From the opening scene of “Top Gun: Maverick,” featuring the movie’s iconic anthem, it feels like a bell tolling, summoning the country back to what was good and right about America — and could be again.
Of course the original “Top Gun” came out in the heart of Ronald Reagan’s presidency in 1986 when American patriotism was transcendent and the nation stood as the unashamed and unrivaled beacon of liberty for the world.
The sequel was made while Donald Trump, whose candidacy was propelled by the campaign slogan “Make America Great Again,” was in office.
Audiences certainly seemed hungry for what the “Top Gun” sequel provided 36 years after the original was released.
Variety reported that “Maverick” took in $154 million during its first four days in theaters across America, making it the most successful Memorial Day debut in history.
It marked the first $100 million+ opening weekend in actor Tom Cruise’s 40-year career.
Audiences gave the film a rare “A+” CinemaScore, the first to earn the grade in 2022.
We polled @TopGunMovie: Maverick tonight and audiences gave it an A+! Congrats to @ParamountPics, @TomCruise, and the rest of the cast and crew! Will you be lining up to see the sequel this weekend? #CinemaScore pic.twitter.com/ESnSu9RxkE
— CinemaScore (@CinemaScore) May 28, 2022
A central message coming out of the movie is not to count America out. It’s still a force for good and security in a turbulent and violent world.
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After all what does a U.S. aircraft carrier represent but the projection of America’s military might and presence?
Without giving much away about “Maverick,” the mission that Cruise’s character — U.S. Navy Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell — oversees is the attack of a soon to be operational nuclear facility in what is identified as a “rogue” nation.
Iran immediately comes to mind, or perhaps North Korea.
A theme of the film is that the older generation has lessons to teach the younger to keep America strong.
There’s a line at the beginning of the movie where Admiral Chester Cain, played by Ed Harris, tells Maverick that his days are numbered. He’s a dying breed.
Maverick’s response is perhaps a slight concession that that day may come, but “not today.”
The same could be said of America.
When I was growing up in the 1970s and early 80s, a general feeling in the country was maybe our best days were behind us.
The U.S. was experiencing high inflation, a stagnant economy, gas lines, the recent loss of the Vietnam War (the first defeat in American history), the failed Iran hostage rescue and overall a general sense of malaise.
In other words, things were a lot like they are now.
Enter former California governor and Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan.
The Republican announced his candidacy for the presidency in November 1979 saying, “There are those in our land today, however, who would have us believe that the United States, like other great civilizations of the past, has reached the zenith of its power; that we are weak and fearful, reduced to bickering with each other and no longer possessed of the will to cope with our problems.”
“I don’t believe that. And, I don’t believe you do either,” Reagan said. “That is why I am seeking the presidency. I cannot and will not stand by and see this great country destroy itself.”
“Our leaders attempt to blame their failures on circumstances beyond their control, on false estimates by unknown, unidentifiable experts who rewrite modern history in an attempt to convince us our high standard of living, the result of thrift and hard work, is somehow selfish extravagance, which we must renounce as we join in sharing scarcity,” he continued.
Truthfully, the Biden years feel very much like the Carter years to me.
Reagan came in with a message of hope and optimism, the same kind of feeling “Top Gun: Maverick” offers.
“I don’t agree that our nation must resign itself to inevitable decline, yielding its proud position to other hands. I am totally unwilling to see this country fail in its obligation to itself and to the other free peoples of the world,” the 40th president said.
When you think about it, the whole American experience is “maverick.”
Up to that point in world history, nations had been governed by kings, czars and chieftains.
The strong man prevailed over his subjugated people.
Then came the Declaration of Independence, followed by the Constitution, and America’s experiment in liberty and self-government was launched.
It has set the tone and ideal for the world ever since.
Americans, by-in-large, still believe in freedom and right and good.
After the COVID-19 lockdowns and all the weirdness and strife of the last few years, “Top Gun: Maverick” showed that people are still hungry for patriotism, too.
Kudos to Cruise and Hollywood for delivering.
Randy DeSoto is the author of “We Hold These Truths” discussing how leaders have appealed to the beliefs in God-given rights and providence throughout U.S. history.