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The sequel that reflects America’s decline

Tom Cruise in the original Top Gun: no anxiety here

Though they look much the same, the Top Gun sequel couldn’t be more different from the original, says James Crabtree in the FT. The first movie was a “Reagan-era hymn” to American military might. Released in 1986, when the USSR was declining and a “long period of US dominance” was on the horizon, the whole thing screamed confidence – most notably its hunky 24-year-old star, Tom Cruise. But Top Gun: Maverick, which arrived in cinemas last week, is a “rather anxious kind of blockbuster, filled with doubts about the durability of US power” in an age of Chinese and Russian assertiveness.

Part of this involves Cruise himself. He might be “remarkably well preserved” for 59, but the occasional love scenes inevitably “have something of the Viagra commercial about them”. And his own “declining prowess” mirrors that of his country. Top Gun: Maverick doesn’t actually mention that the baddies are Chinese – even though it’s obviously them. In the trailer, Cruise’s bomber jacket was even edited to avoid upsetting Chinese censors: patches of Japanese and Taiwanese flags were replaced with “ambiguous symbols”. A film “so fearful of even naming its most likely enemy” reflects a country much less sure of itself than it was 36 years ago.

🇺🇸😎 The original Top Gun sparked a “recruitment bonanza” for the US military, says Alissa Wilkinson in Vox. Military sign-up stations were set up outside cinemas to exploit “wannabe flyboys hopped up on adrenaline and vibes”, and applications for the naval aviator jobs shown in the film are said to have increased “by a staggering 500%”.