Top Gun: Maverick at Cannes – Tom Cruise returns in a masterful sequel

Cannes Diary: Our correspondent settles in for a feast of cinema at the 75th festival

Over the last 12 years, readers have expressed a noisy lack of enthusiasm for this writer’s annual report on the Cannes bag. Remember the odd little blue satchel in 2015? Almost certainly not. In 2018 I pointed at the denim bag that came with a baby denim purse. In 2019 I pointed at the khaki beach bag that converted into a backpack. Well, it is no more. This year I am pointing at nothing. This is the last ever mention of something – well, one thing in particular anyway – that interests nobody outside the Cannes cult.

The axing is part of Cannes’s move to be that little bit greener. There is a printed programme but, unlike in previous years, the festival will not be handing it out free to every attendee. “Now that the programme and catalogue have gone paperless there’s no need for a bag to carry them around,” an email explained. As if we would. Any regular attendee knows that the only Cannes bag worth shouldering is one from at least five years earlier. You don’t want to be shown up as a newbie.

In truth, there was a lot of waste. But the bags rarely went to waste. They kept swimwear for children, they acted as containers for cables and, every now and then, they made a trip back to Cannes.

Serious computer problems on the opening days of Cannes ‘22 undermined the proud shift to digital. Until last year, the festival did not require press to book tickets – you just turned up and got in the queue that matched your hierarchically determined badge – but, in 2021, to limit crowding in the Covid era, attendees were required to reserve a place digitally before rolling up. There were some hiccups in the early days of that event, but nothing like the meltdown that struck this week. It took this writer three hours of reloading error messages – beginning at 6am – to book three films for Friday.

The first big announcement of an upcoming production at Cannes has caused some serious scratching of craniums. It emerges that Audrey Diwan, director of the hugely acclaimed abortion drama Happening, is next to direct Cannes regular Léa Seydoux – star of six films in the last two festivals – in an adaptation of Emmanuelle Arsan’s 1959 erotic novel Emmanuelle. The story is not quite so well-known as it once was but, in the 1970s, the softcore film adaptation starring Sylvia Kristel was a colossal hit. Good luck to them.

Top Gun: Maverick

★★★★☆
Directed by Joseph Kosinski 
Starring Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer
Out of competition, 130 minutes

So Tom Cruise will tonight be on the red carpet for the European premiere of the sequel to a key text of the swish 1980s. He looks eerily unchanged since he and Nicole Kidman strolled along the Croisette for Far and Away exactly 30 years ago.

The immutability of Tom Cruise – or his avatar Pete “Maverick” Mitchell – is the core theme of this implausibly engaging, old-school action flick. In the course of its busy, never-boring 131 minutes we learn that one old chum is dead, another has become an admiral and a few more are no longer part of the action. A brief flashback to Meg Ryan in Tony Scott’s original, released a full 36 years ago, reminds us that that actor has, in recent years, retreated into obscurity. Yet Maverick and Cruise are still doing pretty much what they were doing in the year Challenger blew up. Maverick is flying the fastest jets. Cruise is “doing his own stunts” in summer blockbusters.

Actually, a few things have changed. An opening sequence in which Maverick tests a new plane to destruction and then parachutes to earth clarifies that the film-makers are now borrowing some energies from Sam Shepard’s version of Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff. Maverick drives everyone mad, but they can’t help but respect him – even when he twinkles that electric diamante smile.

Anyway, he is dispatched to serve under vice-admiral Jon Hamm – eight years Cruise’s junior, but now regularly playing senior authority figures – as he plans a mission to take out a nuclear facility in a shamelessly obscured enemy state. (That nation’s planes fly under meaningless insignia. The pilots wear visors that hide ethnicity. No potential overseas markets were harmed in the making of Top Gun: Maverick.)

The mission is essentially the one from the end of Star Wars. They must blast explosives down a hole while Maverick yells, “Use the Force” . . . sorry, while Maverick yells, “Don’t think”. There are further complications. One of the pilots (Miles Teller) is the son of an old pal in whose death Maverick may have been implicated.

Never mind all that. Though still revoltingly gung-ho and casually laddish, the new Top Gun is masterful in its blend of repositioned nostalgia and real-world action.

The racing mountains behind the pilots’ heads call shame on the CGI weightlessness of contemporary superhero flicks. The promiscuous use of venetian blinds confirms that director Joseph Kosinski knows he is working within inverted commas forged in the 1980s. The positioning of stand-up-and-yell moments is worthy of its own Academy Award.

Better than it had any right to be. But one disinterment of this old warhorse might be enough.

Coupez/Final Cut

★★★★☆
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
Starring Romain Duris, Bérénice Bejo, Grégory Gadebois, Finnegan Oldfield, Matilda Lutz
Out of competition, 111 minutes

There was some puzzlement when it was announced, for the second time in three festivals, that Cannes was to open with a zombie comedy. Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die kicked off the last festival before the pandemic arrived. Now the unstoppable French pastiche addict Michel Hazanavicius, who won Cannes over with The Artist in 2011, ventures into undead territory with the punningly titled Coupez (possibly Final Cut in these territories).

The good news is that the film works an ingeniously brilliant high concept to death. The less good news is that idea was devised by Shinichiro Ueda for his hit comedy One Cut of the Dead from 2017. Hazanavicius teases away at the edges of the original, but anyone familiar with the Japanese film will be chortling most loudly at the largely unaltered structure. You may want to look away now if you don’t know what tricks were being played.

We begin with what looks like a high-concept zombie comedy, all shot in one take. For some initially inexplicable reason, the French characters – who are shooting their own film within a film – all have Japanese names (it hardly needs to be said that this quandary is new to the Hazanavicius project). Like many one-shot films, the picture appears to have made endless compromises to keep the action moving. Not every fight scene convinces. Characters mug while preparations for the next coup are being made off screen.

After 30 minutes the film ends and we flashback to follow the director and star (furiously committed Romain Duris) and his wife (equally game Bérénice Bejo), the female lead – Bejo and Hazanavicius are married, so understand the dynamic well – as they field offers from Japanese producers to remake a horror flick from that country. The final section shows what really went on during the shoot. One actor was drunk. Another had to scream for minutes on end while surrounding chaos was dealt with. And so on.

Many will ask whether Coupez was “necessary”. Well, it is hard to imagine any sentient creature unfamiliar with One Cut of the Dead not being hugely amused by the breathlessly played retooling. Duris gets a very French class of megalomania. Bejo has great fun with an ordered character sitting on some obsessive tendencies. The digs at theatrical self-absorption are acidic throughout.

A very agreeable start to Cannes. You may wish to deduct a star if you demand originality from your entertainment.

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