Film review: Top Gun Maniac, I mean, “Maverick” – the right stuff and the age of “innocence”

Short review of long (130 minutes?) film.

This very well-made film is a paean to a “simpler” time, when America was king of the world.

The whole thing is drenched in various nostalgias and yearnings for (mythical) pasts that are not actually compatible, but the whole thing is moving at Mach 10 (or 10.3 in fact) and the viewer is pulling (negative) Gs so you don’t notice.

There’s the nostalgia – obviously – for the first film, which came out in 1986 at the height of Reaganite machismo (IranContra and the Savings and Loan scandal were beginning to cast a pall there though). The new film is a careful homage/mash-up

Next it’s a hollaback (as I believe the young people used to say?) to – MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW – “Star Wars,” from 10 years before that. The central conceit of TGM is that Pete Mitchell has to teach (lead) a brave band of Rebel Alliance X-wing pilots through the canyon on the Death Star to hit a small vent. And at a crucial moment, they won’t be able to use their targetting computers.

Next it’s a call back to the putative age of individual excellence and machismo of the early efforts to put “spam in a can” – sorry – man in space, as per the book and the film “The Right Stuff”, about the early astronauts. Two interesting casting decisions here – Ed Harris, who is now 71 and presumably too old to be an active officer in the Navy, is in Top Gun Maniac in a small crucial role, and was also in the 1983 film “The Right Stuff.” Secondly, a key role in the new film is played by Glenn Peters, who acted in the film “Hidden Figures” as … astronaut John Glenn.

An early scene has Tom Cruise literally but not metaphorically brought to earth, and in a diner where the customers are all very explicitly and totally anachronistically from the 1950s (the glasses, the checked shirts, the moppets).

And finally, it’s a yearning for The Good War – it ain’t no coincidence that the dog fights are modelled on the era before air-to-air missiles (“dogfights” between supersonic fighters do not happen the way Top Gun and Top Gun Maniac would have you believe. Laws of physics and all that). What’s the first and last thing (spoilers, but not really) you see Tom Cruise doing in this film? Mucking about with the most famous US fighter plane from World War 2 – the P51 Mustang [painful levels of detail here.]

This is hardly a surprise. The past – certainly the one shorn of complexity, honesty – is a source of comfort and legitimation.

And it all happens at speed in this film, so if you feel the need for speed, for Heroes, for eye-candy, then have at ye.

One thought on “Film review: Top Gun Maniac, I mean, “Maverick” – the right stuff and the age of “innocence”

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  1. Thanks for this, Marc. I might now go to see it.

    Nostalgia is the deep theme of the C21st so far, and it will get stronger. The nostalgia of ‘progressives’ for a time when they could actually have hope in their preferred futures. The nostalgia of us greens for a time when it was still possible to ‘tackle’ climate change. The nostalgia of conservatives for any time before the 1960s. The nostalgia of ageing children of empires for their imperial past. Coming soon: nostalgia for a stable climate. Coming after that: Virtual Reality-enabled nostalgia – immerse yourself in the past, and why come out?

    Don Delillo in ‘White Noise”: ‘War is the form nostalgia takes when men are hard pressed to say anything good about their country’. I think that tells us a lot about Putin. And about ‘culture war’.

    Best Ian

    Ian Christie

    Senior Lecturer (Social Science and Ethics of Sustainable Development) Centre for Environment & Sustainability University of Surrey Guildford, Surrey, UK GU2 7XH

    Fellow, WWF-UK Associate, Green Alliance Trustee, New Economics Foundation and Perspectiva


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