Review: ‘Twisters’ (2024), starring Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell and Anthony Ramos

July 18, 2024

by Carla Hay

Daisy Edgar-Jones, Anthony Ramos and Glen Powell in “Twisters” (Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures)

“Twisters” (2024)

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung

Culture Representation: Taking place in Oklahoma and briefly in New York City, the action film “Twisters” ( a continuation of the franchise that started with 1996’s “Twister”) features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Latin, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A meteorologist, who feels guilty over the death of her three close friends in a tornado five years before, is persuaded to temporarily join a group of scientific tornado chasers, who are competing against a non-scientific group of YouTube tornado chasers.  

Culture Audience: “Twisters” will appeal primarily to people are fans of the 1996 “Twister” movie and similar movies about weather disasters.

Glen Powell and Daisy Edgar-Jones in “Twisters” (Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures)

“Twisters” is not as suspenseful as 1996’s “Twister,” but “Twisters” still has plenty of action thrills in this franchise story about tornado chasers. The characters’ relationships are predictable but elevated by believable chemistry and good acting. As expected, “Twisters” has better visual effects than “Twister,” but the pacing of “Twisters” somewhat drags in the middle of the movie. Overall, it’s a crowd-pleasing film that does what is advertised.

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung and written by Mark L. Smith, “Twisters” has an entirely new set of cast members from “Twister,” but there are similarities between the two movies. Both movies have the tornadoes taking place in Oklahoma. Both movies feature storylines of “corporate-sponsored” tornado chasers versus “scrappy independent” tornado chasers.

Both movies have bickering between the leading male character and the leading female character because they’re in a power struggle, and they both want to deny an attraction that exists between them. The woman in this would-be couple is the more intellectual scientist, while the man is the less-educated by equally passionate tornado chaser. One of them has tremendous guilt over the tornado death of at least one person close to them. In both movies, the storm-chasing team that aims to find a way to diffuse tornadoes does so by using equipment with names inspired by characters in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Twister” (directed by Jan de Bont and written by Michael Crichton and
Anne-Marie Martin) had Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton starring as divorcing couple Dr. Jo Harding and meteorologist Bill Harding, who unexpectedly get thrown back together into tornado chasing, after Bill says he has retired from tornado chasing. They try to put a stop to high-level tornadoes.

Jo is motivated to be a tornado chaser because she witnessed her farmer father die in a tornado when she was about 5 or 6 years old. Bill visits Jo in Oklahoma because he wants her to sign their divorce papers. Bill has brought his fiancée Dr. Melissa Reeves (played by Jami Gertz), a psychotherapist, along for this trip. Jo and her tornado-chasing team use equipment that they call Dorothy.

“Twisters” updates the franchise by having a racially diverse cast, compared to the all-white cast of “Twister.” Another 21st century update to “Twisters” is YouTube is a big part of the plot because one of the rival tornado-chasing groups has a YouTube channel where the group does many livestreams. “Twisters” also makes more of an effort to show the tornado chasers helping strangers who are tornado victims after a tornado has turned a community into a disaster area. In “Twister,” the tornado chasers were definitely more self-absorbed and more willfully oblivious to helping communities recover from tornado disasters.

“Twisters” begins in an unnamed city in Oklahoma, the U.S. state where the movie was filmed on location. A group of tornado chasers, led by Ph.D. candidate Kate Carter (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones), is chasing a tornado as part of an experiment to see if the scientific powder and data sensory devices and they’ve created will diffuse and track the tornado. They use equipment that they call Dorothy, which is a nod to the first “Twister” movie. The plan is to open barrels of the powders and data sensory devices in the eye of a tornado.

Kate calls this experiment the Tornado Tamer Project, which is part of her Ph.D. thesis about disrupting tornado dynamics. If Kate’s theory works, she hopes that she can get grant funding for the Tornado Tamer Project. The other young people in the group are Kate’s loving and supportive boyfriend Jeb (played by Daryl McCormack) and their close friends Javier “Javi” Rivera (played by Anthony Ramos), who is energetic and opinionated; Addy (played by Kiernan Shipka), who is perky and sweet-natured; and Praveen (played by Nik Dodani), who is thoughtful and nerdy.

It’s mentioned several times in “Twister” that Kate has an uncanny ability to predict which are the most dangerous tornadoes to follow. It’s an instinct that her farmer mother Cathy Carter (played by Maura Tierney), who’s shown later in the movie, says Kate has had since Kate was a little girl. Kate is an only child who was raised by her single mother. Kate’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie, although one of Kate’s friends calls Cathy “Mrs. Carter.” She welcomes Kate’s friends into her home and likes to cook meals for them.

In the beginning of “Twisters,” Kate and her Tornado Tamer crew are chasing a tornado where they plan to do their experiment. Unfortunately, Kate miscalculated about what level the tornado was: It turns out to be F5 (highest level of destruction) tornado. Kate, Jeb, Addy and Praveen are all in the same vehicle and are caught right in the middle of the tornado. They escape from the car, but only Kate is the only one of the four to survive. Javi was in a safer area in a separate vehicle, so he also survived.

Five years later, Kate is now working as a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in New York City. Through conversations in the movie, it’s revealed that after the tornado tragedy, Kate dropped out of her Ph.D. program and gave up on tornado chasing. At this point in her life, Kate has also been avoiding her mother’s phone calls and has rarely visited Oklahoma since moving away.

One day, Kate gets an unexpected visitor at her office: Javi, who tells her that he also moved away from Oklahoma after the tragedy. Javi says that after he graduated from their university program, he went back to his hometown of Miami and enlisted in the military. He also tells Kate that while he was in the military, he worked with portable radars that detect missiles. Javi has access to the prototypes and says they can use these radars for tornadoes, to make three points in the shape of a 3-D type of triangle. Later, it’s revealed that these radars are called Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion, and their power control center is called Wizard.

