On the list of movies to which we didn’t need a sequel, Top Gun is pretty high on the list. The film is an artifact of its time, a deeply nationalistic and slightly jingoistic romantic drama from a time when A) Tom Cruise was considered a mega-sex symbol and B) Cruise’s leading ladies were as likely to be older than him as younger than him. It’s also, on the surface, the kind of resurrected former-glory project that comes about after its star strikes out a few times here-and-there. Come what may, we probably wouldn’t be getting a Top Gun 2 if Edge of Tomorrow or The Mummy had topped $500m worldwide in 2014 and 2017.
Director Tony Scott’s he-man fighter pilot actioner was also from a time when the very idea of a muscular air-force action-adventure movie with strong special effects and a killer soundtrack was enough to qualify as an event movie. So, yes, the (unintentional?) military-recruitment tool, which acted as a glossy and mostly-bloodless showcase for Regan-era military engagements against faceless enemies, made a stunning $179 million in North America and $376m worldwide 32-summers ago. That was good enough to be the year’s biggest-grossing movie and one of the very biggest grossers of all time in an era when only Star Wars and E.T. were true-blue $500m+ global earners.
So, yes, for better or worse, we’re getting a Top Gun sequel next summer. Paramount/Viacom Inc. has slated the flick for a July 12, 2019 release date. And considering how much of the summer’s big movies are either outright animated flicks (The Lion King, The Secret Life of Pets 2, Toy Story 4) or comic book movies (Avengers 4, Spider-Man: Homecoming 2), there is a chance that Top Gun 2 (or whatever it ends up being titled) could be a de-facto summer event flick among audiences old enough to be nostalgic for non-fantasy, star-driven action-adventure movies being unquestionable event flicks before the fantasy franchises took over.
Give or take The Mummy, most Tom Cruise starring vehicles (especially almost everything after Days of Thunder in 1990) tend to be at least pretty good. While I loathe Tron: Legacy, it has a fanbase. Director Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion (also a Cruise vehicle) was a lot better and Only the Brave was one of last year’s best studio releases. So, if you’re playing the odds, it is… somewhat likely that Top Gun 2 will be a relatively good movie. But who will it be for?
If the film is a shameless nostalgia-driven fan bait enterprise, with no more nuance or commentary on the current military-industrial complex than its predecessor, than it’s going to be both thin gruel and almost morally irresponsible considering the times we live in. But if it dares to examine the current state of overseas engagement, both in the 18 years since 9/11 and in terms of the original film’s cultural legacy, it will risk pissing off the very fans who have wanted this flick for 30 years.
It’s not like an internal examination is unheard of, and Cruise’s 80’s-set crime dramedy American Made (which dealt with the Iran-Contra scandal with a deeply cynical eye) gives hope that Top Gun 2 might not be empty nostalgia. Even Sylvester Stallone critiqued the “might = right” machismo of his Rambo sequels in 2008’s grimly cynical Rambo. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi deconstructed the Star Wars mythos as well as the whole “reckless, plays-by-his-own-rules hero” trope in a way that ended up upsetting a lot of Star Wars fans who just wanted straight-up escapism.
If Top Gun 2 is more than mere empty-nostalgia and 80’s-era pandering with its leading actor merely looking for a big hit outside of the Mission: Impossible franchise, will (some of) the fans revolt? That seems implausible, but this is a strange time we live in where a rousing, of-its-time Star Wars movie gets knocked for daring to look at the legacy of Star Wars and Star Wars-type movies with a critical eye, even if that criticism is no harsher than that found on the episodic Clone Wars and Rebels animated shows.
The trick, presuming anyone cares, is to strike a balance between a Top Gun 2 that is artistically justified and a Top Gun 2 that won’t cause an outcry from the very people needing more speed from the original 1980’s flyboy. Come what may, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films’ Top Gun sequel, courtesy of director Joseph Kosinski and writers Peter Craig, Justin Marks, Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz, will open from Paramount on July 12, 2019. Even as someone who has dreaded this flick for many years, I will be very interested to see how it plays out and how it is received in just 13.5 months from now.