Maverick: Legend of the Skies (AKA Top Gun: Maverick, a boring title) is probably going to be one of the biggest movies of summer 2020. I say “probably” only because this past summer was so f-cking dicey for everyone not named Disney, I am no longer confident in people showing up for movies that aren’t about superheroes. But on paper, by all conventional wisdom, Top Gun 2 SHOULD be a big movie. The new trailer for Top Gun 2 certainly knows that this is a long-awaited sequel to a beloved movie starring one of the world’s biggest superstars. It features a slowed-down, portentous version of the Top Gun theme—a theme that does not get enough credit for how memorable it is—and has lots of big, sweeping shots of Tom Cruise being on, near, or in planes. Cruise has described this as a “love letter to aviation”, and you certainly get that vibe from this trailer.
I woke up half an hour earlier this morning to watch this trailer and text it immediately to my fighter pilot friend, followed by a bunch of “WELL?” texts, because it’s not like he has anything better to do. (Treating his job like he works at a bank is, honestly, how I cope with the stress of 15 straight years of worrying if one of my oldest friends is going to die today. Endless war is super cool you guys.) His response was limited to, “Flight looks cool”, and “That guy’s mustache would get him the worst call sign”, and “Is that Jennifer Connelly?”
First of all, OF COURSE the only person (besides Tom Cruise) he recognizes is Jennifer Connelly. Name a straight man over the age of 35 who DOESN’T have a residual boyhood crush on J-Co. The “mustache guy” is Miles Teller, who does, indeed, have Unfortunate Facial Hair. I have a theory that Tom Cruise must be the most attractive person in his movies, which is why he’s always making his handsome co-stars grow mustaches, an immediate and universal hot killer (see also: Henry Cavill). Teller’s brushy ’stache fits my theory perfectly, rendering him completely un-hot. But the presence of Glen Powell, handsome, glowing, and golden, does not work in my frame. It does, however, relate to my theory that Powell is playing Iceman’s son, whom shall henceforth be known as Baby Iceman, because Val Kilmer was also extremely hot in Top Gun, one of the only times Cruise tolerated another (arguably more handsome) man on screen with him.
Speaking of Iceman, I bet that speech at the top of the trailer about the “legendary” pilot who has so much to teach the youngsters is about ICEMAN, and not Maverick (legend of the skies). I bet the funeral we glimpse is Iceman’s too. And then Maverick (legend of the skies) has to come in and take over the training class because Iceman is gone, and the youngsters struggle with Maverick’s unconventional flying style, especially Glen Powell, who is 100% the Iceman to Miles Teller’s Maverick. But in the end, they will all realize that Sometimes You Have To Break The Rules and Your Instincts Know More Than A Computer, and they will all cheer Maverick as a legend of the skies and the true instructor of their hearts. Then Maverick and Baby Iceman will exchange a single, firm handshake and give each other knowing looks, because Baby Iceman will realize that to be a GREAT pilot, you have to, I dunno, fly with your heart and not your eyes, or something that sounds similarly semi-profound but is actually completely nonsensical.
I do have one serious reservation about Maverick: Legend of the Skies, and that is its inevitable power as a recruitment tool. The original Top Gun is one of the most effective pieces of recruitment propaganda in US military history. The second Top Gun will probably do the same. There is a paradox in film, whether or not you can make a truly anti-war movie when so many war movies look cool. Not that Top Gun is anti-war, it IS NOT. It is straight up pro-military, pro-conflict propaganda. Top Gun 2 is probably going to have the added angle of being all that plus anti-drone. These movies are trying really hard to make flying for the Navy look really, super cool. And it is! When my aforementioned friend R turns up at a civilian party and tells people he’s a fighter pilot, the room falls silent because that is incredibly impressive to announce as your job (I am always trying to meet an astronaut just so that ONCE in his life R will not be the coolest guy at a party).
But Top Gun 2 is coming when we are almost 20 YEARS into an unending international conflict. Top Gun was released during the Cold War, when America’s military was not exactly idle, but also not engaged in open conflict. It’s one thing to recruit people during a time when you MIGHT have to do SOMETHING, but also MAYBE NOT. It’s something else to recruit people into the SECOND GENERATION OF THE SAME CONFLICT. I’m not here to bag on anyone’s service. Bless you for doing it, because I certainly couldn’t. But there is one thought I cannot shake after this trailer, and it is that if R stays in the Navy much longer, he is likely to transition into an instructional role. And then he will be training people half his age to fight the exact same goddamn war he spent his entire adult life fighting. That just seems…f-cked up. And maybe not something to glorify.