Film Review: “Top Gun: Maverick” — Assisting the Collapse of the American Empire?

So what if the American empire is doing more and more poorly? All that matters is hopping in alongside Tom Cruise for a super-duper roller-coaster ride inside an F-18.

By Daniel Lazare

Tom Cruse and Jennifer Connelly in Top Gun: Maverick.

Years from now, when the American empire has collapsed and the United States has dissolved into Libyan-style civil war, some eager young grad student — assuming such things still exist — will come up with a clever argument. The whole debacle, he or she will write, is the fault of Top Gun: Maverick, the Tom Cruise vehicle that’s burning up local multiplexes like an out-of-control F-18.

Sure, the thesis will be a bit over the top. By, hey, hyperbole sells academic papers just as it sells TV news. And in any event, it will be mainly true. Top Gun: Maverick is about midlife crises, about rekindling old romances, and about the joys of being ripped and toned even when you’re pushing 60. But mostly it’s about the thrill of swooping in low and neatly slipping a laser-guided high explosive into an underground uranium enrichment plant run by a foreign power too evil to mention.

Needless to say, the facility explodes in a satisfying burst of orange flame that is producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s specialty. Antiaircraft missiles take flight, enemy aircraft give chase, our hero goes down, and his long-lost son (sort of) risks his life to rescue him in an extended sequence that’s ridiculous even by Tinseltown standards.

Admittedly, there’s a nice turn by Jennifer Connelly as a busy yet sexy mom who is Cruise’s love interest. There’s an entertaining beachside football game in which super-fit male actors show off their diamond-hard pecs. (As Pauline Kael pointed out in her review of the original Top Gun in 1986, male homoeroticism is another Bruckheimer specialty.) And there’s Jon Hamm, who is not at all bad as a mean vice admiral who fails to understand that even though Cruise’s Maverick seems to rebel against authority, he’s really reinforcing it instead.

But what does all this have to do with the downfall of the United States as we know it? Several things, actually. One is the air of general exhaustion. Bruckheimer’s combination of high explosives and idiotic plots were mind-deadening back in 2001 when I made the mistake of going to see Pearl Harbor, his laughable World War II epic starring Josh Hartnett and Ben Affleck, two otherwise fine actors. But now such antics are even more tiresome. Cruise is less an actor than a corporation — Tom Cruise Inc. He looks tired and creaky as he goes through the motions of being a hot-shot pilot who’s repeatedly passed over for promotion because he’s such a bad-ass. Scowling through his visor or grinning bashfully while climbing out of a bedroom window seems to be all he’s capable of by this point, and even that is none too convincing. How can such tiredness not be seen as a metaphor for a once-glittering US economy on the verge of recession as deflates and crypto goes into a tailspin?

And then there are the politics, which are so bad they make one wince. Politics is a four-letter word as far as Hollywood is concerned. But the more it pretends to rise above such earthly matters, the lower it sinks. Top Gun: Maverick is thus a near-perfect example of late-imperial panem et circenses, whose purpose is to lull the masses into acceptance and draw their attention away from the fact that ruling institutions are crumbling and that the mercenaries are beginning to lay down their arms in the far-flung frontiers because their orders no longer make sense.

That evil but anonymous foreign power that is the target of such murder and mayhem is an example of how it works. Obviously, the country in question is Iran, which has resumed its uranium enrichment program as negotiations to reactivate the 2015 nuclear accord known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action have stalled due entirely to roadblocks thrown up by the US. But Bruckheimer can’t come out and say so because that would be too, er, political. So instead it’s just some unidentified country in the Middle East — even though it looks like British Columbia — that is in violation of some NATO finding or other that Bruckheimer & Co. assume to be true because it’s NATO. Cruise and his crew, selected according to all the proper racial and sexual criteria, therefore have no choice but to take the baddies out. The operation looks a lot like the famous 1981 Israeli air raid on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor except that rather than flying low over flat desert terrain, Cruise goes the Israelis one better by flying at high speed through a twisting, turning canyon and then up, over, and down not one mountain but two.

The G-forces are tremendous — we know because Cruise scrunches up his eyebrows real hard — and, in fact, a young pilot passes out during a training run and nearly crashes before Cruise comes to the rescue. Meanwhile, the question of why Iran has resumed uranium enriching is ignored. So, of course, is international law. All we need to know is that they’re bad, we’re good, and we therefore get to demonstrate our derring-do at their expense as much as we damn well please.

Along the way, Cruise dodges high-tech surface-to-air missiles, fifth-generation enemy fighters, and a Russian-made Mi-24 helicopter equipped with high-caliber Gatling guns. Top Gun: Maverick assumes that he and his buddies are safe once they’re back on board the aircraft carrier and have given each other hugs and high-fives. Hence, it fails to take a tiny detail into account, i.e. a game-changer known as hypersonic missiles. Hypersonics, such as Iran’s new Hoveyzeh, are winged bombs capable of flying hundreds of miles and striking within a meter of their target. They’re virtually impossible to defend against and are fast rendering America’s fleet of 13 carriers obsolete along with the destroyers and cruisers that go with them. Top Gun: Maverick may assume Cruise is home-free, but the so-called “carrier killer” streaking across the horizon may have other things in mind.

This is why the USS Abraham Lincoln failed to enter the Persian Gulf in August 2019 during one of those periodic flare-ups of tension with Iran and opted to stay put 600 miles away in the Arabian Sea. Iranian missiles were too dangerous for the $6.3-billion carrier to venture any closer.

But why let an inconvenient fact like that spoil the fun? Never mind that the US empire is currently facing other inopportune details: a “heroic” Azov Battalion defending the Azov steel workers in Mariupol that turns out to be led by neo-Nazis; Ukrainian troops who are mutinying in growing numbers against orders that no longer make sense, or the relentless advance of the Russian heavy-artillery steamroller in the Donbas. But so what if the empire is doing more and more poorly? All that matters is hopping in alongside Tom Cruise for a super-duper roller-coaster ride inside an F-18.

Coming up next: “Top Gun: Uvalde” in which Cruise uses a time machine to transport himself to South Texas in order to save 19 schoolchildren and two teachers from an 18-year-old gunmen who thought it would be a cool to purchase a couple of assault rifles and 375 rounds of ammo for his birthday and blow stuff up. Won’t that be fun? We can’t wait to see what our future grad student does with that one.

Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic and other books about the US Constitution and US policy. He has written for a wide variety of publications including Harper’s and the London Review of Books. He currently writes regularly for the Weekly Worker, a socialist newspaper in London.


  1. Gerald Peary on June 2, 2022 at 3:55 pm

    What fun, Dan, to have you go after Top Gun with such relish and elan! David Remnick next!

  2. Nicole Veneto on June 2, 2022 at 4:34 pm

    Thank you for being maybe one of two other critics I’ve seen critique an obvious big budget military industrial complex propaganda movie starring an old man who believes in Xenu. I’ve never seen the original film (and don’t plan to even though Tony Scott was a true great; I’ll stick with The Hunger, thanks) but I know an advertisement for War is Cool Inc. when I see one.

  3. Erica Abeel on June 3, 2022 at 1:14 pm

    love this, bravo

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