How the new blockbuster ‘Top Gun’ symbolizes the rise of the new superpower China

‘Top Gun Maverick’ is the sequel to ‘Top Gun’ and a sample of genuine Hollywood action that will once again convince many Western moviegoers of the unapproachable power of the American army. If you compare both films – each starring Tom Cruise – there are striking differences that indicate that the rise of China represents a real threat to American hegemony.

He is doing it again. Tom Cruise single-handedly ensures that the cinemas draw people again. Post-corona, the halls did not appear to be full again. In the US and Europe, figures indicate a 40 percent decline. The launch of ‘Top Gun’ was enough to give many cinema shares and related companies a famous boost.

Same recipe or not?

The recipe for this action movie is simple and therefore so effective. A group of elite pilots, commanded by the eternal rebel Maverick – played by a well-preserved Tom Cruise – prevents a terrorist state from developing a nuclear weapon. There are of course the obligatory conflicts between the pilots, the Ray Bans, the iconic pilot vest of the lead actor, the Kawasaki motorcycle scenes and an admittedly slightly less steamy love affair. But the action sequences remain breathtaking and the US military proves once again that it is unbeatable.

So far, the latest ‘Top Gun’ looks like a carbon copy of the first, launching Cruise’s career in 1986 and making him one of the most bankable Hollywood stars of all time. For directors, a movie with Tom Cruise is almost a guarantee of success, just think of the Mission Impossibleseries.

However, there are many differences that reflect how the world has changed in 36 years and how China has taken a step forward on the geopolitical stage.

1. The US is no longer the only superpower

By 1986, the US had completely consumed the Vietnam War and was the only real superpower left. The Soviet Union was about to implode and China was far from being the power it is today. Confidence in American dominance was infinite. According to Eldridge Colby, ex-assistant secretary of the US Department of Defense, the 1980s were the height of US hegemony.

In the latest Top Gun, that confidence is shattered. The film is full of references to other military powers. They also have the latest ‘5th generation’ jet fighters. Furthermore, a technology race is underway, which the US is not guaranteed to win. For example, China has developed the J20 Stealth fighter jet nicknamed the “Mighty Dragon” that often patrols over Taiwan.

The Chinese military’s J20 stealth fighter jet (Source: Getty)

2. We are entering a new era on the battlefield

“The future is coming and you are not in it”shouts Admiral Cain, an officer who doesn’t like the rebellious Maverick, in the beginning of the latest ‘Top Gun’. His statement refers to the waning importance of human pilots. Today, the US military is investing a lot of money in unmanned aerial vehicles and drones, powered by artificial intelligence. A technology that was barely available 36 years ago. But let that be something in which China is very strong, as the largest producer of drones and factory in the whole world.

3. The New Cold War Is Now Playing Through Censorship

The movie produced by Paramount was initially funded with money from Tencent, one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in China. But Tencent finally withdrew for fear of snubbing the Chinese government. While previous action films glorifying the US military have made unscrupulous references to the Russian enemy, the terrorist Taliban or the rogue state of North Korea, any reference to the US’s new rival is scrupulously avoided. And that still wasn’t enough.

It is striking that for the first time Hollywood is really pushing back, proof that even the American film industry has had it. The following anecdote indicates this. Maverick’s pilot vest features the flag of Taiwan and Japan. Those 2 flags were initially removed in the 2019 trailer. They did not want to upset the Chinese sponsor. In the film, they are finally there. Which means that the film will certainly not be shown in China. It does indicate that even Hollywood has given up trying to come to an agreement with Chinese censorship.

4. The film is woke approved

This has in itself nothing to do with China, but it is a reflection of the changing zeitgeist. In the first ‘Top Gun’ there is a legendary scene where Maverick challenges his flying buddy Goose – for $20, of course – to seduce Charlie, played by Kelly McGillis. He goes to the toilets to get his will. This would be considered sexual harassment today. In the latest ‘Top Gun’, both pilots make a new bet for $20…. Effort? A jar of bird cock.

Having said that, you are not obliged to make all these reservations in your comfortable cinema seat. For the elderly among us in need of a good chunk of unadulterated nostalgia, it’s a fantastic opportunity to enjoy a hearty chunk of entertainment with a pot of popcorn – or rather a bucket, because they seem to be growing all the time. For the latest generation it is yet another action film, the only recipe that still seems to work. One that can hold its own among all Marvel sequels, from The Avengers to Spider Man. Enjoy it!

Xavier Verellen is an author and entrepreneur. His recent book ‘Top athletes are CEOs’which shows that leadership makes the difference between champions and super champions, is for sale in the Standaard Boekhandel or online via

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