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Rewrite: Top Gun: Maverick 2022 fails to fly the flag on LGBT+ representation

This is a slight rewrite of a review I had originally written for Varsity Online of Top Gun Maverick. In the original, I conflated a line of dialogue to be sexist from my original viewing, and I now feel my original review to be somewhat misrepresentative of the final film's gender politics. Below is an updated version correcting my mistake.

You can find the original review, published on 02/07/2022, here:

In a summer marked by turbulent political and social upheaval, scorching heat waves and, for many students like me, nerve-shredding exams and coursework deadlines, who doesn’t want to sit in the cockpit of a plane with Tom Cruise as he perilously flies through mountains, and performs incredible feats of flight-related acrobatics? All tied together with a bow of synth stings, Jon Hamm doing his best ‘angry-military-higher-up’ impression, and gorgeous cinematography? Top Gun: Maverick, in these aspects, is certainly worth the price of admission.

I myself was rather cynical before going in to see this long-anticipated sequel; being a fan of the original, I felt like the franchise was too married to its 80s' roots to be properly adapted into a new, shining 21st century mould. From the very first scene, which is itself a direct nostalgic nod to the opening of the original, I was on-board; however, the film’s at-times overbearing relationship with its predecessor, as it turns out, might be its greatest weakness.

The original Top Gun, in my mind, always harks back to a time of pure optimism in the backdrop of extreme global unease. Released during the latter stages of the Cold War, the film showed us the military ‘bromance’ between Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Goose (Anthony Edwards) as they high-five their way through numerous aerial training exercises in the elite Top Gun naval unit. It is a film that many hold near and dear to their hearts; not only did it advocate for pure escapism in a time during which many didn’t know what would happen next on the global stage, but it also seemed to imply a homosexual dimension to the relationship of the two titular characters. Though this is something that screenwriters have subsequently denied in recent interviews, Maverick and Goose’s rather close relationship is certainly something that has remained stuck in the consciousness of the general public (perhaps most famously illustrated by Quentin Tarantino’s monologue in Sleep With Me, 1994).

Thus, upon my own viewing of the sequel, this was definitely something that remained in the back of my mind throughout the film’s two hour runtime. Despite the fact that those involved with the film’s production have denied any such dimension to Maverick and Goose’s relationship, I was still hoping that there would be some sort of acknowledgement of this very famous reading to the original. Nevertheless, there is no such moment of recognition. This in turn got me thinking about Hollywood’s reticence to discuss LGBT relationships in mainstream film - though there have certainly been landmark advancements in recent years (such as the inclusions of openly gay characters in the Marvel cinematic universe, as well as Moonlight’s Best Picture win in 2016), I was somewhat disappointed that Top Gun refused to acknowledge the famed original reading of Maverick and Goose’s relationship within a military context.

This was most likely less of a direct withholding on the part of the screenwriters, however; more likely, it was an attempt to further develop the relationship between Penny (Jennifer Connelly) and Maverick, and remain in-line with the primarily heterosexual relationship depicted in the original. Still, I was certainly disappointed that this famous alternative reading was left completely unacknowledged during a time in which Hollywood purports to be amplifying LGBT stories as much as possible (wouldn’t it have been more interesting to even further explore Maverick’s deep connection to Goose, rather than dedicating Maverick so completely to his new love-interest?)

Outside of this, my overall experience with Top Gun: Maverick was largely positive; afterall, the main attraction to a summer blockbuster are the action set-pieces, and here they are masterfully executed. Each swerve and dive performed throughout left me breathless, and seeing this film on a cinematic scale was certainly a wondrous experience. However, I still felt like the film’s complete marriage to the more conservative elements of the original did somewhat distract from what should have been a wholly fun, thrilling cinematic experience. Indeed, there is a notable ‘laddish’ strain to the film’s approach to the only female member of the squad, Phoenix (Monica Barbaro). Though we’ve come a long way from Charlie Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), the female astrophysicist and Maverick’s love interest in the original, it still feels depressing that most of the female representation in the film is indeed dependent on another instantly star-struck love interest - the aforementioned Jennifer Connelly. Pheonix being the only female character in the military academy itself only heightens this feeling of isolation.

The relationship between Goose’s son, Rooster (Miles Teller) and Maverick is well-told, and forms one of the better aspects of the film’s storytelling. Teller himself perhaps steals the show from the main cast, as his character was certainly the most believable out of the Top Gun squad. His character forms the bridge between the old and the new cast; like the Star Wars franchise, Top Gun: Maverick no doubt serves as a soft-reboot of the original, and hopes to continue the Top Gun story via further sequels using this cast of new characters. For me, however, I hope this also means leaving the more sour vestiges of Hollywood conservatism behind in 1986; there is certainly still a lot of action-packed potential within this franchise, and I hope that future sequels equally manage to live up to fan-expectations without relying so heavily on the ‘laddish’ tone of the original.