Top Gun: Maverick is set to continue its epic box office run this weekend; in the absence of major competition in US multiplexes, it will soon surpass the $250 million mark in domestic revenue alone, with $400 million or more in its sights. It could become the highest-grossing movie of the year, at least until Avatar 2 drops. If you read the analysis of some right-wing pundits, the triumph of Top Gun: Maverick is their triumph, and a rebuke of “woke culture” – that is, movies and TV shows that don’t feature not exclusively white men in their lead roles.
It’s indeed true that Top Gun: Maverick doesn’t go out of its way to celebrate inclusion and diversity in the sometimes sickening and corporate way most closely associated with various Disney properties. (If there isn’t a “first gay character in Top Gun” that we know of, that’s okay; Disney will continue to assign similar designations to underage and/or desexualized characters for years to come. !) It stars Tom Cruise, reprising his role as the white man extraordinaire Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, fighter pilot hero of the first Top Gun, trains a new generation of recruits for a strangely Star Wars mission behind enemy lines not specified. Many, but not all, of the interns who get the most screen time are also white males.
That outlets like the Daily Wire, Breitbart and their Fox News followers described the release of Top Gun: Maverick as both a rare event and a rare win for Hollywood is both absurd and telling. Of course, the likes of Tomi Lahren have to point out the “mainstream” (read: white and male-biased) nature of Top Gun: Maverick; it is in their interest to stir up outrage, and sometimes violence in the real world, based on the idea that white people are being replaced – and that “real Americans” will not tolerate it. Somehow, a hit sequel to a blockbuster movie from 35 years ago affirms everything the right has been saying about popular culture — or, really, the world at large.
Of course, there’s been no real shortage of movies starring white men (Spider-Man: No Way Home, the biggest hit in years, imported white men from two other franchises) or traditional values (The Batman may pay lip service to class warfare, but it’s pretty much pro-cop; Dog is literally about a military man and his dog). Nor are there many indications that the public yearns specifically or exclusively for displays of “traditional” military-centric patriotism. Asian and Asian-American actors led last year’s big hit Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and this year’s indie hit Everything Everywhere All at Once. The average gross of this new Star Wars movie trilogy that any of these pundits could (and in some cases did) describe as unrepentant wokefests is around $700 million in North America, which which puts their average popularity at around fifth place all-time (or, adjusted for inflation, just as popular as Forrest Gump). Right-wing cultural warrior audiences regard a military, entirely middling (and wildly successful) co-op production like Captain Marvel as equivalent to an encroaching Marxist Revolution.
That said, Top Gun: Maverick has a conservative bias; it’s just a more simplified version of the conservatism of (contrary to the claims of those ding-dongs) so many movies with blockbuster aspirations. Despite some scenes where Maverick reflects on his past and his legacy, especially a touching moment with his old rival Iceman (Val Kilmer), the film is an empty, sleek vessel that by default endorses the status quo. Cruise’s Maverick was the best, is the best, and given Cruise’s aversion to dying on screen, will remain the best for the foreseeable future. A few characters may call Cruise a relic from another time, but he remains the exception to all the rules. What really keeps the movie from feeling like a hymn to American exceptionalism is how otherworldly Tom Cruise presents himself these days.
In other words, Top Gun 2 is carefully “apolitical” the way righties like it, as it allows them to claim victory for ordinary citizens where white male/military dominance has no sociopolitical dimension. – they are the default, normal. thing. Advocates for keeping “politics” out of movies have an implicit definition of politics that includes radical concepts like “non-white actors” and “more than one woman.” Some leftists also inadvertently play into this, when we detect the insidious conservative agenda in films with ideological or provocative ambiguities.
It was then fascinating to see self-proclaimed leftists who look askance at Marvel for crypto-fascist propaganda surrender to the seemingly neutral staging of Top Gun: Maverick. But it’s also anecdotal evidence of Maverick’s appeal that goes beyond the traditionalists who have claimed it as their own. It’s just something a lot of people can agree on – much like Black Panther (although Maverick doesn’t quite make that amount of money in the end). It’s an illusion to treat it like the last blockbuster movie; Doctor Strange 2, a sequel to a much less-loved film, made big money just weeks earlier. Plus, righties have misinterpreted the true unity behind Top Gun: Maverick, which is far stranger: for at least a little longer, the United States is One Nation, Under Cruise.