Kate turns down Javi’s offer to work with him. Javi is persistent though. Later, he calls Kate and tells her that he’s put together a great team of scientists called Storm Par to help him. Storm Par also has corporate sponsorship for funding. Kate is persuaded to help Storm Par because of Javi’s radar idea and because Oklahoma is having an outbreak of tornadoes. However, Kate tells Javi that she will only work with Storm Par for one week.

One of the flaws of 1996’s “Twister” is that it never explained why so many tornadoes were happening in such a short period of time. “Twisters” avoids that flaw by repeatedly showing flashes of TV news reports saying that Oklahoma is having a “once in a generation” outbreak of tornadoes. In “Twisters,” the tornadoes arrive with little to no warning. If there is any warning, it could be as short as two or three minutes.

Soon after arriving in Oklahoma, an emotionally guarded Kate and the Storm Par team encounter a scrappy group of tornado-chasing YouTubers from Arkansas. The leader of the group calls himself a “tornado wrangler.” The group is led by cocky and frequently smirking Tyler Owens (played by Glen Powell), who is the star of this YouTube channel, which has about 1 million subscribers. Tyler’s tornado-chasing motto is: “If you feel it, chase it.” Like many YouTube content creators, Tyler sells a lot of branded merchandise.

Tyler is the only person in his group with experience as a meteorologist. (He also mentions later that he used to be a rodeo rider, as if the movie wants to prove that Tyler has cowboy credentials too.) The other people in Tyler’s group are camera operator Boone (played by Brandon Perea), a scruffy sidekick who does a lot of whooping and hollering; middle-aged Dexter (played by Tunde Adebimpe), who talks like a science nerd, even if he doesn’t have a college degree; Lily (played by Sasha Lane), a friendly hippie; and Dani (played by Katy O’Brian), an androgynous person who likes to hawk a lot of the group’s merchandise.

Tyler and his group loudly ride around and like to do daredevil things for their YouTube channel, such as set off fireworks in tornadoes. The Tornado Wranglers are being accompanied by a London-based reporter named Ben (played by Harry Hadden-Paton), who is doing an article about storm chasers. Ben, who is bespectacled and often nervous, is the token “buttoned-up” person who feels out of place and does the most screaming in fear as a passenger during these tornado-chasing runs. Dr. Melissa Reeves had that role in the 1996 “Twister” movie.

Besides Javi, the only Storm Par member whose personality is shown in “Twisters” is a frequently scowling or pouting colleague named Scott (played by David Corenswet), a scientist snob. Scott’s uncle Marshall Riggs (played by David Born) is the property developer mogul who is Storm Par’s chief investor. You can easily predict why Marshall would be interested in swooping in on victims of tornado disasters who lost their homes. Scott, who shows hints of sexism, is jealous/mistrustful of Kate.

Just like in “Twister,” the two rival groups of tornado chasers in “Twisters” compete to see who can get to the most dangerous tornadoes first. In “Twister,” the rival group to Jo’s independent group is a corporate-sponsored group led by sneering jerk named Dr. Jonas Miller (played by Cary Elwes), who is such an obvious villain, if he had a moustache, he would’ve twirled it. In “Twister,” Jo has the “underdog” group, which includes a wacky stoner named Dustin Davis (played by scene-stealing Philip Seymour Hoffman). In “Twisters,” Tyler’s group is the “underdog” group.

In “Twisters,” there is no love triangle, although there are hints that Javi is attracted to Kate, but he knows he has no chance of dating her because she sees him only as a platonic friend. The same can’t be said for Tyler. The back-and-forth sniping between Kate and Tyler is the type we’ve seen in many other movies where two people meet under competitive circumstances, they annoy each other with insults, but you know they’re really attracted to each other. After a while, Tyler makes his romantic intentions obvious, but Kate is the one who plays hard to get.

Because of advances in technology, the visual effects in “Twisters” are superior to what’s seen in “Twister.” Oddly though, “Twisters” does not show any signs that animals get killed in these tornadoes. In “Twister,” there’s a memorable scene where Jo and Bill see a cow caught up in the tornado. Maybe the “Twisters” filmmakers avoided showing animals getting swept up in tornadoes because they didn’t want animal rights activists to be offended.

As for the would-be romance, the circumstances are different in “Twister” and “Twisters.” “Twister” is about a couple with a marriage history together, and now a third person is involved. That’s in contrast to “Twisters,” which has a would-be couple who haven’t really begun dating each other. The relationships in “Twister” are more interesting to watch than the relationships in “Twisters.”

After the tornado tragedy happens in the beginning of “Twisters,” Kate is emotionally disconnected from almost everyone for most of the story, until she starts to warm up a little and show her vulnerabilities. Tyler is a stereotype of an overconfident heartthrob, but Powell brings undeniable charisma to this character. Edgar-Jones and Ramos also do quite well in their roles. “Twisters” could have told or showed more personal information about the other people in Tyler’s group. The movie never reveals what motivated these other members to become tornado chasers.

As it stands, “Twisters” capably handles what can be expected from movies about weather disasters, even if some of the scenes (just like in “Twister”) look unrealistic in how people are able to survive situations that would kill people in real life. The scientific aspects of the “Twisters” story are simplified so that the average non-scientist can understand. It’s obvious from the way that “Twisters” ends, many of these characters will be seen again in another movie in the franchise.

Universal Pictures will release “Twisters” in U.S. cinemas on July 19, 2024. A sneak preview of the movie was shown in U.S. cinemas on July 17, 2024.

