I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Tom Cruise’s Maverick doesn’t drink soy milk or eat Impossible Burgers. Don’t quote me on it, but I’ve got a hunch.
If you’ve seen Top Gun: Maverick, it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to you that the Tom Cruise film has surpassed the $900M box office milestone worldwide, making it his most successful movie of all time. Not only that, but now Paramount Pictures can boast that this is their second highest grossing movie to date.
So what is it about Top Gun: Maverick that has captivated the global audience? Well, between the heart-pounding aerial warfare, the believable characters, the heroic patriotism, and the absence of unpleasant vices it’s pretty clear that there’s a taste for real masculinity and freedom-focused values.
Maverick Is Still an Unapologetically Masculine Man
Set about 30 years after the iconic 1986 film Top Gun, main character Maverick is tasked with training fighter pilots for a special mission to destroy a nuclear facility in an enemy nation. We know from the classic film that he’s skilled, fearless, and up for any challenge, but now that a few decades have passed he has to navigate the challenges of training other naval pilots to conduct such a risky mission all while coming to terms with his own age.
Let’s unpack this, starting with the character Maverick himself. Pete Mitchell, known by his handle Maverick, is a star pilot who embodies traditional masculine traits in how brave, honest, wise, and surprisingly humble he is despite his talents. He demonstrates a consistent interest in the success of the mission over glory and shows his love for his country in how much care he takes while training the pilots.
Maverick has aged gracefully while maintaining his strength. The genuine, fit dad vibes that Cruise embodies in this film captures the hearts of the female audience and gives the male audience an aspirational role model. Speaking of skewing older, it’s notable that Cruise’s love interest, Jennifer Connelly’s Penny Benjamin is also an age-appropriate casting choice for a character who is flirty while exuding feminine independence.
The Whole Cast Is Authentic, Not Impossibly Perfect
Speaking of females in the world of Top Gun, it’s worth noting that the female pilot isn’t a Mary Sue. The mega-boss babe Mary Sue characters that women have been shown as in popular movies like Rey from the Star Wars universe, Tris from the Divergent series, Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games series, or Captain Marvel from the Marvel Universe are beautiful, flawless, and can do no wrong. As a woman who can do plenty wrong, I grow exhausted with these types of characters that misrepresent women entirely, and I know I’m not alone.
Monica Barbaro’s role as Natasha “Phoenix” Trace is refreshing since her character was actually modeled after real female fighter pilots. Phoenix is motivated, she has earned her keep as top of her class, and she doesn’t have anything she needs to prove. She isn’t sexualized, she’s not the love interest, but thankfully she also isn’t given the inauthentic, androgynous treatment which a lot of female characters are subjected to nowadays to please feminist critics and consumers alike. What’s more, Phoenix actually makes a major mistake in the movie because she isn’t perfect…and when was the last time we saw Hollywood admit that a woman can do something wrong?
In a film industry where casting directors are given firm diversity quotas in order for a film to be considered for an Oscar, “underrepresented” racial and ethnic casting picks oftentimes feel forced. Rightfully so, our nation was founded as a meritocracy and yet filmmakers are expected to craft their cast to contain the right amounts of “oppressed identities,” whether that’s based on their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability. Art made with utopian quotas in mind never feels quite as compelling and natural, but that’s exactly why Top Gun: Maverick is so well-received. This film benefits from realistic representations of true, American naval pilots of all backgrounds. Likewise, instead of a screenplay lecturing on ideologies, this film benefits from a screenplay that actually tells a story.
America Is Celebrated, Not Humiliated
Sure, it’s not a revolutionary plot by any means – with some viewers noting that the mission itself feels like a carbon copy of the destruction of the Death Star from Star Wars: A New Hope – but the sheer fact that it doesn’t tout itself as something meant to subvert expectations is what the film industry needed.
Perhaps Top Gun: Maverick has resonated so well with audiences because Americans have an innate desire to love their country. We’re often told to genuflect to foreign nations, act diminutive in nature, disregard the founding principles that make our country so special, and disrespect those who serve and defend America in our armed forces. Top Gun: Maverick flips the bird at that destructive mentality and instead gives an honest representation of our military. Those enlisted are strong, valorous, and symbolize the values that our nation was built on such as honor, purpose, and ambition. You won’t find soy-sipping weakness nor toxic masculinity in Top Gun: Maverick because the film depicts the real, rugged manliness that built our nation and has protected it for years.
The throwbacks to classic Americana continue throughout the movie without overdoing it on nostalgia. Yes, there’s shirtless volleyball on the beach, unapologetically toned physiques, and plenty of other homages to the original film, but they’re used to evoke a time that our nation is desperately missing. A time when people were healthier, happier, and could afford their groceries and gas without cutting into their savings.
On the mission itself, audiences have also been understandably dazzled by the actual footage of F/A-18 Super Hornets instead of the rubbish CGI that every modern Marvel movie touts yet looks worse with every consecutive movie release. When you pair together the dreamy aerial footage and robust sound mixing that makes the roar of the fighter jet’s engines feel realistic, you’ve got a movie that drips honest masculinity.
China Is Disregarded, Not Venerated
While it’s pretty clear that the breathtaking imagery and score are used to invoke passion for America, the film’s pro-America impact goes far beyond that. Early on in production, a Chinese company called Tencent Holding was supposed to be financially backing the film, but when an early trailer was released way back in 2019 (yes, this film has been delayed that long), some iconic images were notably missing. Maverick’s bomber jacket from the original film had two flag patches on it, one for Japan and one for Taiwan. In the trailer, these flags were missing and instead were replaced with ambiguous iconography that led people to wonder if Paramount Pictures was trying to appease China.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Hollywood has placated China through self-censorship. Tilda Swinson’s role as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange was originally a Tibetan character, but was infamously rewritten to be Celtic so as to not acknowledge Tibet’s existence. In order to not tick off Chinese censors, scripts are rewritten and international revenue is prioritized over creative freedoms. Apparently that’s not far enough! For Iron Man 3, which received a substantial amount of funding from China, scenes were added to the Chinese-version release where Iron Man’s life is saved by Chinese doctors.
Despite Paramount removing the flags, Tencent backed out of the Top Gun: Maverick project because the CCP didn’t want to be affiliated with a movie that celebrates American military excellence. What do you know, now that the movie is out in theaters, Maverick’s iconic jacket once again has the controversial Japanese and Taiwanese flags on it! This is by no means a heroic statement being made, but it at least is yet another refreshing change from the way the film and television industry has been operating lately.
It’s about time that Americans can just enjoy a proper blockbuster! Frankly, it feels like it has been a while since Hollywood has pumped out good old fashioned entertainment without any progressive agendas attached! The success of Top Gun: Maverick is a testament to audiences wanting to see a real, American movie because we’ve been spoon-fed the exact opposite for so long.
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