Review of America (and Top Gun) 2022

Peter Van Buren
5 min readJun 5, 2022


Quick Top Gun II: Maverick movie synopsis (and spoiler alert) by the Bad Guys: Let’s build a secret base using the Star Wars Death Star plans. We’ll leave an air vent that looks like a giant bullseye where one bomb will take down the whole place.

Good Guys movie synopsis: To make it a fair fight, instead of one Navy Seal throwing a grenade down that ventilation shaft, we’ll come up with a near impossible plan involving multiple airplanes flown by irascible characters. Should kill the whole two hours.

It is some sort of anti-union move to credit people with screen writing for this movie; a good 80 percent of the script is Top Gun I with one character’s name crossed out (arrogant Iceman claiming he’s the best while finding Maverick’s rule-breaking dangerous) and someone else’s hand-written into the script (arrogant Hangman claiming he’s the best while finding Maverick’s rule-breaking dangerous) as if this movie was a tribute band version of the first.

Oh sure, it is 2022 so the Top Gun cadre has more people of color and the black guys don’t have to endure “just one of the boys” call signs like Sundown, but otherwise 2022 shows its age by being less homoerotic than 1986’s. There is far less sexual tension between Maverick and his old flame this time. And by old flame I mean Goose. It’s handled more like he reunites with his old Labrador who remembers him and licks his face. The new movie throws away all the buddy stuff of 1986 by having everyone switch their, um, rears, around each flight. People, in 1986 we could handle subthemes with “don’t ask, don’t tell” adding some tension.

Even the planes are not center screen anymore somehow, the great way the machines were fetishistic characters themselves in the original Top Gun. But remember in 1986 most of us did not know yet the military could put a missile through an Iraqi window on command. So while the featured F-18 in Top Gun II is steroids on Red Bull on little bro’s Adderall to the F-14, somehow it is nostalgia that wins. The aging Tomcat Cruise gets airborne at the end is held together with duct tape the way Cruise is held together with Botox.

What happened? Since 1986 America lost its need for speed, its desire to go ballistic with some Admiral’s daughter (Val Kilmer is one of three ex-high school principal-like Admirals in Top Gun II whose daughters we definitely are not interested in flying with at Mach 4 because they’ve gotta be like 57 years old.) America has lost its Top Gun spirit and no well-intentioned but ultimately flaccid sequel is gonna pretend otherwise.

In 1986 when Top Gun first came out Ronald Reagan was president and it was morning in America. Today we have Joe Biden and it’s always late Sunday afternoon. In 1986 we saw the end of the Cold War coming with perestroika and glasnost, and we were winning. When the Libyans messed with us, we launched an air raid and almost caught Qaddafi in his underwear out in his Bedouin tent.

Just a couple of years earlier two Libyan Su-22 Fitters fired on U.S. F-14 Tomcats and were subsequently shot down over the Gulf of Sidra even as Qaddafi still proclaimed the existence of his “The Line of Death.” Maverick sent carrier battle groups in again to the Gulf in 1986, un-freaking-challenged with him and studs like Ice running the show. There were some dark days during Iran-Contra, but from a Top Gun point of view it sure looked like Marine Ollie North was doing the wrong thing to do the right thing. And inflation was only 1.91 percent.

Libya became the poster child for the last two decades of Middle East policy failure. The Gipper part is now played by Joe Biden, sounding more like a globalist Karen then Reaganesque leader of the free world. Qaddafi is dead, sure, but instead of some hi-tech vengeance at supersonic speed he was sodomized on TV by a thug on the U.S. payroll. Instead of the glory days turning the Gulf of Sidra into our playground, we are shushed into not asking too many questions about another Libyan night spot, Benghazi.

America spent 20 years drooling on itself with failed policy after policy in Iraq, the lost opportunities for peace with Iran, the wars in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and of course, Afghanistan. That was where Rambo III in 1988 whooped the Sovs, now in 2021 the Götterdämmerung for failed dreams of empire across five administrations. Never mind if the pattern is full, nobody in their right mind would want a flyby for that final day on the runway in Kabul.

The bad guys in both Top Gun I and II are faceless (literally; they wear opaque black face masks) and the set up for the all the flyin’ and divin’ and going below the hard deck makes less sense than a typical Road Runner cartoon. OK, this isn’t Platoon or Private Ryan, we get it, it’s hardly even a war movie.

But all that unambiguity, the we’re the good guys stuff, was a lot easier sell in 1986 than in 2022. Good news is Mav still gets ‘er done by breaking all sorts of rules though we all hope in real life security is just a tad bit tighter out at Area 51. At least the filmmakers showed a tiny bit of bravado in 2022, allowing Maverick to keep a Taiwan flag patch on the back of his leather cruise jacket, the China market be damned for now.

Top Gun II’s America is too much like Top Gun II to stir the blood like in 1986. Whereas in 1986 the bet involved carnal knowledge on the premises, in 2022’s Top Gun II Mav buys a round when he accidentally leaves his cell phone on the bar. All that macho talk about who will be who’s wingman likely took place in the Top Gun II Human Resources department safe space.

America in 1986 was still a place where guys slapped her others’ backsides, where the president was a role model for many. We won fights, not depended on wordplay from MSNBC to make it seem like we sorta didn’t lose again. There was no need in Top Gun I for Mav to literally throw the rule book into the trash as he does in Top Gun II. We didn’t need no stinking metaphors then.

You get the Top Gun you deserve, America. In 1986 you were along for a real ride. In 2022 you just want to eject early.



Peter Van Buren

Author of Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan and WE MEANT WELL: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts + Minds of the Iraqi People