Review: ‘Anyone But You’ (2023), starring Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell

December 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney in “Anyone But You” (Photo by Brook Rushton/Columbia Pictures)

“Anyone But You” (2023)

Directed by Will Gluck

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city and in Sydney, Australia, the comedy film “Anyone But You” (loosely based on the William Shakespeare play “Much Ado About Nothing”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, a few Asians and one indgenous person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After have a great first date together, a young would-be couple have angry feelings toward each other because of misunderstandings, but then they pretend to be a couple to make their respective ex-lovers jealous.

Culture Audience: “Anyone But You” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Sydney Sweeney, Glen Powell, and corny and predictable romantic comedies.

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney in “Anyone But You” (Photo by Brook Rushton/Columbia Pictures)

When will certain filmmakers learn that pretty people in pretty locations do not automatically equal an enjoyable romantic comedy? William Shakespeare would cringe in embarrassment if he saw this lousy interpretation of “Much Ado About Nothing.” There isn’t anything creative, surprising or truly entertaining about “Anyone But You,” which is an example of a lazy rom com coasting by on some of the most overused clichés in romantic comedies.

Directed by Will Gluck (who co-wrote the trite and hollow “Anyone But You” screenplay with Ilana Wolpert), “Anyone But You” has a mostly talented cast stuck in roles that make most of their characters in the movie look like immature dolts. Adults who are in their 20s and 30s act more like teenagers who are inexperienced in dating. And the middle-aged parents in the story are nothing but shallow rom-com stereotypes of meddling relatives who interfere in their adult children’s love lives.

“Anyone But You” begins with the “meet cute” scene between the would-be couple at the center of the story. Beatrice “Bea” Messina (played by Sydney Sweeney), who’s in her mid-20s, says she’s a student in law school. Ben (played by Glen Powell), who’s in his mid-30s, has a background in finance and works as an online trader. Bea and Ben both live an unnamed U.S. city, where they meet at a local coffee shop.

Bea is in a hurry to be somewhere else when she goes into the coffee shop to use the restroom. She starts a conversation with an unfriendly barista (played by Mia Artemis), who abruptly tells her that the restroom is only for customers. Bea says she’ll buy something, but to her dismay, she sees that there’s a long line of customers.

Ben happens to be near the front of the line and notices Bea’s predicament because he overheard the conversation. All of sudden, Ben pretends that Bea is his wife, and he places her order for her. There’s an immediate attraction and rapport between Bea and Ben, as they play along at pretending to be spouses.

Bea excuses herself to use the restroom (which is a small room with one toilet) and calls her sister Halle (played by Hadley Robinson) to tell her about this attractive stranger she just met. Halle is also Bea’s best friend. As mentioned later in the movie, Bea met Ben when she was taking a break from her relationship with her fiancé Jonathan, whom she has known for years. Bea wanted this separation from Jonathan because she’s having doubts about getting married to anyone. Jonathan (played by Darren Barnet) doesn’t show up until the movie is half over.

Bea tells Halle that she could change her mind about dating someone new because she’s interested in getting to know Ben better. During this phone conversation in the restroom, Bea accidentally splashes a lot of sink water all over the front her jeans. This leads to a not-very-funny scene of Bea taking off her jeans and awkwardly using the hand dryer to get rid of the water stain, which could be misinterpreted as a urine stain.

Ben is patiently waiting for Bea outside, not knowing that flustered Bea is frantically trying to dry her jeans so she won’t give Ben the wrong impression about her hygiene. When she steps out of the bathroom, she doesn’t notice that a strand of toilet paper is stuck to the bottom of one of her shoes. Ben discreetly steps on the paper so it gets unstuck. All of this is supposed to be hilarious, but it’s just so boring.

Bea and Ben leave the coffee shop, which leads to a conversation where their mutual attraction to each other grows. Ben spontaneously invites Bea over to his place, where he makes grilled cheese sandwiches for both of them. They flirt some more and tell each other a little bit more about their lives. Bea says that even though she’s a law student, she’s not sure if she wants to become a lawyer.

Ben opens up to Bea and tells her about his most treasured possession: a giant wrench figurine given to him by his mother, who died an untold number of years ago. Ben’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie. Bea and Ben spend the rest of the night talking. They fall asleep together on his couch.

When Bea wakes up, she thinks Ben is still asleep. She leaves without saying goodbye or leaving a note. However, Ben has noticed that Bea made a quick exit, and his feelings are hurt because he misinterprets it as Bea not being as interested in him as he’s interested in her.

Ben’s longtime best friend Pete (played by GaTa) shows up almost immediately after Bea leaves. He congratulates Ben on possibly finding a new love interest. Ben feels rejected by Bea, but his bruised ego won’t let him admit it to Pete. Instead, Ben lies to Pete to make it sound like Ben was the one who rejected Bea. “The girl is a disaster. I couldn’t get rid of her fast enough,” Ben tells Pete.

It just so happens that Bea has overheard Ben insult her in this part of the conversation, because (on the advice of Halle), Bea decided to go back to Ben’s place to make plans to see him again. Bea thinks that they had a magical night together, but she gets angry when she overhears through the open door what Ben is saying about her. Ben and Pete don’t see Bea eavesdropping and don’t find out until later that she has heard this part of the conversation.

Ben and Bea see each other again by chance at a nightclub when Bea is there with Halle and Halle’s new girlfriend Claudia (played by Alexandra Shipp), who just happens to be Pete’s younger sister. And lo and behold, all five of them are at this nightclub at the same time. The conversation becomes tense and uncomfortable when Bea and Ben start to snipe at each other and make it clear that they don’t want to see each other again.

