Top Gun: Maverick — An Update
Extending the success of its spectacular Memorial Day weekend opening Top Gun: Maverick’s gross has in the first 18 days of its North American release crossed the $400 million mark. As things stand the film has a good chance of not only reaching the half billion-dollar mark domestically, but even soaring past it, while doing about as well overseas as it is in the U.S. the movie, it has a real shot at becoming a member of the exclusive billion-dollar club — a feat all the more impressive given that this is not a Star Wars/Marvel-type franchise film, but an old-fashioned star-centered movie, and a grounded one at that compared with the giant sci-fi CGI-fests dominating the market, and that it will do all this without a release in the ever-more important China market too.
The political right, is, of course ecstatic about all this, claiming this as some victory of the conservative masses over the woke elites — more, I think, than has been the case with any movie since American Sniper way back in 2013. However, it has to be remembered that this was not some underdog of a movie coming from outside the System that fought its way past better-resourced Establishment competition to the audience, or even a passion project by some “maverick” insider staking all on a personal vision in the face of the Suits’ opposition, but an extremely big-budget, high-profile Big Five Hollywood studio (Paramount) release that the backers have been trying to get made for the sake of pure and simple lucre for decades -with the entertainment press solidly in their corner, spreading positive buzz for years that it has now capped off with an extraordinary critical reaction. Where the original Top Gun, as would be expected from a summertime action film described even by the favorably disposed as a 2-hour Navy recruitment ad, was no critics’ darling, the critics’ rave reviews adding up to a 97 percent score for Top Gun 2 at Rotten Tomatoes, as against the 57 percent score the original has (which arguably says more about how the critics have changed than it does about the superiority of the second film to the original). Indeed, beyond making it clear that they were anything but hostile to the movie, it would be unbelievable if this massive support did not play a significant role in making what could have ended up another failed attempt to milk an old success for more of moviegoers’ dollars into a record-breaking blockbuster.
The result is that, rather than some triumph over the woke the movie is a reminder of just what a limited thing wokeness has always been in American life, taking a back seat to a good many other priorities — and generally ending at the border, beyond which Hollywood can, in spite of all the gripes of the culture warriors, generally be counted upon to salute the flag and support the troops in that familiar bipartisan way ( mainstream anti-militarism died sometime around Obama’s election, neoconservatism firmly in the saddle ever since), with Hollywood looking even more ardent here than before, as the “Chinese angle” makes clear. Not so long ago there was quite the fuss over minor details of the film being altered to please Chinese opinion — specifically the reported removal of Japan and Taiwan patches from “Maverick” Mitchell’s jacket. (Indeed, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly condemned the move.) However, the patches were reportedly to be seen in the film, any digital alteration dispensed with, along with the Chinese financial backing it had been enjoying at an earlier phase of the project, and the prospects for a Chinese release.
Does this mean that Hollywood, which has for so long valued the Chinese market, and in various ways successful and unsuccessful, pandered to it, is becoming less concerned with Chinese opinion? It would not be very surprising given how Hollywood has so often proven clumsy in pursuing an audience there — with every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie after Spider-Man: Far From Home getting frozen out by the relevant authorities, and many of those movies that have made it through the system gaining little traction — mainly because Hollywood’s pandering came from a place of profound ignorance of the culture which it approached, and even the character of the product it made itself and was so eager to sell (its attempt to sell Star Wars to Chinese moviegoers falling flat, Crazy Rich Asians and Mulan underperforming, etc., etc.) — while others developments can seem still more ominous. Not the least of these is that, with international tensions ever in the ascendant, Hollywood may be less hopeful of political acceptability to the Chinese market, the authorities’ stance toward which seems reflected in the way the country’s domestic filmmaking seems ever more dominated by blatant jingoism (the Rambo-like Wolf Warrior and Operation Red Sea movies making Chinese film in the ’10s seem like Hollywood in the ‘80s), an impression only reaffirmed by such hits as The Battle at Lake Chang-jin and its sequel, Water Gate Bridge.
All of this may sound innocuous — but the geopolitical shifts underlying such moves are no piece of entertainment industry fluff. Rather they are reflective of the world’s life moving in a far more dangerous direction — with implications far more worrisome than a few lost box office dollars.
Originally published at https://raritania.blogspot.com.