Top Gun (2022): Beyond the Propaganda
Considering how the film received so much input and support from the US Military, along with the Navy and Air force literally having recruitment tables directly outside some theaters, it’d almost be too easy for me to spend this review talking about how Top Gun: Maverick is propaganda. In fact, many serious Top Gun fans have said they know it’s propaganda and simply don’t care, so I don’t think focusing so much on that aspect of the film is really worthwhile. What is interesting is how, despite its best efforts to romanticize the life of a soldier, this movie can’t help but reveal how little their lives are worth to the system overall, and how the US military frequently breaches international law.
All the 80’s rock, aviator sunglasses and one particularly homoerotic game of football on the beach would have one think being a soldier is almost the same as being an action movie star. This is challenged by the film’s own arc, however, as Maverick continuously fights with military brass who insist that his top-secret mission be flown in the most effective way possible, despite the fact that it would put numerous pilots' lives at risk. The military’s blatant disregard for life is long-lasting, as in Vietnam, when some Black and Puerto Rican fighters were placed on the front lines without proper training or equipment, expected to be a kind of human shield for the white soldiers. Even the film reflects this callousness, with the pilots only receiving about 2 weeks of training for a mission many of them think is impossible.
The mission itself is also worth thinking about: a ‘rogue state’ (no mention of what they did to be classified as such, but it could be as petty as ‘be socialist’) plans to enrich uranium, so the pilots must bomb the enrichment facility. Theoretically, enriched uranium could be used for nuclear-power generation, but the film heavily insists that it’s for the development of nuclear weapons. Let’s say that’s true. Currently, there are no international laws stating any specific country can’t have any specific weapons to defend their borders, only a non-binding UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (which most of the world except the US has signed), so this mission is both illegal and hypocritical. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention how many have called the US—the only nation to EVER use nuclear weapons against another country—a rogue state due to its countless operations overthrowing various countries' governments. This bleeds into the film a bit: we see so little of the nation the Air force is attacking, they could be anyone; the classic nameless-faceless enemy trope is both xenophobic and a hallmark of any empire’s propaganda. We aren't even allowed to see them as people.
Currently, the US military is having recruitment troubles. No one wants to sign up. I don’t bring this up to say that’s the reason the sequel for Top Gun was finally released after a 30-year wait (though it’s worth thinking about). Instead, I bring it up to say that most Americans aren’t interested in joining the military industrial complex. Many of us already understand that what is happening overseas with our tax dollars is corrupt and horrifically wasteful in so many ways. I didn’t even want to write this review, but with Top Gun: Maverick quickly becoming Cruise’s highest-grossing film, it was definitely worth talking and thinking about. Despite the film’s best efforts to justify and glamorize imperial might, even great propaganda can’t hide the fact that the lives sacrificed in the nation’s (usually-illegal) pursuit of wealth and power are meaningless to the generals, and even more meaningless to the CEOs of Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing etc. I actually find it a bit disrespectful that this movie was released on Memorial Day weekend. If we really want to honor those who’ve laid down their lives for Big Oil’s profits, we should fight for a world where there are no more meaningless wars.