Two years later, Halle and Claudia have gotten engaged and have planned a destination wedding to take place in Sydney, Australia, where Claudia’s parents live. All of their family members in the movie accept Halle and Claudia’s same-sex relationship. Claudia’s tactless father Roger (played by Bryan Brown) is a native Australian who is some type of business mogul. Roger is Pete’s stepfather; there’s no mention of where Pete’s biological father is. The mother of Pete and Claudia is Carol (played by Michelle Hurd), who likes to practice New Age healing techniques.

As for the parents of Bea and Halle, they are overbearing and worried that Bea might never get married. The sisters’ father Leo (played by Dermot Mulroney) and mother Innie (played by Rachel Griffiths) had their hearts set on Bea marrying Jonthan, because they think Jonathan would be the perfect husband for Bea. You can almost do a countdown to when Leo and Innie invite Jonathan to go to the wedding in Australia to be a “surprise” date for Bea. This plot development is already revealed in the trailer for “Anyone But You.”

In a conversation between Bea and Halle, the two sisters discuss how when they were children, Bea talked a lot about looking forward to being married, while Halle was very wary of marriage. And now, the sisters’ opinions of marriage have switched, with Bea now being the one who doesn’t have a desire to get married. Bea tells Halle that she’s happy for her and Claudia and completely supports their plans for marriage.

“Anyone But You” predictably shows Bea and Ben on the same plane flight to Australia and not being happy about it. More shenanigans ensue when Ben finds out that the Australian model-type ex-girlfriend who dumped him is also a wedding guest. Her name is Margaret (played by Charlee Fraser), and she is a cousin of Claudia and Pete. Margaret’s current boyfriend is a less-than-smart surfer named Beau (played by Joe Davidson), who talks in hokey Australian slang clichés that sound like what American screenwriters think Australian surfers sound like.

The rest of “Anyone But You” is a series of tiresome scenarios of friends and family members interfering with and being judgmental of the love lives of Bea and Ben. Bea and Ben then decide to pretend to be a couple (it was Bea’s idea), to get these intrusive people to back off, as well as to make Jonathan and Margaret jealous. Bea has no interest in getting back together with Jonathan, so she wants to look “unavailable.” Ben has lingering feelings for Margaret and hopes that if Margaret sees Ben and Bea as a couple, then Margaret might want to get back together with Ben.

“Anyone But You” over-relies on slapstick comedy with adults in various states of nudity or being in wet, clingy clothing. It’s supposed to be sexy and funny, but it just looks so fake and trying too hard. And when there’s an unimaginative romantic comedy that has a wedding as a major part of the story, you just know there’s going to be some kind of mishap involving the wedding cake.

Even more irritating: “Anyone But You” has some stupid scenes of characters attempting to manipulate what Bea and Ben do, by intentionally fabricating conversations that they want Bea and Ben to overhear. The story of this would-be couple is very unbalanced in the movie. Viewers learn a lot about Bea’s family and almost nothing about Ben’s family. What you will hear a lot of in the movie is Natasha Bedingfield’s 2004 hit “Unwritten,” which is put to very cloying use when cast members sing the song off-key at several points, including an end-credits montage.

Sweeney and Powell put in a fairly good effort in trying to be convincing as two people who’ve fallen in love on their first date and then spend most of their time together denying their true feelings. However, their comedic timing is often mismatched. Almost nothing in this movie is believable (including co-star chemistry that looks forced), and most of the movie’s characters are annoying. “Anyone But You” is ultimately a failed attempt to be a lovable romantic comedy. It’s only effective in being a showcase for how attractive locations can look with the right cinematography.

Columbia Pictures released “Anyone But You” in U.S. cinemas on December 22, 2023.

Review: ‘Devotion’ (2022), starring Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell

November 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jonathan Majors, Glen Powell, Thomas Sadoski, Nick Hargrove, Daren Kagasoff, Joe Jonas and Spencer Neville in “Devotion” (Photo by Eli Ade/Columbia Pictures)

“Devotion” (2022)

Directed by J.D. Dillard

Some French with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1950 and 1951, in the United States, Italy, France, North Korea, and China, the dramatic film “Devotion” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Based on a true story, Jesse Brown becomes the first African American pilot in the U.S. Navy, and he befriends fellow pilot Tom Hudner, but Jesse experiences racism and self-doubt as obstacles to his success.

Culture Audience: “Devotion” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching war movies that have themes of friendship and dealing with challenges, told in a relatively safe and formulaic style of filmmaking.

Christina Jackson and Jonathan Majors in “Devotion” (Photo by Eli Ade/Columbia Pictures)

“Devotion” is sometimes slow-moving and stodgy, but this Korean War drama has its heart in the right place in paying tribute to U.S. Navy pilot Jesse Brown. The cast members give credible performances. The last third of the movie is better than the rest.

At 138 minutes, “Devotion” should have been a shorter movie, because some of the scenes drag on a little longer than they should and don’t do much to move the story along in a more engaging way. However, the crux of the story is meaningful, especially if viewers want to learn more about real-life people who heroically served in the Korean War.

Directed by J.D. Dillard, “Devotion” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie is based on Adam Makos’ non-fiction 2014 book “Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice.” Jake Crane and Jonathan A.H. Stewart co-wrote the “Devotion” adapted screenplay.

The movie opens in 1950, when U.S. Navy lieutenant Tom Hudner (played by Glen Powell) is seen leaving Quonset Point Air National Guard Base in Kingstown, Rhode Island, to go to the Naval Air Station in Oceana, Maryland. Tom is going there to be a part of the U.S. Navy’s Fighting Squadron 32, also known as VF-32. Shortly after arriving there. Tom is seen in a locker room, where he meets Anson “Jesse” Brown (played by Jonathan Majors), one of the other VF-32 members who will be going through aviator training with Tom. Their first conversation together shows their immediate rapport.

