I’m not much for nostalgia.
This is something of an ingrained predilection, but it’s also reinforced by – to the best of my admittedly meagre ability – conscious effort and repeated practice. How else can a young man go forward in this world, if he isn’t looking to the future?
So it is that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to Top Gun: Maverick starring Tom Cruise. In fact, I had every intention of skipping over it entirely, like I do with 99% of popular culture. So it’s not that I have anything against the formulaic action movie genre in general, nor the wash-rinse-repeat Tom Cruise in particular, but they’re both at best neutral in my book. Fine enough on their own terms but hardly worth crossing the street for. But when your aging and really rather saintly father-in-law gets about as excited as a schoolboy and invites you out for a matinee with a few other gents in the extended family, you go! Even when it’s one of the most beautiful weekend afternoons of the summer and you’d probably rather be out for a bike ride with your own children… But when duty calls, it calls.
Which brings us neatly to this Top Gun sequel (don’t call it a “remake”). Thirty-six years after the original, Maverick is back and better than ever as a reckless yet unbeatable fighter pilot who just refuses to quit. Faced with geopolitical enemies from without and bureaucratic enemies from within, Mav (played by Tiny Tom) must prove himself the ageless wonder against a fresh crop of recruits. With charisma, athleticism, and sincere emotional appeal, the legend doesn’t fail to disappoint. Between bouts of light humour and even lighter romance, the frequent dogfighting scenes that energized the film were delightfully intense, blending pitch-perfect soundtracks with metaverse-esque cinematic impact.i Sure, surviving multiple fighter jet ejections at Mach 10 is unlikely, even moreso that they’re all walked away from, but these were well within the realm of reason for the audience to believe. As was the very “inclusive” cast surrounding Maverick. Indeed, the film paints the picture of a very different (read: colourful and gender-balanced) America than the hegemonic white male-dominated killing machine of two generations ago, but that’s hardly off the mark for the times.
What was much more jarring was the crystal clear message that the US Armed Forces in general and US Navy are particular is now entering combat scenarios where they expect to be AT A TECHNOLOGICAL DISADVANTAGE! This is nearly impossible to underscore enough. For the entire living memory of everyone on this planet, the United States has been in such a dominating technological position that it could (and did) act with impunity against lesser militaries (and civilians). Yet here we are in 2022 with a Pentagon-funded propaganda movie openly advertising its weakness and inferiority on the battlefield, suggesting outright that “it’s not the plane, it’s the pilot” and “this old girl still has some fight left in her.” These are perfectly factual assertion in many ways, and equally digestible assertions for most citizens in most countries in history to process, but for the bottle-fed, kid-gloved LinkedIn Marketing Ho generation of millennials and gen z’s, it must sound horrible: like nails on a chalkboard remixed with blind goats being slaughtered with very dull knives. It must sound impossible. And yet here we are.
This is an important sociological evolution to observe. Leaving aside the quality of the filmmaking,ii the care and attention of the scripting and choreography, and the tasteful script writing that nodded to the past without dwelling on it, what was truly remarkable was the psychological territory ceded. Instead of competing toe-to-toe against the rogue enemy state’s fifth-generation fighter jets with its own (stillborn) F35s, Maverick & co. take to the skies in 1980s-era F/A-18s!!!! So the battle comes down to human limits.
Then there’s the mainstream bloodthirst bubbling beneath the surface of not only this film but its box office success. Of course we know that Obama’s “Red Line” in Syria was a farce, but will Trump be so unwilling to wage all-out war come 2024? Top Gun: Maverick reminds us just how much closer we all are to large-scale global conflicts between advanced militaries. Whether the battlefield is Central Europe or Taiwan or both, we’re quite likely to see considerable blood shed in the next decade. And it won’t be nearly as pristine and spotless as this film. No real life could be — much less war.
When those terrible days come, I might even just allow myself a little nostalgia for the relatively peaceful times of summer 2022.
Happy Canada Day and Happy American Independence Day to all celebrating. God bless.
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- Screen X really is quite something! Out of the 2ish hour runtime of the film, about half of it featured second and third film projectors to expand the screen in triangular extensions that followed the rise of the theatre, expanding the periphery to more than doubling the perceived width of the action. It was seriously impressive! Would recommend. ↩
- The take-home impression was just how goddam clean everything was. Singapore isn’t as spotless as this movie was. Given the dirt, grime, and pain of typical wars and military training exercises, you’d think that Cruise et al. had been immaculately conceived, which it turns out was one of the subliminal themes. Complete with Christ-like resurrection, the undercurrent of this rather “Christian” film was all too clear. Lest we forget the principles and precepts upon which the flag was erected! ↩