The helicopter had the star’s name painted on it, the letters coming into focus as it landed on the retired aircraft carrier, which was adorned for the occasion with an expansive red carpet and a smattering of fighter jets. Tom Cruise. Top Gun. Maverick.
It couldn’t have been anyone else.
Decked out in a slim-fitting suit, his hair a little shaggier and his face a little craggier than when he first played Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell more than three decades ago, Cruise took the stage on the USS Midway while Harold Faltermeyer’s iconic theme music played in the background.
Gesturing to the spectacle around him, including the crowd of fans and media members, Cruise said: “This moment right here, to see everybody at this time, no masks. Everyone. This is, this is pretty epic.”
It also felt like a time capsule. The three-hour promotional escapade — which included a batch of F-18 fighter jets executing a flyover to the sound of a Lady Gaga song from the film — harkened back to the halcyon days of Hollywood glamour. Days when Disney didn’t think twice about shuttling an aircraft carrier from San Diego to Hawaii for the premiere of Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” in 2001. That kind of extravagance seems almost unthinkable today, when the streaming algorithm and its accompanying digital marketing efforts have replaced the old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground publicity tour with stars circumnavigating the globe, and studios spending millions to turn movie openings into cultural events.
Making these events go were the film’s megastars. They are the kind of stars who no longer really exist. Now, it’s the characters that count. Three actors have portrayed Spider-Man and six have donned the Batman cowl for the big screen. Audiences have shown up for all of them. The Avengers may unite to huge box office returns but how much does it matter who’s wearing the tights?
Yet there is Cruise, trundling along as if the world hasn’t changed at all. He’s the last remaining global star who still only makes movies for movie theaters. He hasn’t ventured into streaming.
There is a moment in “Top Gun: Maverick” where Ed Harris, playing Maverick’s superior, tells him, “The end is inevitable. Your kind is headed to extinction.”
And Cruise, still holding on to that brash self-confidence that made him a movie star four decades ago, grins at him and replies, “Maybe so, sir. But not today.”
There are plenty of people in the movie industry who hope he’s right.