Jesse asks Tom, who has arrived from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, if he got to fly in “the big show.” Tom replies, “I did not.” Jesse says, “Then you’ll fit right in.” Tom then meets Marty Goode (played by Joe Jonas), another VF-32 member. Other members of the squad who gets some screen time are executive officer Richard “Dick” Cevoli (played by Thomas Sadoski), Carol Mohring (played by Nick Hargrove), Bill Koenig (played by Daren Kagasoff) and Bo Lavery (played by Spencer Neville). Unfortunately, all of these VF-32 pilot characters, except for Jesse and Tom, are very generic.

Near the beginning of the movie, viewers find out a little bit about Tom’s background from conversations that he has with Jesse. World War II ended just one month before Tom graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. Originally from Massachusetts, Tom says his career path wasn’t what his family expected: “I was supposed to take over my old man’s grocery stores,” Tom tells Jesse. Tom says he opted for “adventure” instead.

As for Jesse, he is originally from Mississippi, and he doesn’t reveal too much about his background to anyone. He has his guard up because he’s the only African American in the squad. And he will eventually become the first African American to become a pilot for the U.S. Navy. Jesse is happily married to Daisy Brown (played by Christina Jackson), and they are devoted and loving parents to their 3-year-old daughter Pam.

In April 1950, the VF-32 squad spends time training on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Leyte. Tom excels (he’s the type of trainee who gets perfect test scores) and quickly ascends to the top of the class. Jesse passes the tests too, but Tom is considered the squad’s “star,” who is very straight-laced and “by the book.” Tom and Jesse have a friendly rivalry with each other that occasionally leads to some tense and bitter moments later in the film when their loyalty to each other is tested.

As expected, “Devotion” shows some of the racism that Jesse had to deal with as one of the few African Americans at the time who got to serve in the U.S. Navy alongside (not separately from) his white peers. “Devotion” predictably has a racist bully who’s part of the VF-32 squad. His name is Peters (played by Thad Luckinbill), who openly says racist insults about Jesse, usually in a pathetic attempt to get Jesse to lose his temper. You can almost do a countdown to when Peters and Jesse will get into a physical brawl that Peters instigates.

Publicly, Jesse is confident and avoids trying to define his achievements and skills in terms of his race. For example, at a press event where the VF-32 squad answers questions from journalists, a racially condescending reporter makes a comment to executive officer Cevoli about Jesse, by asking if “your boy does a juggling act too.” While Jesse poses for photos with the other members of the squad, the a reporters tries to bait Jesse into talking about more about his race instead of Jesse’s accomplishments and skills. Jesse doesn’t take the bait.

Privately, Jesse battles with deep insecurities. In multiple scenes in the movie, he is shown by himself, looking in the mirror and crying and/or saying racial insults to himself out loud. It could be interpreted as Jesse using reverse psychology on himself to emotionally prepare himself for any racism he might experience. But mostly, it just looks like Jesse is fighting low self-esteem in the best way that he knows how.

“Devotion” tries to delve into the sense of isolation that Jesse must have felt where he couldn’t really hang out with the lower-ranked African Americans in the U.S. Navy (such as the workers who did jobs in maintenance or in the kitchen), but he wasn’t fully accepted by most of his white peers either, except for Tom. The movie’s handling of this issue doesn’t really go deep enough. It’s well-intentioned at best but superficial at worst. “Devotion” portrays other African Americans in the U.S. Navy as mostly background characters who admire Jesse from afar, except for one scene where they make a collective effort to personally connect with Jesse.

Tom considers himself to be open-minded and not a racist, but even he has a blind spot about race relations in a society built on white supremacist racism. There’s a section of the movie where Tom and Jesse have a conflict over an infraction that could get Jesse into some minor trouble with the U.S. Navy. Jesse explains to Tom that in a racist society, if a black person and a white person do the same thing that’s wrong, the black person tends to get harsher judgment and worse punishment than the white person. “A slap on my wrist is not the same as a slap on yours,” Jesse tells Tom.

Jesse is also sensitive about Tom acting like a “white savior” to Jesse, whereas Tom sees it as wanting to back up Jesse when Jesse experiences racist bullying. Jesse tells Tom, “I can fight my own fights. I’ve been doing it a long time.” Despite these tensions in their relationship, when Jesse and Tom are in the air, they are professional, and they look out for each other in the way that true friends do.

“Devotion” takes a little bit of a detour from the fighter pilot scenes to show some of the VF-32 squad members during some leisure time in Cannes, France. On a beach in Cannes, they meet movie star Elizabeth Taylor (played by Serinda Swan), who is flirtatious with this group of young military men. She is impressed with this squad and invites them to a glamorous party.

When the squad members arrive at the party, which is at a private mansion, two security guards (played by Erik Bello and Michael David Anderson) at the front door are immediately suspicious of Jesse and treat him differently because of his race. They refuse to believe that Jesse is on the guest list, and are so sure of it, they won’t even check the list. Everyone (including members of the squad) are shocked to see that Jesse knows how to speak French. Jesse takes charge of the situation in a confident way that gets them entry into the party.

Because “Devotion” is a male-oriented military film, the movie’s few women who have speaking roles don’t have much to do and are written as solely existing to react to whatever the men do. Jesse’s wife Daisy is pleasant but is essentially depicted as a stereotypical “loyal and worried wife at home” character. Early on in the movie, when Tom is invited to the Brown home for the first time, Daisy literally tells Tom: “I need you to be there for my Jesse.”

The airplane scenes in the movie are watchable but they’re not outstanding. And the movie’s dialogue can often be simplistic and trite. For example, in a scene involving a life-or-death situation, Tom lectures Jesse, “Mistakes get us killed, Jesse.” In another scene, executive officer Cevoli tells Tom that war medals are quickly forgotten and adds, “The real battle in all of life is being someone people can count on.”

