Top Gun: Maverick broke box office records over Memorial Day weekend, and it’s worth asking why. Could this be an entertainment phenomenon that says something bigger about the current moment in American culture?
No doubt many come to see Tom Cruise playing US Navy fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, as he did in 1986’s original Top Gun and hits like the Mission: Impossible franchise. Braving the landing of a sequel more than three decades after the first film is no easy feat.
Maverick trains fighter pilots for a mission against an unidentified enemy, though the Journal reports that the film lost a Chinese investor over its pro-American leanings. After some debate, the film’s creators reportedly declined to scrub Taiwanese and Japanese flags off Maverick’s bomber jacket. By the low standards of Hollywood, which is usually willing to appease the Communist Party in its quest for Chinese box office, we’ll count this as bravery.
The film is drawing some older folks back to theaters after Covid’s long absence, but let’s hope this paean to fighter aviation catches the imagination of younger Americans. The Navy and Air Force have had a shortage of fighter pilots for years. The situation is worse for recruited service employees such as experienced maintenance personnel.
Only about a quarter of American youth meet the current eligibility criteria to enlist, and even fewer are interested. “To be absolutely clear,” Republican North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis said at a congressional hearing in April, “I am concerned that we are now in the early days of a long-term threat to the all-volunteer force.” Call this a highway into the danger zone for US security.
A well-known cast and action scenes may explain much of Top Gun’s success, but it’s still remarkable how many Americans watch a film that promotes the military. The progressive lectures about America as a racist or evil society will continue, but it’s heartening that the public still cheers when American airmen bring down the bad guys.
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Appeared in the print edition on June 2, 2022.
https://www.wsj.com/articles/top-gun-culture-and-reality-maverick-fighter-jets-tom-cruise-u-s-military-navy-11654107931 ‘Top Gun’ Culture and Reality