Photo: Paramount Pictures
Spoilers follow for Top Gun: Maverick.
One cannot take brief snippets of red-carpet interviews with celebrities as the end all, be all of how they feel about a certain subject. But perhaps it’s slightly telling that Manny Jacinto, when asked at the Top Gun: Maverick world premiere what fans should expect from the movie, answered thusly: “They can expect a lot of action, a lot of tears … a lot of nostalgia coming back and hitting them straight in the face.” He’s right on all that! But notably, Jacinto did not list himself, and maybe that is because — I regret to inform you — The Good Place and Nine Perfect Strangers star does not seem to have even one line of dialogue in this whole movie. Jacinto is apparently a humble dude, so let me be indignant on his behalf: Why does Tom Cruise hate Jake Jortles?
I exaggerate, but only a tiny bit. (Note that in that same interview, Jacinto refers to the movie as “the Tom Cruise show,” which could be taken as jest … or not.) Top Gun: Maverick brings back Cruise’s reckless, flawless Navy pilot, Captain Pete Mitchell, for one last mission: teaching a group of 12 new pilots how to attack a uranium-refinement facility in an unnamed country (cough, Iran, cough) while evading enemy detection, missiles , and combatants. At the end of their extremely brief training, Mitchell — excuse me, Maverick — will select 6 of the 12 pilots for the apparent suicide mission based on their speed, precision, and teamwork.
Twelve pilots demand a lot of new character development, especially when only half of those characters are going to matter in the final act — and especially when 2 of the 12 are more narratively significant than the rest. Miles Teller’s Rooster is the son of Maverick’s former flying partner and best friend Goose (Anthony Edwards), whose death in the first top gun was that film’s emotional climax. In another echo, Glen Powell’s Hangman is Rooster’s rival, paralleling the dynamic between frenemies Iceman (Val Kilmer) and Maverick. Rooster and Hangman were always going to have more to do and say than anyone else, and Teller and Powell get some solid material. But this sequel it hurts then take the time to develop five more pilots fairly significantly, giving them personalities, quirks, and even their own character posters as part of the film’s promotion. They are Monica Barbaro’s Phoenix, Lewis Pullman’s Bob, Jay Ellis’s Payback, Danny Ramirez’s Fanboy, and Greg Tarzan Davis’s Coyote. Plus Rooster and Hangman, that’s seven pilots Top Gun: Maverick weaves into the story line and uses for reaction shots — and yet none is our beloved Jason Mendoza.
The extent of Jacinto’s role in Top Gun: Maverick is basically this: You briefly see his character’s military ID picture onscreen, along with those of the 11 other pilots, when Jon Hamm’s Cyclone tells Maverick about his teaching gig. Then you see him walk into the bar owned by Maverick’s love interest, Jennifer Connelly’s Penny. And then … nothing else, really. If Jacinto has even one line or stand-alone frame, I don’t remember it.
Jacinto’s credited character name on IMDb is Fritz, though I don’t think anyone actually uses it in the movie. The names of the other four pilots — played by Jake Picking, Raymond Lee, Kara Wang, and Jack Schumacher — aren’t really mentioned out loud either. If you fall into a YouTube rabbit hole, as I did, you can learn that Picking’s character name is Harvard and Schumacher’s is Omaha. Wang, meanwhile, abstained from revealing her in a recent interview, and the reporter who interviewed Lee did n’t ask. An early version of the characters’ call signs obtained by The Hollywood Reporter doesn’t help much there, since the “Slayer” it describes seems to have been refashioned into Powell’s Hangman, “Lardo” might be Bashir Salahuddin’s Hondo, and no one syncs up with the “Nordic ancestry” of the character “Viking.” All of this is to say that I want to know why screenwriters Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie gave Jacinto’s character a name that I didn’t need to spend a half-hour Googling to find but didn’t give him something to actually of?
It’s not that Jacinto was an unknown during filming, which stretched from May 2018 to June 2019. He’d already broken out on The Good Placewhich premiered in September 2016, and appeared alongside future Top Gun: Maverick co-stars Hamm and Pullman in Bad Times at the El Royalewhich was filmed in spring 2018. But maybe how little Top Gun: Maverick is mentioned in recent profiles of Jacinto is a kind of clue; to September 2021 W magazine piece doesn’t describe anything Jacinto does in the “intense” film. And while Jacinto’s Instagram is admittedly pretty sparse, most of its 19 posts are in support of his projects, including the Prime Video romantic comedy I Want You Backthe animated TV series Hailey’s On It!, Nine Perfect Strangersand The Good Place — but no Top Gun: Maverick.
Is there drama here? Maybe. Has Jacinto’s star simply risen higher in the past four years, making him now a bigger deal than he was when he played a glorified extra? Also maybe. Either way, if you hope to see Jacinto’s charming grin, fine-tuned comedic timing, or gleaming shirtlessness during beach football in Top Gun: Maverick, I’m sorry to disappoint, but none of this comes to fruition. Instead, here is a collection of screengrabs of Jacinto from every trailer or promotional clip Paramount Pictures has released in support of this film, including a scene that I think was entirely deleted from the final cut.
Is there more Manny on the cutting-room floor somewhere? Restore those moments in the inevitable Top Gun: Maverick director’s cut, damn it! For now, these will have to do.