Spoilers Alert: Plot points will be discussed in this column
There is no doubt that Jerry Bruckheimer has sent cash registers on hypersonic mode with Top Gun: Maverick.
That is to be expected from movie producers as winning polls is to be expected from politicians.
To an 80s kid like me who watched the original Top Gun become a seminal movie of its time and also lighted the afterburner of Tom Cruise’s career, Maverick is more than just the showing of fresh sculpted abs, bulging biceps, (not so) new fighter jets, testosterone surges and adrenaline rushes.
It is a subtle take, an almost Foucault-esque, Derrida-like “problematization,” of life as those French philosophers term it in a complicated way.
Top Gun: Maverick was about Top Gun.
And all the other events that came more than 30 years after the original one featured the F14 Tomcat as the baddest ass kicker of the American Navy.
The meta type of the movie was evident when Maverick (Tom Cruise) was suited up for the scramjet he was flying as a test pilot for the Darkstar project that Admiral Hammer Cain wanted to shut down in favor of his drone pet project.
The scene when Maverick disobeyed orders to not fly the jet showed he was still living up to his codename, still the same untamable colt he was on day one of Fighter Weapons School.
Joseph Kosinski leaned heavily on nostalgia since the opening frame, using the same font for the same introductory text, a nod to George Lucas who first used the technique for Star Wars.
The music was still Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens’ “Top Gun Main Theme” as the launch sequence of jets on a carrier was being shown, and faded into the reprise of Kenny Loggins Danger Zone as a jet was catapulted off the deck.
Only this time it was not an F14 but an FA-18 Super Hornet, a fourth generation non-stealth fighter in the US inventory.
The moment Hammer (Ed Harris) told Maverick that he is not in the future of naval aviation as he was leaving the room symbolized the growing tension and dilemma between technology and humans, and how decision makers make their choices based on pragmatics and statistics than on tradition and romantic notions.
Harris, the hard-nosed admiral, was the stand in for the pragmatists, the REMF (rear echelon mother f***er) while Cruise was the boots on the ground, the veteran grunt, the gung ho operator who spent many hours, and made lots of friends, in the foxholes.
Which struck me: if bloggers are the future of information gathering, am I, a reporter, not included in that future?
This universal theme of the clash between the old and the new, made more apparent now by social media, is so thick in the more than two hour film that it moves from technology (5th Gen Sukhoi Felons vs Super Hornets then a Tomcat) to the pilot “in the box” (young Top Gun graduates vs the grizzled Maverick they first threw “overboard” from the Hard Deck bar) to Maverick having a new wingman (Cyclone, the admiral) after his old one (Ice) dies.
Then of course the final mission: again to an 80s kid like me an homage to the Star Wars: Return of the Jedi mission to destroy the Death Star.
From the fighter formation, to the final attack approach, and right down to Rooster’s dropping the bomb blind when Fanboy failed to laze the target, the sequence screamed Star Wars.
“Don’t think, just do,” was the Yoda-ish, less cryptic message of Maverick to Rooster, a seeming echo of Obi Wan’s “Luke, use the Force.”
For a moment, those Super Hornets looked like X Wing fighters with unfolded wings as these swung around obstacles en route to the 3×3 meter exposed vent which, as expected, was hit by the bombs of Maverick and Rooster.
It was so Star Warsy that I half expected Darth Vader’s Tie fighter to drop in out of nowhere and tell Maverick in his classic labored breathing “Pete, I am your father.”
The final fight sequences showed what the film was all about: Maverick’s personal mission to redeem himself with Rooster when he did his trademark slam the brakes maneuver so Rooster could fly right on by and he ended up getting hit by a SAM.
The last dogfights – Maverick and Rooster on an old F14 Tomcats versus the two Sukhoi Felons was a testament to the human spirit. “It’s not the plane, it’s the pilot,” Rooster exhorted from the co-pilot seat as Maverick’s Radar Intercept Officer.
The final dogfight, a limping F14 vs. a sleek, slick, stealth Felon was almost an illustration of Jordan Peterson’S lectures about the power of the individual and the indomitable human spirit, an affirmation that men, not technology or machines, win fights.
As Maverick struggled to hold the F14 that was almost falling apart, I can almost see Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag as he pondered on his life and how he, too, enabled evil to flourish in Russia.
There are those who believe that Top Gun: Maverick was about the military industrial complex of the US or its imperialist agenda.
To me, perhaps just me, at the core of Top Gun: Maverick is the universal message that cuts across genders, classes, race and all the imagined barriers that separate us: that no matter who we are, we all seek kinship and want to have faith in someone or something and perhaps, first of all in ourself for it only deep in us that we can find true courage.
Courage is universal, as universal as evil like what Solzhenitsyn once said:
“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an un uprooted small corner of evil.”