The other day I re-watched Top Gun with my daughter, and she quite enjoyed it. It is arguably one of the most perfect distillations of the 1980s we still possess. Naturally, my thoughts then turned to the sequel, which will at some point be inflicted on an already heavily abused moviegoing audience.
I will here venture yet another one of my fearless (and to date, eerily prescient) predictions: this movie will be terrible. Oh, it may get good reviews at first, but upon close examination, people will realize that like just about everything else that comes out today, it’s objectively awful. Let’s take a closer look as to why it will disappoint.
What Was I Saying About Useless Sequels?
Yeah, so I’ve been beating up this topic of late, and for variety’s sake I’d just like to remind people that I don’t inherently hate sequels. Aliens was far and away better than the original Alien. While it’s a genre film, there is universal agreement that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a vast improvement over Star Trek: The (Slow) Motion Picture.
And since none of my columns would be complete without either a dig at Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica, yes, the second and third installments of the Star Wars trilogy are outstanding films. [Style note: for brevity’s sake, I shall refer to the original films as “the Star Wars trilogy” since none of the subsequent films have a coherent story arc. There was only one actual trilogy, which started in 1977 and ended in 1983.]
The point is that sequels can work, and they can be good, but this one won’t.
35 Years is Too Long To Care
It must be said that Tom Cruise has aged much better than Harrison Ford, so there’s that. Maybe going clear really does bring eternal youth. Still, Cruise’s creepy youthfulness won’t be enough to save the picture.
Part of the problem is that 35 years is an eternity in military service. Any officer with that kind of longevity would have to reach flag rank, and a film centered around power point presentations and who drank the last cup of coffee (the chief focus of Navy admirals) isn’t exactly going to be a thrill ride.
There’s also the problem that nostalgia trips, which this movie clearly is, have to be recent enough for the bulk of the population to recall the time period in question. The classic example of this, Grease, came out when the era depicted was within the memory of people still in their late 20s. The same was true of Dirty Dancing or shows like The Wonder Years and Happy Days. Top Gun came out so long ago that anyone under 40 won’t remember a thing about the time when it was made.
To put this in the starkest terms, Breakfast at Tiffany’s was more recent in 1986, when Top Gun was made than the sequel is today.
It’s already about 25 years too late, Tom, but your post-production crew can spend this extra time replacing the Japanese and Taiwanese flag patches that went missing from from Cpt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s jacket.
(Psst. China appeasement ain’t such a good look these days.) https://t.co/TRWSmrgUSd
— Bleeding Fool (@BleedingFool) April 3, 2020
The Woke Dragon in the Living Room
The biggest obstacles to good filmmaking remain Hollywood’s wokeness. Storytelling must always bend the knee before woke tropes, particularly when one is dealing with the military.
As I’ve pointed out before, the current generation has a pathological need to pretend that Jim Crow only ended this spring and that the 19th Amendment is still pending ratification. Given that the plot of Top Gun centered around a female flight expert deftly navigating a male-dominated world (with ethnically diverse pilots, no less), there’s only limited room to push the “woke” envelope. Some have speculated that Cruise’s character will have to pass the baton to a female pilot, but that ship sailed a quarter century ago.
Compounding this will be the issue of who exactly “Maverick” will be training to fight. It can’t be China, because the PRC owns Hollywood. Maybe it will be neo-Nazis or Russians flying their decrepit planes. (In a stunning air-to-air confrontation, Mav will fly inverted while his Russian pilot tries to hold his crumbling craft steady.)
One of the things that gave Top Gun its power was the fact that it was filmed in the heart of the Cold War when US carriers carried out active flight operations against terrorist states equipped with Soviet equipment. The US Navy had repeated armed confrontations with Libya with one taking place just weeks before the film premiered
Thus, the confrontation shown in the movie was extremely credible – one like it had already happened twice and it would happen again after the film came out.
The current maritime “hot zone” is the South China Sea, but there is a zero percent chance that Chinese territorial ambitions will be portrayed in a negative light. My prediction is that a new, common enemy will emerge and Maverick will come to realize that the ChiComs are really our friends and would like us more if only we weren’t so racist towards them.
No Cynics Need Apply
A final note on why this movie will be a slow-motion plane crash: it will be impossible to accurately portray military culture. While Top Gun was made with the full support of the US Navy, it accurately reflects the cynicism many service members felt over the US government’s actions in Vietnam.
This was a recurring theme in movies of the 1980s, particularly ones that were pro-military. Whether dealing with the Rambo franchise or TV shows like Magnum P.I., there was a healthy skepticism of the national leadership that simply can’t be publicly expressed today. Corrupt defense officials were stock villains in Lethal Weapon and Miami Vice, and there was broad public wariness about what crooked covert operations the CIA was running under the guise of fighting the Cold War.
Such thoughts are now expressly forbidden, which is not only alarming on its own, but further reduces the space for a creative and realistic narrative. That’s why I confidently predict this film will be slickly-packaged garbage, a Dept. of Defense-supported MCU film.
The current entertainment industry is incapable of a clear-throated endorsement of the United States and also lacks the nuance to temper it with the world-weary cynicism that is part and parcel of actual military culture.
Top Gun was a summer popcorn film that transcended the genre to become a classic. This sequel will get a burst of popularity and then fade into a deserved obscurity.