I was in no rush to see the sequel to a 36-year-old movie that was an old favorite of mine. And in no rush for the same reasons I didn't look forward to seeing other sequels of American pop cinema classics: Think Jaws: The Revenge, Little Fockers or Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Because movie sequels are generally uninspired commercial enterprises and generally come out poorly, for both the studios and the fans.
I figured I'd wait for Top Gun: Maverick to make its way to the streaming world and watch it in the comfort of my home. But soon the reviews started streaming in from friends. Again and again, they told me the movie wasn't just good but very good. That it was packed with real emotion and excitement. That it was an old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing blockbuster. Some friends told me it was better than the original, something I hadn't heard about a sequel since Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part II.
That's why we lined up—and are still lining up—to see Top Gun: Maverick. Because week after week our friends keep telling us we need to see the movie. And that's the best advertising money can't buy.
Moreover, my friends urged me to do something I hadn't done in a while—see the movie in a movie theater. You know, those relics in strip malls and cities across America where people gather in the dark, overpriced popcorn and soda in hand, and watch the magic happen. On giant screens our houses can't accommodate and with sound systems no home theater can replicate. Watching Top Gun: Maverick on my couch would have been a sorry substitute for the real thing.
That too is why we keep lining up for Top Gun: Maverick. Because Americans miss going to the movies. And miss summer blockbusters that do not include robots or cartoon characters.
We are lining up for Top Gun: Maverick because the movie is an unapologetic celebration of a certain type of masculinity Americans still long for and love. The characters, the young ones especially, aren't stupid or weak men or forever postponing adult responsibilities. They aren't dark or cynical men, or worse, the kind of men Hollywood seems to have been infatuated with the past decade or two: Men who seem lost in their own lives, silly and not terribly competent or serious men dominated by their more accomplished wives. They were competent, competitive male characters on the screen, characters willing to give of themselves—and even risk their lives—in service to a country they loved.
None of the men in the movie took a pass when asked to volunteer for a mission that had a high probability of casualties. And none took a knee when they saw an American flag, not the white or Black naval aviators. Those men were too busy fighting for the ideals our flag represents. The women too were strong and competent and equally attracted to the ethos of military life. They too were warriors with warrior hearts.
That's why we line up for Top Gun: Maverick. Because Americans love our men and women in uniform. And we love strong, courageous men and women. We got a lot of both in this film.
We line up for Top Gun: Maverick because the American military wasn't the villain in this film but rather the good guy. And the good guy seeking to destroy a nuclear site in some far-off bad place—presumably Russia but it just as easily could have been Iran. The implication, of course, was clear: Some countries should have nuclear capabilities and some shouldn't.
We line up for Top Gun: Maverick because we love rooting for the underdog and despise the soul-crushing nature of bureaucracies of all kinds. The movie begins with Tom Cruise's character, Pete Mitchell, who is 35 years into his career and working on the fringes of military aviation. His career is stalled at being a captain because sucking up to his superiors to advance up the military chain of command is not his gift. There's not a political bone in Maverick's body, and we love him for it. He's always all in for the mission. And his team.
In an early scene, he's challenged by one of his superiors, an admiral played by Ed Harris, who takes considerable pleasure letting Maverick know that flyboys like him are a creature of the past because sophisticated drone technology makes them obsolete. But it turns out there's no drone technology for the mission at hand. It will take real-life pilots to take out a real-life nuclear site. In steps Maverick and his flyboys and flygirls to fill the void.
We line up for Top Gun: Maverick because there's not a woke moment in the film. There are no messages about inclusion, privilege, white supremacy or gender fluidity. The men are men in the movie and the women are women, and the only romantic relationship in the film, between Cruise and his love interest, Jennifer Connelly, is electric. When the two finally get together, there are no sex scenes. The movie spares us that indignity.
The other love on display is the brotherly and sisterly variety, the kind of intense bonding that tight-knit groups under pressure experience. The kind cops, firefighters, sports teams and emergency room doctors and nurses experience.
Last but certainly not least, we line up for Top Gun: Maverick for the great adrenaline-filled action sequences, from the dazzling low-altitude scenes to the airborne dogfights.
Also on dazzling display are some of the most technically sophisticated airplanes ever made, produced by great American companies. Planes like Boeing's F/A-18E and 18F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II. A well-known fact in the military aviation world, but lesser known to the civilian world, is just how dominant our military planes and pilots actually are: No U.S. ground troop has been killed by enemy aircraft since April 15, 1953, during the Korean War. Which means when our soldiers on the ground hear the sound of a supersonic plane overhead, they know it's one of ours. Which is no small thing in war. And peace.
We also line up for Top Gun: Maverick because of the stars. The aforementioned Ed Harris, John Hamm, Val Kilmer (he appears in a short scene that had the entire theater in tears) and Cruise himself, who with this performance proves that 60 isn't the new 50 but the new 35. The man doesn't just age well. He doesn't seem to age at all.
This past weekend, Top Gun: Maverick battled with Elvis to take top- grossing honors, at over $30 million, an unheard-of number for a movie in its fifth weekend. The movie's domestic total has surpassed $500 million and leapt past the $1 billion mark in the global market, proving that the international community also loves a good, old-fashioned, patriotic American blockbuster.
Everyone working at Netflix, Disney, Hulu and the Hollywood studios should be assigned to watch—and study—this movie that Americans are still lining up for. With any luck, they just might come to understand what the American public looks for in entertainment.
And what we long for too.