Top Gun: Maverick Therapy
Conservative dad Tom Cruise will save you
In Franklin J. Schaffner’s & Francis Ford Coppola’s 1970 film Patton, U.S. General George S. Patton, Jr. famously visits a field hospital & slaps a cowardly soldier, not because he is a coward but because he is “stinking up” a place of honor, remaining behind the front, & crying about it. If Patton had been a character in this year’s Top Gun: Maverick, he would have gone on a slapping rampage.
Top Gun: Maverick is set to be the conservative dad movie of the year, like 2019’s Ford v Ferrari, except even more popular. This past weekend, Maverick passed the billion dollar mark worldwide, the second movie to prove so popular since the pandemic (after Spider-Man). More, this is Tom Cruise’s first billion dollar movie, & it got there in one month, dominating the box office since its opening, & with the Independence Day weekend upcoming, I’m sure it’ll do even better. Here’s my inside information. Last Sunday in church, I even saw one dad reserving Top Gun tickets on his phone.
As a conservative, I’m happy a film that doesn’t actively hate its audience is such a success. I’m particularly happy it’s not a shallow Disney property! Every middle-aged working- & middle-class dad among my friends here in the Deep South loves it, too. I went with some middle-aged dads to see the film last week, for one of their birthdays, & one of them remarked to me, “I’d rather see this than any of those Marvel movies!”
Supposedly, Top Gun: Maverick is the answer to those who regularly say, “I just want to watch a movie without politics in it!” Indeed, Maverick is fun to watch, without much of the “woke.” Director Joseph Kosinski & actor/producer Tom Cruise put together a film full of thrilling flying action that combines many of the last 120 years’ action filmmaking tricks, & we should not downplay Tom Cruise’s charm as the last action star, nor the film’s identity, as Matthew J. Peterson put it:
Many conservatives approved its various anti-Progressive arguments about conserving manliness, retaining human qualities even in the face of the robotic takeover, holding on to our last strength & courage for when it is needed again. Tom Cruise’s last several movies have certainly served this purpose, which made his Mission: Impossible series more popular than James Bond for the last decade &, seeing all the talk about a black female Bond, for the foreseeable future. When I sat down to watch Top Gun: Maverick, the trailer for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One played, & the whole theater cheered, including my friends.
However, I have questions.
Most of my friends think the new film bests the original. Yet I don’t find this true. The flight sequences are thrilling, but not more so than the original’s. Nor more than, say, the exciting jet chase & crash scene in 2001’s Behind Enemy Lines, where consequential action serves vital character purposes, or the romance-enhancing jet flights in 1957’s Jet Pilot, or the silent dogfight sensations of 1927’s Wings. Maverick’s music, however, is decidedly worse than the original’s. The best I can say for it is that I don’t remember any of the new songs, including Lady Gaga’s end credits number. But I remember everything about the original: Harold Faltermeyer’s deliciously ‘80s score, Cheap Trick’s Mighty Wings, &, of course, Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone & Playing with the Boys. Speaking of, what happened to the eroticism of the original Top Gun? Maverick’s beach football scene comes nowhere close to matching the excitement of Top Gun’s locker scene or its famous beach volleyball match, the men all lathered up in baby oil like Arnold in Commando. The young men looked confident, beautiful, & their strength was sexy on film, all coming from the competition among men. The same goes for the humor: What about the original’s awesome one-liners we still quote today? “I feel the need, the need for speed!” “Hollywood, you look good!” “You can be my wingman anytime!” It’s satisfying when Maverick offers some of these in commemoration, but I don’t remember any new lines, & I haven’t heard anyone quoting them either. Also, Maverick’s numerous Star Wars copied plot points don’t bode well for the screenwriters’ wit.
Beyond issues of filmmaking & cultural potency, there’s another issue, getting back to Patton: In Maverick, we have a war movie obsessed with a single death in the past, Goose’s, but in the current war, if we can call it a war, death has been abolished or censored. The movie’s politics—despite fans’ proclamation of “a movie without the political bullshit,” meaning no woke stuff, Maverick certainly is political, all about the need for globalism, “policing the world,” as though the 21st c. never happened…—require war, thirst for war, but apparently on the condition no one sacrifices their life! Is that war or little league?
Not only is death absent in Maverick, but it is obsessively avoided & excessively mourned. Goose’s death in Top Gun is no longer a sacrifice caused by an accident, a part of the training that makes pilots who & what they are. No, Goose’s death is now something for Maverick & Goose’s son, Rooster, to cry about. Goose’s death makes Maverick unwilling to ever sacrifice a single man. Goose’s death makes Rooster freeze up in action. It’s amazing that no one can think of it as Goose’s noble sacrifice—he’s merely a victim of bad luck, & they are almost completely crippled by it. War should teach men manly virtues, but can manliness be conserved without nobility, which is inseparable from sacrifice? But if they’re all so afraid of death, why make the movie at all—let the robots fight, the computers & drones! This fundamental question of humanity gets even less treatment than in director Kosinski’s 2010 film, Tron: Legacy.
So Maverick’s a Marvel movie for dads. Marvel movies have no sex & no death, because they’re for kids, apparently, so crucial elements of our lives, desire & mortality, are censored. It’s not just that the competition among men now has nothing to do with their sexual potency, but even the Maverick-Penny sex scene has been robbed of the original’s eroticism. I guess Tom Cruise forgot what he knew when he made Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’s opera scene with Rebecca Ferguson, which was a lot more provocative. As for death, it’s reserved for a few bad guys, to be understood as faceless, anonymous, fleeting, a way of dispelling fear. Top Gun was no great meditation on Eros & Thanatos, but we knew who we were fighting, so it could appeal to our anger & fear, & falling in love had all the urgency brought by youth & danger to life. Maverick’s jets are certainly booming & powerful, but they pose no real danger as long as Mr. Maverick Cruise comes along to save you, to somehow save every single person from death like the Scientologist god he must be. & I haven’t even investigated Maverick’s failure to dramatize American ideals, another very Marvel problem.
Why did Rooster follow his father’s footsteps in flying planes & making war? We don’t know, he just had to, I guess. Why does he love Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire that his father used to sing with Maverick, part of that movie’s nostalgia for mid-century America—like You lost that loving feeling? Why did Maverick fall so far from the courage of his & Goose’s youth, passing that paralysis on like a virus to Rooster? Here we have an answer: Maverick obeyed Rooster’s mother’s dying wish. Maybe this is a world run by women, even if their fears stunt their sons… Indeed, Maverick learns the importance of sailing to the Navy by sailing under Penny’s command. (There is one good scene with manly Penny’s chastising Maverick for giving up his team, recalling Spartan mothers chastising their sons for running from battle.) Feminine virtues are certainly necessary to civilization, but so is a manly daring of death, of which we find so little we come to suspect this war drama is merely therapy for Maverick & Rooster.
It’s too bad director Kosinski did not bring to Maverick the knowledge of noble sacrifice he demonstrated in 2017’s Only the Brave. In Patton, the good General says, “We’re gonna keep fighting. Is that clear? We’re gonna attack all night! We’re gonna attack tomorrow morning! If we are not victorious, let no man come back alive!” In Maverick, Admiral Simpson tells Maverick war must have casualties, but Maverick, nearly tearful, answers that this is something he simply cannot abide. I imagine Patton would have slapped both Maverick & Rooster, but he would have admired the men in Only the Brave. So I don’t see any reason 2022’s Maverick will be remembered except as a feminine answer to 1986’s Top Gun.