The year was 1984. President Ronald Reagan was cruising to reelection. Van Halen’s “1984” was second on the Billboard charts. George Orwell’s “1984” hadn’t yet become an instruction manual. “Top Gun,” inspired by a 1983 article titled “Top Guns” and published by California magazine, was then but a gleam in Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer’s eyes, though it would go on to become a classic tale of how reckless men are a testament to America’s greatness in the face of Soviet aggression.
Life was good, particularly after Reagan had successfully battled both Jimmy Carter’s stagflation and the malaise it brought on. Mullets were a hot hairstyle for men. For women, it was ozone-depleting bouffant bangs teased toward the heavens with massive amounts of hairspray. Gen X kids were off starting fires, sneaking into drained pools to skateboard, and otherwise engaging in all kinds of shenanigans about which our parents had very little clue. Joe Biden was merely a senator.
Today, mullets are back, if not the bangs. “Top Gun: Maverick,” the long-awaited sequel to the original, is making money hand over fist. Joe Biden, first elected to the Senate in 1972, is still in the swamp, this time as the ostensible leader of the free world and heir to Jimmy Carter. Russia is being belligerent. Stagflation and malaise again rule the day.
In other words, life is not so good right now, but as Mark Twain never said, “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” And in the couplet that is “Top Gun” to “Top Gun: Maverick,” there is hope.
When “Top Gun” was released in May of 1986, it was not an immediate success. At the time, Tom Cruise, the anhedonic real-life iteration of Dorian Gray, was not yet the superstar he is today. The movie was competing with a raft of other stellar films including “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Back to School,” “Aliens,” “Big Trouble in Little China,” and the early Marvel Cinematic Universe entry “Howard the Duck,” just to name a few.
Original and Sequel Inspire
But Pete “Maverick” Mitchell quickly inspired legions of fans with his rakish good looks and indifference toward remaining alive and pushed the movie to the summer’s top spot. To say women wanted to be with him while men wanted to be him is an understatement. Following the movie’s success, applications to the United States aviation forces increased by 500 percent.
Rewatching it ahead of “Top Gun: Maverick,” however, I was reminded that the critics’ complaints had some merit. The original movie is kind of a chick flick, which helps explain why my wife was so anxious to see “Maverick” during its opening weekend. I opted to grill while she went with our oldest. It would be a few weeks before I would take her to her second viewing and realize the folly of my thinking.
If the original was a chick flick, though, “Maverick” is the action-packed sequel for the dudes. But being a movie that appeals to the opposite of dudettes is not what makes it such a movie for the times. Instead, it’s that after watching it, you come out of the theater ready to pump your fist and shout about America’s greatness. Sure, it’s all nonsense and, spoiler alert, Maverick would have died in the opening sequence had it been real, but the film makes no apologies. It doesn’t equivocate or attempt to explain why it’s okay to cheer for the good guys. It’s just ridiculous and reckless Americans being ridiculous and reckless, inviting us along for the ride, and saying, “This is who we are and what we can do.”
Hoping History Rhymes
In 2022, that’s a bold choice. It’s not cool to celebrate America because systemic this and institutionalized that. And there aren’t a lot of things to cheer about at the moment, particularly when it comes to our national mood, soaring prices, and energy shortages. In those lights, though, “Maverick” could also be a harbinger that the pendulum is about to swing in the other direction, much as it did in the fabled decade during which the first installment was released.
For as David Lee Roth sang on “Jump,” the first single from 1984’s “1984,” “And I know, baby, just how you feel/You got to roll with the punches and get to what’s real.” And while none of us would have chosen the punches we’re currently rolling with, the chance for history to rhyme is looking good.
Having said that, though, it’s not time to get out the hairspray and tease those bangs back toward the heavens, ladies. While we may take inspiration from the past, we’ve got to live for the future.