Fortunately, Majors and Powell bring enough personality to their roles to make their respective Jesse and Tom characters look like real human beings instead of stereotypes. However, the character of Tom is much less developed than the character of Jesse, since viewers never get much insight into Tom’s personal life. Jesse introduces Tom to Jesse’s family in Jesse’s home. And although Tom seems like the type of non-racist friend who would do the same for Jesse, it’s never shown in the movie.

“Devotion” can certainly satisfy viewers who are looking for some thrilling airplane action scenes, but most of the movie is about the drama that happens on the ground. “Devotion” hits a lot of familiar beats that are seen in many other movies about airplane pilots who are war heroes. It’s far from a groundbreaking film, but “Devotion” has enough heartbreaking moments to make an impact on viewers.

Columbia Pictures will release “Devotion” in U.S. cinemas on November 23, 2022. The movie will be released on digital, VOD and Paramount+ on January 8, 2023.

Review: ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ starring Tom Cruise

May 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Miles Teller and Tom Cruise in “Top Gun: Maverick” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Top Gun: Maverick”

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Culture Representation: Taking place in California, the action film “Top Gun: Maverick” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: U.S. Navy Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell returns to the TOPGUN aviator program, where he reluctantly becomes an instructor for new recruits, including a man who blames Maverick for damaging his career and causing his father’s death. 

Culture Audience: “Top Gun: Maverick” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Tom Cruise, 1986’s “Top Gun” and any formulaic action sequel that is a virtual copy of its predecessor.

Jennifer Connelly and Tom Cruise in “Top Gun: Maverick” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Top Gun: Maverick” is an uninspired, outdated retread of 1986’s “Top Gun,” but with more implausible scenarios and with no women in military leadership positions. Even the original songs in this sequel are forgettable. While “Top Gun: Maverick” has more racial diversity than the first “Top Gun” movie, the people of color in the movie are still relegated to “sidekick” and forgettable roles. “Top Gun: Maverick” makes the same mistake that a lot of sequels do: Copying the same plot as the first movie without improving it.

What makes this mistake less acceptable is that “Top Gun: Maverick” has arrived 36 years after the release of the first “Top Gun” movie. That’s plenty of time to think up ways to take the movie in innovative and clever directions. (By contrast, Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible” movie franchise keeps things fresh with stories and action scenes that are unique to each movie.) Directed by Joseph Kosinski, “Top Gun: Maverick” was originally supposed to be released in 2019, but it was delayed multiple times because of post-production issues, the COVID-19 pandemic and other reasons. The movie was filmed before the pandemic.

A sequel should have familiar elements of its predecessor. It doesn’t mean that a sequel should rehash a predecessor’s plot. Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie wrote the formulaic and disappointing screenplay for “Top Gun: Maverick,” which essentially regurgitates the same story in “Top Gun.”

Both movies are about the U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego. This elite school is nicknamed TOPGUN. Both movies are about a hotshot young TOPGUN school airplane pilot clashing with an arrogant rival classmate while being haunted by the death of a loved one and facing a big challenge in the training program.

In “Top Gun,” Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell character (played by Tom Cruise) was the hotshot student. In “Top Gun: Maverick,” he’s the main TOPGUN instructor, who has to teach his group of TOPGUN graduates how to fight in a secretive government mission targeting an unsanctioned uranium nuclear plant. In a case of history repeating itself, “Top Gun: Maverick” also has a funeral scene when someone close to Maverick dies.

Eddie Murphy’s horrible 2021 comedy Coming 2 America (the long-awaited sequel to 1988’s “Coming to America”) made the same mistake of lazily copying the same basic plot of its predecessor and trying to make the story look new by introducing a younger generation of new characters. “Coming 2 America” had even worse results, because of the movie’s awful racism and sexism, including making a joke out of an African American woman getting pregnant after she drugged and raped a man. “Top Gun: Maverick” isn’t as offensively bad as “Coming 2 America,” but the movie still has a “stuck in the 1980s” mindset that looks out of place in a movie that’s supposed to take place in the 21st century.

The first “Top Gun” movie (directed by Tony Scott, who died in 2012, at the age of 68) had only two or three people of color in the entire movie. They were African American men who were mostly put in the background. Only one of the African American men was allowed to speak in the movie, and he was literally given just two minor sentences to say. “Top Gun” was written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.

To its credit, “Top Gun: Maverick” has a lot more racial diversity in its cast. There are some African American and Latino characters who say more than a few sentences, but their personalities are very hollow and generic. Needless to say, the people of color in “Top Gun” Maverick” do not get backstories or a significant storyline in the movie.

“Top Gun: Maverick” also falters in its depiction of women, who are once again made into token characters. But in “Top Gun: Maverick,” the depiction of the women goes in a backwards direction, because there are no women shown in positions of power in the U.S. miliary or in the TOPGUN training program. Women have come a long way in the U.S. military since 1986, but you’d never know it from watching “Top Gun: Maverick,” which puts only men in military leadership positions.

At least in “Top Gun,” one of the main characters was an intelligent woman in a position of power, even though she was still a token: Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (played by Kelly McGillis), a civilian and an astrophysicist, who was an instructor in the TOPGUN program. Charlie and Maverick became romantically involved with each other. The movie realistically shows that Charlie was conflicted about this relationship because of how it might compromise her professional judgment and reputation. McGillis shared top billing with Cruise in “Top Gun.” In “Top Gun: Maverick,” Cruise is one of the movie’s producers, and he’s the only star who gets top billing.

