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What ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Can’t Replicate – Reagan-Era Patriotism

Long-delayed sequel may have a 'need for speed,' but that's where it ends

You can’t pin the original “Top Gun’s” success on any one factor.

Yes, Tom Cruise was at the top of his movie star game in 1986 (has that ever changed?). The soundtrack featured iconic cuts like “Danger Zone” and “Take My Breath Away.”

The film didn’t shy away from sexuality, from the smolder between Cruise and co-star Kelly McGillis to that shirtless volleyball scene for the ladies.

And, smack dab in the middle of Reagan’s America, “Top Gun” saluted the red, white and blue sans apology.

Top Gun (1986) Official Trailer - Tom Cruise Movie

The far Left Vox explained the film’s appeal: “Top Gun provided 110 slick minutes of Reagan-era American “exceptionalism.” Even U.S. Military veterans saluted the film, then and now.

That kind of muscular storytelling is no more, as antiquated as other ’80s relics like cassette tapes and parachute pants.

Modern Hollywood would rather drill down on the nation’s flaws (“12 Years a Slave,” “Antebellum“), besmirch current war efforts (the anti-Iraq War films) or relive other national disgraces (films exploring the Blacklist, for example).

China’s booming film industry is aggressively patriotic, unafraid to weave pro-Communist messages into its stories. American movies? Not even close.

So where does that leave “Top Gun: Maverick?”

Top Gun: Maverick | NEW Official Trailer (2022 Movie) - Tom Cruise

Yes, Cruise is back, and he doesn’t look dramatically different than he did 36 years ago. The film promises more aerial combat, and few expect Cruise and company to come out losers in whatever skirmish they encounter.

“Maverick,” repeatedly delayed by the pandemic, could shoot Cruise back to the top of the box office as well.

It won’t be the same, though.

RELATED: Why Tom Cruise’s ‘Thunder’ Tops ‘Top Gun’

Sequels can never fully capture the original, from the sense of discovery to the energy assembled the first time ’round. The chasm between the films doesn’t end there, though.

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Each is the product of a very different American culture. The ’80s model was built on excellence, aggression and a need to compete with the “Evil Empire,” even if the Cold War doesn’t get name checked in director Tony Scott’s film.

“Top Gun” hit theaters around the same time Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone ruled the box office, bringing so-called “toxic masculinity” to the masses.

That drew audiences to theaters in the mid-to-late ’80s as much as sophisticated stories.

Paramount worked directly with the U.S. Military to deliver authentic action sequences, and the Pentagon had the final say over how their toys were deployed on screen.

The new film also worked with the U.S. Navy, to an extent, but it’s unlikely Paramount gave total control to the U.S. government as it did before.

China’s government? That’s a different story.

Cruise’s signature “Top Gun” jacket got a makeover early in production when a Taiwanese patch got the heave-ho to appease Chinese censors.

'Top Gun Maverick' and How China is Taking Over Hollywood

It’s a minor detail, at best, but it’s emblematic of how much the film industry has changed since 1986.

Few have seen “Top Gun: Maverick” at this point. The film hits theaters nationwide May 27, but a sneak peek late last month at Cinema Con didn’t suggest a duplicate of the film’s patriotic fervor.

Now, the film may surprise us all, even this culture critic, and double down on the patriotism embedded in the source material.

Cruise himself suggests that won’t be the case, albeit from an interview conducted four years following the original’s release.

Gizmodo recalls a 1990 Playboy interview where Cruise condemns “Top Gun’s” rah-rah spectacle.

OK, some people felt that Top Gun was a right-wing film to promote the Navy. And a lot of kids loved it. But I want the kids to know that that’s not the way war is—that Top Gun was just an amusement park ride, a fun film with a PG-13 rating that was not supposed to be reality.

That’s why I didn’t go on and make Top Gun II and III and IV and V. That would have been irresponsible.

Cruise changed his mind about a sequel, obviously. Did anything else about his thinking evolve since that 1990 chat?

RELATED: Richard Dreyfuss: Woke Will Kill America

“Top Gun: Maverick” may be more than just another Hollywood sequel. It’s a perfect way to examine how American filmmaking, and culture, morphed over time.

Some elements are out of the film’s control, of course.

“Top Gun” bowed during President Ronald Reagan’s second term. The Republican’s popularity, and willingness to stare down the Soviet Union, had global consequences. A 2022 film about the man known as the Gipper will share more about his remarkable vision.

“Top Gun: Maverick” bows under President Joe Biden, a deeply unpopular leader who oversaw a cataclysmic withdrawal from Afghanistan and appears to suffer from cognitive decline.

It’s an entirely different “Danger Zone.”

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3 Comments

  1. The original Top Gun is a paean to actors pretending to be who they are not. Not only did Cruise disavow the theme of the movie, Anthony Edwards once stated he didn’t even know who “Goose”was.

    No doubt Maverick will demonstrate the mores and beliefs of the producers, directors, and actors of Hollywood. The only thing that seems to be missing is the strong, independent (yet beautiful and brilliant) woman taking to the sky in her Cessna to show the overconfident jet jockeys who is really the Top Gun.

    The box office for this movie will be stunning, and brave.

  2. One of the previews shows Capt. Maverick standing in front of a superior officer as the admiral, voice dripping with contempt, points out that Maverick should be a 2-star admiral at least by now. But admirals don’t fly fighters! So of course Maverick had to screw up just enough to miss promotions, but gosh he’s such a good pilot we can’t let him go work for Delta.

    In the modern navy, someone with his personality would have been topped out for something like what happened at Tailhook, when a lot of good officers ran afoul of a bunch of female US senators. Or, he would have made a witty remark to a commander, and his next efficiency report would have made promotion impossible. But hey, nothing gets around the wokeness like requirements of plot.

  3. Reagan presided over a booming economy and was able to make us feel better about ourselves after the Carter Error. Biden wants us flagellating ourselves over past misdeeds that nobody alive today had anything to do with. Maverick would blame himself for starting a conflict with the film’s generic enemy and shoot down his fellow pilots out of white, privileged guilt. Then he’d be given a medal but refuse it after calling it a product of a racist military system.

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