Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that’s especially true in Hollywood.
The industry loves to clone its success stories. 1978’s “Halloween” inspired the “Friday the 13th” series along with other slasher films.
“Star Wars” gave way to endless space sagas that couldn’t match George Lucas’ storytelling triumph.
“Top Gun: Maverick” packed a pop culture wallop last year, channeling the best elements of the 1986 original with all the bells and whistles modern filmmakers have to offer.
Hollywood has yet to seize and/or pounce on Tom Cruise’s film. It takes years for a film to go from concept to the big screen, but we’ve still not heard of any recent or greenlit films that echo “Maverick’s” spirit.
Let’s start with a key element of our tormented hero’s character: Survivor’s guilt.
The film opens with Japanese pilot Koichi Shikishima (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) revealing he lied about his plane’s technical woes to avoid his kamikaze mission. Not only does he fail to honor his military obligation, he later freezes up during an encounter with Godzilla, a move which likely cost a crew of mechanics their lives.
That guilt haunts Koichi throughout the film.
Cruise’s Maverick can’t let Goose’s death from the first film go. He wishes he could have saved his partner, and when he’s forced to collaborate with Goose’s adult son (Miles Teller) that survivor’s guilt flares up anew.
“Maverick’s” apolitical nature earned it plenty of accolades on the Right. “Godzilla Minus One” deals with some necessary geopolitical truths but is similarly devoid of partisan statements or grandstanding. It treats Japan’s post-war reconstruction with respect and understands the hard political truths of the era.
It’s also blessedly free of any woke messaging just like “Maverick.” No speeches or clunky diversity measures to slow the narrative down.
As Andrew Klavan astutely noted, the women in “Godzilla Minus One” are … women, and the men are men.
Go see Godzilla Minus One. Made for 15 mil, it's outstripping Hollywood tentpoles. I haven't heard anyone else say so, but the reason seems obvious to me: the women in it are women instead of the make-believe men of American films. People keep praising the "human story," but…
— Andrew Klavan (@andrewklavan) December 17, 2023
Noriko Oishi (Minami Hamabe), the woman who enters Koichi’s life early in the film, is a dedicated mother to a child she rescued at the end of the war. That maternal drive is relentless and portrayed in a positive light.
The film is quietly patriotic a la “Maverick,” acknowledging the sins of wartime Japan while honoring the country’s citizens. Japanese veterans who survived the brutal war must risk their lives anew to stop the threat Godzilla poses to the country.
They do so with honor, understanding they’re fighting not just for their survival but the nation as a whole. It’s no shock that the Japan Society offered a special public preview screening of “Godzilla Minus One” on Nov. 28, acknowledging both the franchise’s place in the country’s pop culture lore and its impressive themes.
That same sense of sacrifice abounds in “Maverick.”
The untested Top Gun graduates know they may not return from their special mission, but they fight to earn a spot on the team.
Both films honor the source material down to the musical cues.
“Top Gun: Maverick” opens with a trip to Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” the rocking anthem of the 1986 original. “Minus One” brings back the orchestral sounds of past “Godzilla” films to both honor and update the saga.
And, finally, both “Maverick” and “Godzilla Minus One” offer redemptive arcs and bravura aerial sequences. Each hero is inspired by key female characters. Maverick becomes a better man, in part, because he wants to be worthy of Penny’s love.
Koichi is lost as the movie opens, but his love for Noriko inspires him to be the hero his country needs.
It took just a year to see a spiritual sequel to “Top Gun: Maverick.” Now, let’s see if Hollywood learns any lesson from either box office smash.