The only other woman in “Top Gun” who had a significant speaking role (but got a lot less screen time than Charlie) was bubbly and outgoing Carole Bradshaw (played by Meg Ryan), the wife of Lieutenant Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (played by Anthony Edwards), who was Maverick’s best friend and Radar Intercept Officer, also known as a “wingman.” Carole and Goose have a son, who’s about 5 or 6 years old in the movie. In “Top Gun,” Goose died in a tragic accident during a training session with Maverick as the pilot. Maverick was cleared of any wrongdoing, but he’s been guilt-ridden about Goose’s death ever since.

Charlie and Carole are not in “Top Gun: Maverick” because these female characters weren’t even considered for this sequel, according to interviews that director Kosinski has given about the movie. Charlie is not mentioned in “Top Gun: Maverick.” Carole is briefly mentioned because she’s dead, having passed away for an untold number of years before this story takes place. In other words, the “Top Gun: Maverick” filmmakers killed off the Carole Bradshaw character.

In “Top Gun: Maverick,” the son of Goose and Carole is all grown up now. And just like his father, he’s a U.S. Navy lieutenant who’s now a trainee in the TOPGUN program. His name is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (played by Miles Teller), and he’s got a chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove because he’s living in the shadow of his dead father, who was considered a military hero. If those “daddy issues” sound familiar, it’s exactly what Maverick was going through when he went through the TOPGUN training program. Maverick’s high-ranking U.S. Navy father was on a top-secret government mission when he went missing and is presumed dead.

Rooster knows that Maverick was not responsible for Goose’s death, but Rooster still has hard feelings toward Maverick over his father’s untimely passing. Rooster also resents Maverick because Maverick blocked Rooster from getting into the U.S. Naval Academy. Unbeknownst to Rooster, Maverick did so at the request of Rooster’s mother Carole, who didn’t want Rooster to be in the military. It was only after Carole died that Rooster was able to enroll in the U.S. Naval Academy.

In the beginning of “Top Gun: Maverick,” Maverick still has the ranking of captain. It’s explained that he has not been promoted for all these years because he has a tendency to be rebellious and reckless. However, the U.S. Navy has kept him on as a test pilot because of his extraordinary pilot skills. It’s mentioned in the movie that’s he’s the only pilot in the U.S. Navy to shoot down 30 enemy planes.

Maverick is considered a dinosaur relic from a bygone era by several high-ranking people in the U.S. Navy. Some of those people think he needs to be honorably discharged, but Maverick loves his military job too much to leave, and he is being protected by Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (played by Val Kilmer), who has a small supporting role in “Top Gun: Maverick.” As shown in the first “Top Gun” movie, Iceman (also played by Kilmer) was Maverick’s biggest rival in the TOPGUN program. However, they eventually became friends with deep respect for each other.

In California’s Mohave Desert, Maverick is part of a program that is being shut down because it hasn’t met Mach 10 standards. Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (played by Ed Harris) is coming to the naval base for the official cancellation of the program. To embarrass him, Maverick takes a plane in the air, and not only hits the Mach 10 target, but he also exceeds it. But by doing so, he ends up flaming out, but how Maverick lands the plane is never shown. All that’s shown is that he comes back looking dirty and disheveled, without any injuries.

This unauthorized use of a military plane for a showoff stunt would be grounds for serious disciplinary action in the real world. But in this make-believe world where Maverick is supposed to be a roguish hero, time and time again, he gets let off the hook for his flagrant insubordination. Hammer tells Maverick with begrudging respect, “You’ve got some balls, stick jockey. I’ll give you that.” Get used to hokey dialogue like this in “Top Gun: Maverick,” because the movie is full of it.

Now that Maverick’s program has been shuttered, he’s been assigned to do something he doesn’t want to do: Go back to the TOPGUN program in San Diego to be an instructor. Maverick is one of those people who believes in that old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” In other words, he thinks this teaching job is for someone who’s a has-been or a never-was, who doesn’t have what it takes to currently be a pilot.

Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (played by Jon Hamm) is one of the Navy officials who is gunning for Maverick to leave the Navy. He even says as much, when he tells Maverick: “The future is coming, and you’re not in it.” Cyclone has a sidekick named Admiral Solomon “Warlock” Bates (played by Charles Parnell), who doesn’t do much but be in the same room as Cyclone and go along with almost everything that Cyclone says. However, Warlock has a few moments where he shows that he’s really rooting for Maverick. The same goes for Warrant Officer-1 Bernie “Hondo” Coleman (played by Bashir Salahuddin), who makes some bland wisecracks during the movie.

Maverick has to choose six of his 12 students to go on the secret mission to disable the uranium plant, which is set to activate in about three weeks. Predictably, Rooster and Maverick clash with each other. At one point, Rooster yells at Maverick: “My dad believed in you. I’m not going to make the same mistake!”

More than once in the movie, Maverick tells his trainees to ignore what they were taught in the Navy’s rulebook, and he says some variation of “Don’t think, just do” He expects them to not overthink things and to trust their instincts. Of course, in Maverick’s lectures about not following what authority figures say, he thinks he’s the exception, because he wants to be the only authority figure who must be obeyed in this program.

In addition to Rooster, the other students in the program include Rooster’s smirking, cocky rival Lieutenant Jake “Hangman” Seresin (played by Glen Powell), whose personality is a virtual replica of how Iceman was in the first “Top Gun” movie. Hangman tries to find emotional weakness in Rooster to have a competitive advantage. When Hangman discovers Rooster’s “daddy issues” and why Rooster has tensions with Maverick, it leads to the inevitable fist fight between Hangman and Rooster.

The token woman in this group of chosen trainees is Lieutenant Natasha “Phoenix”
Trace (played by Monica Barbaro), who doesn’t have much of a personality, except trying to fit in with the guys. Lieutenant Robert “Bob” Floyd (played by Lewis Pullman) has the role of the nerd who’s somewhat of social outcast in this competitive group. Bob gets teased because he hasn’t thought up a flashy nickname, also known as a call sign, like all the other TOPGUN aviators.

