“How was it?” my sister asked as she sat down. “Oh it was brilliant,” I said as I grinned wistfully from ear to ear. “Why is it that everyone just beams when they talk about the new Top Gun movie?” She asked as she noted the F14’s flying around my eyeballs as I recounted the film to her. With Top Gun: Maverick edging up to the $1 billion mark at the box office and the new Elvis biopic snapping at Tom Cruise’s heels with audiences going bananas for the King’s revival, there has to be something going on beneath the surface.
First of all, the success of Top Gun Maverick in the last few weeks owes a good deal of thanks to timing. Paramount held back on it’s release for years, in fact when I was visiting San Diego in 2018 they had areas sealed off for filming so it’s been a considerable time coming. With cinemas on their knees over the last 2 years, this blockbuster was a more than capable welcome back present.
But timing isn’t everything, and a lot more bubbling beneath the surface is pointing to the success of this movie. Many had foreseen the end of the typical Hollywood blockbuster, but the success of this film would signal otherwise as people have come in their droves. With entertainment executives far too attuned to the ebbs and flows of our ever-changing culture, many seem to be placing their bets with films that are firmly rooted in the past. This allows these films to explore a period unashamedly with rose-tinted glasses, while also benefitting from the cushy position of being able to defend anything with ‘well that’s how they did it back then.’ It’s a bankable safety net for executives too scared to live in the present, or carve out the future.
A lot of people, including myself went into Top Gun cold; familiar with only the infamous tagline, Aviators and the ‘sad ending’ of the last one. All decent sequels (to my knowledge the only one is Godfather Part ll), they must be standalone and able to breathe on their own. With nostalgic references peppered throughout, it was subtle without being overpowering. Tom Cruise is called in to exhume his aviator alter ego as Maverick, to teach a bunch of young recruits how to successfully complete a dangerous mission in an unspecified foreign country. This sets us up for various training sequences and visuals here are incredible, the cockpit scenes which make up about 60% of screen time are so on the money. The hook of the story is that the late Goose’s son, aptly named Rooster is one of the young recruits and so it begins the push and pull of conscience for Maverick over whether the urge to protect his friend’s son is honourable or a poorly veiled attempt to hold on to the past. Sound familiar?
The script is far from perfect, loaded with cheesy lines, with no shortage of fluffy, romantic statements set up exclusively so Cruise can flash his million dollar grin, pop on his shades and walk out the door. For sins like this I usually would have sent a complaint in, except the whole thing worked so bloody well. The cheese oozed out of this film and for good reason, the original was the epitome of a 1980’s blockbuster that espoused American exceptionalism at every turn. This point in particular intrigued me, because politics has shifted significantly since then, the fanfare around this film would suggest it hasn’t changed as much as we would be lead to believe. People seem genuinely nostalgic about this movie and what it stands for.
Now let’s talk about Cruise himself. Despite the elephant in the room with his religious involvement, there is an almost insistence that this be disregarded in favour of his virtues. Just like Tom Hanks, Cruise’s reputation precedes him, known as an Everyman who talks with fans, crews and the general public giving them attention at any time. Tom Cruise is incredibly more bankable as a film star than he was in his heyday in the 80s. He’s also arguably one of the most elusive film stars that has maintained that star quality that few have risen to. In such a crowded market with streaming services and everyone having different subscriptions it’s difficult to make your name across platforms. He hasn’t fallen for the modern allure of streaming deals, something that has potentially helped cement his star status. That’s maybe why if anyone is looking for Cruise, you know he’ll still be at the cinema, just like he was years ago.
It’s times like this that we should stop and check ourselves and ask what is seeping through to the surface of our culture perhaps without us realizing. With Top Gun Maverick cruising on Tom’s revitalized career wave, the new Elvis biopic transporting audiences back to Graceland, and the Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde allowing audiences to have their own Marilyn moment later this year, there’s something nostalgic in the water in 2022. Is it because the past is the only comfortable, tangible reference point we have? Perhaps. Only time will tell.