liked more than I expected. I’ve just got so much going on to really pay much attention to cinema releases at the moment.

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  2. Thanks for your review Martha! I’ve seen both movies (I just saw Elvis last night) and I love them both. For Top Gun Maverick I was skeptical going in because the first Top Gun didn’t really do it for me. I consider the first 2/3 of TGM good enough as expected and the final 1/3 was a really fun ride! Val Kilmer’s appearance was an awesome cameo!
    I was iffy about seeing Elvis but it was only $3 to see a movie yesterday so we went. Austin Butler nailed it as Elvis! The story skipped ahead a bit quickly at the end but I found out a lot of cuts were made to get the length down. The directors cut is actually around four hours long. Possibly additional details about Elvis’ addictions are in that cut. One thing I found weird is Pricilla’s reaction to Elvis kissing girls at his concerts or more so the fact he was doing that knowing his wife if watching (effect of drugs maybe). Anyway, I left the theatre emotionally impacted by the tragedy of Elvis’ life. I’m grateful that I’m not a genius because they seem to live mentally and emotionally tortured lives.

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    1. So interesting to hear about the intial 4 hour running time for Elvis. Makes sense as it definitely felt like there were gaps in the storyline. Also, interesting that you mentioned Pricilla. Once I heard she liked the movie, I was skepictal – it depicts her as a victim but again I’m not sure that’s an accurate take. BTW you are so right about performers – their genius can make them a bit flakey. :0

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