The definition of masculinity has always been hard to define, it seems to change with the seasons, changing drastically since the 80s. In the 36 years since the release of the first ‘Top Gun’ movie, we have seen an immense change in our society’s outlook on what it means to be ‘masculine’. Particularly our expectations in regard to male behavior, men can express sensitivity and vulnerability in ways they couldn’t before. This evolution is interestingly portrayed in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’. The representation of social norms is critical as the movie’s characters all belong to one of the most hyper-masculine communities in the world: the US Army.
In the original ‘Top Gun’ we see quite a literal portrayal of what it meant ‘to be a man’, sweaty men with their shirts off, fighting and shooting guns. The epitome of masculinity. Right? In 1986, this was what society expected, that brutish nonchalant attitude was everything and it was in high demand. A young shirtless Tom Cruise was what the people wanted. While the movie was cut with some sincere moments between friends and lovers, the main appeal of the film was the high-flying jets with big guns.
However, in the same year with the release of very surface-level movies like ‘Aliens’ and ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ , where there were no hidden or deep emotions, Top Gun did offer something new. Although the presence of toxic masculinity in ‘Top Gun’ was essential, we also saw for the first time, the love that can be shared within a male friendship. Maverick and Goose take the sweaty, over-sexualized, and testosterone-filled presentation of men in film at the time and flip it on its head. With loving stares and genuine emotion, they build a borderline romantic relationship that seems to only be disrupted by their aggressive heterosexuality. As one of the first successful ‘bromances’, the two fighter pilots deconstruct the emotionless soldier trope and open doors for the silently progressive ‘Top Gun: Maverick’.
In the newest addition to the Top Gun franchise, the hyper-masculinity of the Armed forces is highlighted from the beginning. Our loose cannon star Maverick disobeys his Admiral’s orders in order to do the only thing he can: go fast in a plane. Maverick’s constant clashing with male authority figures demonstrates the resentment he feels over never being able to achieve high status. The main character’s lack of progression within his career is a hot topic in the movie, and seemingly the basis of his frustrations in life. Seeing other, younger, men rise to the top creates this masculinity complex within Maverick. This theme is highlighted through his relationship with the young fighter pilot Rooster, played by Miles Teller.
As Rooster is one of the best in his field he represents what Maverick could have been, but because he is also Goose’s son we see an interesting dynamic built. The love-hate relationship does two important things: it shows the unnecessary competition that grows from toxic masculinity, but also how men in these situations are forced to mask their emotions. From words of encouragement to playful insults the two demonstrate a unique father and son-like bond that must be hidden because of their soldier status. Additionally, in one of the final scenes of the movie Tom Cruise aggressively pushes Miles Teller after his character risks his own life to save Cruises. This is truly a paradoxical moment because, despite the over-aggressive and testosterone-fueled interaction, the loving nature of the relationship comes to a complete head at this point. As Rooster demonstrates his loyalty and love for Maverick through his disregard for his own life.
‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is the anti-toxic masculinity movie of the summer. While defeating every typical army movie trope Cruises Top Gun highlights the importance of male friendships within our society.