September 30, 2022
The Review: Top Gun

Top Gun: Maverick is out soon! But can any movie with fast planes, Tom Cruise, and beach volleyball truly compare to the classic fighter-pilot movie about, as writer Shirley Li puts it, “cute boys calling each other cute names”? And do audiences have an appetite anymore for what Megan Garber called an “infomercial for America”? Find out with Shirley, Megan, and David Sims, and explore the moral (but fictional) simplicity of an earlier era: the Cold War ’80s.

David Sims: The movie Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to Top Gun, is finally coming to theaters after getting delayed many, many times by the pandemic. Its initial scheduled release date was July 12, 2019. They delayed it ’til June 2020, more for genuine reshoots and production reasons. And then, of course, because of the coronavirus pandemic, it got kicked to July 2021, and then it got kicked to November 2021, and then it got finally moved to when it is actually being released: May 27, Memorial Day Weekend 2022. So this is one of the last delayed-by-COVID movies to make it to the big screen. It’s been this sort of story for Hollywood blockbusters for a couple of years now. And here Top Gun: Maverick is. It really feels like a movie that was made before the pandemic. Megan, you wrote about it for the magazine, and I think the headline in your piece was “Top Gun is an Infomercial for America.”

Megan Garber: Yeah. So I, too, grew up with Top Gun in the air, as it were. I don’t remember exactly when I watched it for the first time—definitely not in theaters—but I sort of had the detritus of that movie as part of my childhood. Like in toy stores, there were, like, 14 toys you could buy, and there was an amusement park near my house that had eventually a Top Gun–themed ride where you just listened to “Danger Zone” on a horrifying loop as you waited. But as a film, I had not really thought about it for many years until going back to reconsider it for this story. And yeah, it really did strike me how much of the film works as an ad. And I don’t just mean that in terms of propaganda, although definitely that is part of it, but an ad in the sense that it is selling something at every juncture; an ad will sort of strip away the context and the complications of the world until all that’s left is naked need. And, you know, a big blob of want.

That’s what this film really does, and I think really successfully, for better or for worse, as we can talk about. And then also infomercials in particular, I think, try to foster this very direct dialogue with their audiences. They try to have a discourse that will last for an hour, or whatever the length of the infomercial is, to anticipate the viewers saying no to the product, and instead it will say “No, here’s why you’re wrong. You’d think that this knife will not cut through wood. But wait, we will show you how this knife is going to cut through wood.” And every time the viewer might have an objection to the thing being sold or a question about whether the thing being sold is true, the infomercial will say, “Actually, let us tell you a little bit more.” And I think Top Gun definitely does that. You think at first maybe Maverick’s kind of a jerk, because he kind of is. But wait, there’s more. He’s also grieving and complicated and a romantic hero. And at every turn, Top Gun is using the logic of the advertisement to share its artistic message.

» continue to The Atlantic