'Top Gun: Maverick' and the Immortality of Tom Cruise

No one can stop Tom Cruise from doing the most dangerous stunts possible in the name of cinema.

tom cruise top gun maverick
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

In a moment toward the end of Top Gun: Maverick, it seems like Tom Cruise's Maverick might have perished. In some ways, it would have been a fitting end to director Joseph Kosinski's movie, which finds Maverick passing the torch to a new generation of hotshots, specifically Rooster (Miles Teller), son of Goose, who died in the original Tony Scott movie.

But, spoiler alert, Maverick does not die. And when he reemerges, you realize you were silly to even think that he might. Like Ed Harris' admiral tells Mav when reluctantly bringing him back to the TOPGUN program, "Despite your best efforts, you refuse to die." Of course Tom Cruise is not going to die! Tom Cruise is going to thumb his nose at death. Tom Cruise is going to keep doing this shit—forever, in perpetuity.

Summarize the plot of Maverick, and you could basically be summarizing Tom Cruise's current position in Hollywood: A seasoned veteran returns to his old stomping grounds to teach the youth. In Maverick's case, he's coming back to San Diego to instruct the latest class of pilots on how to pull off a dangerous mission. In Cruise's case, he's reviving an old property in order to show a whole group of hot young things, and possibly the entire film industry, how it's done. 

As rational people, we know that Tom Cruise is not immortal, but Tom Cruise keeps making us question whether, just maybe, he is. It's not just the whole Scientology thing, though certainly that hovers in the back of all Tom Cruise conversations. It's that every time he makes a movie he, both on screen and off, seems to be pushing himself and everyone else involved to the limit. When asked at the Cannes Film Festival why he does his own stunts, he retorted, "Would you ask Gene Kelly why he does his own dancing?" On the set of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, he broke his ankle jumping between buildings and then just finished the take. And that was an "easy" stunt for him. More difficult was dangling off an airborne helicopter for a sequence that ended with him lying on the edge of a mountain in a bit of improv.

"When we cut, I expected him to then obviously get away from the edge a little bit so he could communicate," stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood told Thrillist at the time. "He would roll over, 'Hey guys what do you think?' I'm like, 'Yeah, we're good, why don't you just slide away a little bit?' But he would just sit on the edge. He's very comfortable with heights." In the upcoming M: I movie, titled Dead Reckoning Part One, he sails off a cliff while riding a motorcycle. You can see a bit of the stunt in the teaser, which will likely play before Top Gun: Maverick.

tom cruise top gun maverick
Paramount Pictures

A nearly three-minute featurette about the filming of Maverick pretty much explains the Tom Cruise ethos: Tom Cruise will try to kill himself and anyone in his vicinity for the sake of filmmaking. Not really, but he'll get pretty close while still remaining essentially professional. In the clip, Cruise, who has his pilot's license, explains that to make a Top Gun sequel, he had to put himself and his co-stars through rigorous flight training, where, among other things, they learned how to eject from a cockpit underwater. "It's intense—you're flipped inverted and you're having to try and get out," says Greg Tarzan Davis, who plays the pilot with the call sign Coyote. Footage shows Cruise and cast members submerged, upside down, pushing their way to safety. Sure, you might drown, but at least you're making Top Gun: Maverick, which, yes, will undoubtedly rule. (And it does.)

In every report about what it's like to make a Tom Cruise movie, it's clear that Tom Cruise takes his work incredibly seriously—whether he's ranting about COVID protocols or teaching his acolytes how to operate cameras inside cockpits. But at the same time, the movie star has an impish quality, a genuine weirdo energy that courses through everything he does, whether he's going to see Tenet or talking about his early experience Taps, which he apparently remembers like it was yesterday. He's evolved the chair-jumping mania into something that invites fans rather than repels them because he's channeling it entirely into his love of cinema. Once seen as a volatile pariah, he's now consistently praised as a savior of movies and the theatrical experience—the one man who refuses to give into the streaming age.

Maverick, especially in mature age, embodies that hyperactive Tom Cruise je ne sais quoi. The movie opens with Maverick flouting orders and secretly taking a hypersonic plane out on a test run where he pushes it over Mach 10—more than 10 times the speed of sound—crashes, and emerges dirty but unscathed. Shortly after Mav meets his trainees, he shows them how it's done in the sky by sneaking up on them and spinning out their F-18s, proving how easily they can become targets. And when it comes time for the final quest, it turns out that the best man for the job is actually Maverick—not any of his juniors, though he handpicks the ones who do come along for the ride.

When Maverick is in danger, you believe that he is because, as an audience member, you know that Cruise is coming as close as he can to threatening his own life. At the same time, the fact that Tom Cruise is so practiced at cheating death means that in your heart of hearts, you know that he, meaning his character, cannot actually meet his demise. Top Gun: Maverick is the idea of Tom Cruise boiled down to its essence. This man is faster than you, better than you, and eternal. Nobody can make him stop.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.