The other trainees do not have distinguishable personalities and are given very trite dialogue. They include Lieutenant Reuben “Payback” Fitch (played by Jay Ellis); Lieutenant Mickey “Fanboy” Garcia (played by Danny Ramirez); and Lt. Javy “Coyote” Machado (played by Greg Tarzan Davis). Most viewers of “Top Gun: Maverick” will have a hard time remembering these three characters’ names and what they said by the time the movie is over.

Unlike the first “Top Gun” movie, which showed the male trainees carousing at bars and trying to pick up women, the trainees in “Top Gun” are a much tamer crew. When they go to a bar, they gather around a piano and sing Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire,” with Rooster playing the piano. Maverick sees this camaraderie, and it triggers him to have a flashback memory to when he, Goose and other TOPGUN trainees did the same thing, with Goose’s young son sitting nearby for the sing-along. (This scene from “Top Gun” is shown as a flashback.)

Speaking of bars where these TOPGUN people hang out, the main bar they go to is The Hard Deck aviators’ club. It just happens to be owned and bartended by Penny Benjamin (played by Jennifer Connelly), who is the daughter of a U.S. Navy admiral. Penny was briefly mentioned, but never seen, in the first “Top Gun” movie as one of the many conquests whom ladies’ man Maverick got sexually involved with and then dumped.

Penny is now a divorced mother to a daughter named Amelia Benjamin (played by Lyliana Wray), who’s about 13 or 14 years old. Penny’s ex-husband, who is never seen in “Top Gun: Maverick,” has remarried and is living in Hawaii. It’s implied that never-married bachelor Maverick and Penny have had an on-again/off-again relationship, where Maverick left her heartbroken because he ended things with her every time. When Penny sees Maverick again all these years later, she predictably gives him a hard time for breaking up with her.

But just as predictably, she eventually lets him back into her life, and they rekindle their romance. Maverick and Penny look good together as a couple, but they don’t generate as much romantic heat as Maverick had with Charlie. Although Penny is a business owner, her role is essentially to be a generic love interest who follows Maverick’s lead when he courts her and succeeds in winning a place back into her heart.

Penny initially wants to keep this rekindled romance a secret from her daughter Amelia, who inevitably finds out anyway. Even after it’s no longer a secret, Maverick doesn’t spend any quality time with Amelia, which he would care about doing if he’s serious about a relationship with Penny. That’s why Maverick’s level of commitment to Penny is questionable, no matter how many “romantic” scenes are shown of Penny riding with Maverick on the back of his motorcycle. This scenario of Maverick giving his love interest a motorcycle ride is also recycled from the first “Top Gun” movie.

“Top Gun: Maverick” delivers when it comes to the airplane action scenes (with the F/A-18 being the airplane of choice), but too much of the movie is tediously predictable recycling of plot points and scenes from the first “Top Gun” movie. The scene of Maverick on a motorcycle while playfully racing a soaring fighter plane is recreated. It’s in the movie for pure nostalgia reasons for people who saw the first “Top Gun” movie.

Another recycled scene takes place at a beach where the TOPGUN aviators are playing a sports game together in their free time. In “Top Gun,” it was volleyball. In “Top Gun: Maverick,” it’s touch football. This beach frolicking scene only seems to be in the movie so that Cruise and the other men can be shirtless and show off their toned physiques. Even the closing credits scene is styled exactly like the first “Top Gun” movie.

One of the highlights of “Top Gun: Maverick” is a poignant scene between Maverick and Iceman, who is battling throat cancer, just Kilmer is in real life. However, “Top Gun: Maverick” ends up being marred by too many unrealistic scenarios. There’s even more disregard of real-life U.S. military protocol than what was in the first “Top Gun” movie. Maverick does things that would get him dishonorably discharged in the real world—but of course he doesn’t get discharged, because this is a Tom Cruise movie. And the ending of “Top Gun: Maverick” is even more cornball than the ending of the first “Top Gun” movie.

The “Top Gun” soundtrack was the biggest-selling soundtrack of 1986. And it’s easy to know why. People who’ve seen the first “Top Gun” movie know how the music was used to great effect. Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” song fueled a high-energy scene early in the movie. Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” memorably played during a romantic scene between Charlie and Maverick on the night that they became lovers. Those two signature “Top Gun” songs were instant classics that stayed in viewers’ minds long after seeing the movie. Although “Top Gun” got some criticism for being filmed almost like a music video, there’s no denying that the movie’s music was one of its biggest assets.

Unfortunately, “Top Gun: Maverick” has an utterly mediocre soundtrack, with songs that have been used in many other movies, such as Foghat’s “Slow Ride” and T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” There’s nothing wrong with these tunes, but they’re overplayed in too many other places. And because “Top Gun: Maverick” is a movie of rehashes, “Danger Zone” also makes a reappearance. The original soundtrack songs on “Top Gun: Maverick,” such as Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand,” won’t be winning any Oscars, like Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.”

Viewers who will enjoy “Top Gun” the most are those who want to see a superficial recreation of the first “Top Gun” movie. But for other people who know that “Top Gun: Maverick” could have been a lot better, the movie falls short in coming up with any major story arc that would be truly original and daring for this sequel. The performances in “Top Gun Maverick” aren’t terrible, but they aren’t that special either. In the end, “Top Gun: Maverick,” just like its main character, is stuck in a rut of reliving past glories, and ends up having more swagger and posturing than any real substance.

Paramount Pictures will release “Top Gun: Maverick” in U.S. cinemas on May 27, 2022.

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