Why I was wrong about “Top Gun: Maverick”

Here is an excellent letter from a reader who challenges my somewhat negative view of Top Gun: Maverick, which I appreciated technically (superb flight sequences), but which I could not approach in terms of message. The reader responds:

I think you are missing an important aspect of the success of the last Topgun.

First, my background. I’ve flown F-14s before in the Topgun days. I flew missions over southern Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War and so on. So, I come from the culture depicted in the movie, but since I’m an Am Con reader, you can imagine I’m not a military state cheerleader.

Before giving my take on why I think the film does so well, let me also say that I don’t see it as high art, nor am I claiming that the writers of the movie were planning what I see. We can also put aside the flight sequences because I think everyone agrees that this is a technical triumph. They are truly amazing and no movie has done justice to what it really feels like to be on board a fighter jet.

We live in very different times, and I don’t believe this movie conveys the same message about America as the original. The mission, while relevant to today’s news, is just a mcguffin to show flight.

The film is a hit because it appeals to those who have traditionally served in the military with an emphasis on courage and duty. He is deeply human as he criticizes drone warfare (Admiral Cain) and cold leadership that sacrifices people for goals (Cyclone). And by emphasizing the pilot rather than the machine – especially as the “old” Tomcat takes on the more advanced fighters – it highlights the valor and virtuosity of humans. This film is a rebuke to technocratic warfare.

But above all, it is at its heart a film about how we mature in love. Throughout Maverick is more thoughtful and humble than in the last film. He’s “where he belongs” and he’s flying to help save other jobs in the opening. He longs for reconciliation with his surrogate son. He focuses on the well-being of his “family” – his team. He puts his old self – the Bagman driver – on the sidelines even though he is the best technical driver, because he doesn’t care about others. He sacrifices himself to save Rooster, trying to atone for his inability to save his father. And he chooses to literally fly off into the sunset with a woman he’s hurt in the past, keeping his promise to his daughter not to break her heart.

That all seems pretty high for pop entertainment – but I think those messages get through. People want to believe that despite the politicization of the army leadership and the questioning of our wars, our soldiers and our arimen are still what we expect of them and that they will fight bravely to do what is necessary for them – their mothers, fathers and siblings.

Now, I have no argument with this movie’s potential to fuel older, militaristic, triumphant attitudes. But I also think the country is in a place where those messages don’t resonate as much. I believe it is the emphasis on humanity, family and love (as well as skill, honor, bravery) that explains its success.

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