Movie Review: Jonathan Majors has to do much of the heavy lifting in “Devotion” – a film attempting to comment on much more than its obvious counterpart “Top Gun: Maverick,” but sacrifices the momentum and drive in doing so.
I was a bit weary of this one. “Devotion” released in theaters towards the end of 2022 and used the “Top Gun: Maverick” train to market itself as a worthy successor to aerial moviemaking. It also starred soon-to-be Kang the Conqueror Jonathan Majors and Hangman badass Glen Powell tag teaming enemies in the Korean War. For all of these interesting ideas and possibilities, I was a bit surprised that the overall consensus and reception was that “Devotion” was (as the kids say) mid.
So, I chose to skip it in theaters. Listen, November and December are busy months. There’s a lot going on beyond the film landscape, but there’s also a hefty amount of awards material released during that time that I need to check out. Combine that with the usual big blockbuster holiday release (this year being “Avatar: The Way of Water”) and an endless pit of stuff I had to catch up on from the previous ten months of the year, I had to sacrifice a few things – one of those being “Devotion.”
I feel a bit mean doing it, but throughout a good portion of this review I’m going to be making comparisons between “Devotion” and the film that proved to be the industry’s biggest success story in years – “Top Gun: Maverick.” This is for obvious reasons; they both contain similar subject matter, special effects, and iconography. “Devotion” also attempted to piggyback off the success of “Top Gun: Maverick” by hitting theaters quickly after the latter and starring Glen Powell.
Now obviously the crew and cast behind “Devotion” didn’t know that this would be the case as they filmed and produced it, but that’s just the way the industry and criticism works. Unfortunately for “Devotion,” it will always live as the film riding the “Top Gun: Maverick” wave – for better and for worse. At the time of its release, it took a lot of flack for this. It was criticized for being void of what made “Top Gun: Maverick” so successful. In a way, it was labeled as the Great Value version of that hit movie.
Now some of those criticisms are ones that I share. Yes, “Devotion” feels rather subdued in tone and momentum compared to “Top Gun: Maverick.” It feels more inclined to share deeper characterization and explore themes that the latter just didn’t feel interested in doing. And that’s not me snickering at one or propping up the other, it’s just an observation that beyond obvious set pieces, “Devotion” separates itself when you begin to look at the deeper layers of it.
I think it’s safe to say that none of this works if the leading man isn’t up for the role and Jonathan Majors seems to be the obvious guy who can carry it as Jesse Brown. He’s one of the few actors in Hollywood right now with an honest, sincere side that shines through his bulky screen presence. No performer feels like an everyday human despite his sheer charisma and size quite like Jonathan Majors – even if Dave Bautista desperately wants to occupy the same space.
There’s a weathered quality to Majors’ performance in “Devotion,” and his relationship with his wife Daisy (played by the equally sincere and weathered Christina Jackson) really takes the show. Every bit of their connection feels real and lifelike and their interactions are really when “Devotion” hits its highest points.
Glen Powell costars as Majors’ wingman Thomas Hudner Jr., and while it isn’t my favorite Powell performance, it offers up a new perspective and opportunity for the actor. Glen Powell shines as the goofy, charming, and overly cocky brute in “Everybody Wants Some!!” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” and there’s virtually none of that here. Maybe when I mentioned earlier that “Devotion” feels subdued, it may be because Powell shifts from what he’s normally doing to a stiffer and more reserved approach.
I’m not saying he’s bad in “Devotion,” but it feels like he’s not allowed to use his best talents and the result is that Majors blows him away at points. The two share the screen for large sections at a time, and Jonathan Majors overwhelmingly rules the day. But not everything is a competition and it didn’t bother me enough to be a real criticism of the film – they’re both still fun to hang out with for two hours.
Outside of the two leading men and being able to spend a couple hours with them, “Devotion” is, quite honestly, rather forgettable. The flying sequences are neat (and here are where the comparisons come in), but “Top Gun: Maverick” still sets the bar for them and “Devotion” doesn’t quite live up to it. The story is emotional at times, but doesn’t have enough grit or deeper emotions that you can hang your hat on. It feels like a watered down version of a film that set new box offices standards months before.
“Devotion” does attempt to offer some commentary about larger societal issues such as race relations and equal opportunity struggles. Those ring pretty effective when paired with juggernaut performers, but I wonder whether it works only because of the hands the material is in. Again, Jonathan Majors rules this one, but it’s like those early LeBron Cleveland years – he can’t do it all by himself.
Beyond that, “Devotion” isn’t a bad film. It’s a rather average one that I had lower expectations for going in considering every critic seemed to be on board that it was just a bland “Top Gun: Maverick.” I can say, it’s not quite that. It’s sadder, it’s bleaker, and it’s incredibly more serious. But is it better? Not really. It feels like the little brother.
“Devotion” is now available to stream on Paramount Plus!