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Monday, April 15, 2024

On 'Top Gun: Maverick,' 'She-Hulk,' and the Fear of Liking Things

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

Some mornings, it can feel like you woke up in the wrong part of the multiverse. Take Wednesday, for example. On that morning, just hours after its premiere, word came out that Top Gun: Maverick—a sequel that comes more than 35 years after its predecessor—had received a five-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. Five minutes! At Cannes! Look, I’m sure the movie is a hoot, but seeing the crowd at a, shall we say, prestigious French film festival salute a film series that is still something of a sizzle reel for American imperialism is surprising. Moreover, the festival gave Tom Cruise—a guy folks love taking potshots at—a Palm d’Or. What is happening?

None of this is to say that I don’t like Top Gun, or Tom Cruise. Also, I doubt anyone at Cannes cares about the public perception of either when it comes to choosing who the festival fetes. But waking up in a world where the sequel to my favorite movie when I was 10 years old is getting rapturous applause at a festival that usually honors shit like Tree of Life and Pulp Fiction is a bit mind-blowing. Top Gun! Quentin Tarantino made a name for himself calling the original movie an allegory for homosexuality. (Trust me, it’s a compliment.) This is a cinematic timeline I’m fine with living on.

That, perhaps, is why it’s also so flabbergasting. Although its flaws are evident to me now, Top Gun is a wickedly entertaining, and fairly heartbreaking, movie. Nothing could inspire people to be US Navy pilots more. That’s surely what the filmmakers, and the US government, wanted. Tony Scott (may he rest) directed the hell out of it. But something so ingrained in pop culture is hard to follow. Anticipating its sequel can be agonizing, wanting something that can never live up to expectations. Fans want to like things, but fearing their failure—especially for something like Maverick, which got shelved for years due to Covid-19—can lead all of us to look out for them with just one eye open.

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Speaking of things that would be better watched with eyes closed, the first trailer for Marvel’s new Disney+ show She-Hulk dropped this week. Unlike Maverick, a sequel that had a lot to live up to, She-Hulk had a lot of potential that seems to be unfulfilled. Apparently somewhat based on the comics of the same name, the new series is about Jennifer Walters, a 30-something lawyer who is also, yes, a green hulk. (The full title is, I’m not joking, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.) It’s got all the right serums: Mark Ruffalo as Smart Hulk, a mix of action and comedy, and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) in the title role. This should be good! But judging by the trailer, it looks like someone took the script for an Ally McBeal reboot, switched out some proper nouns, and added science. There is an extended scene about She-Hulk’s foibled attempts at dating. (Tinder is tough when you’re green, amirite?) Trailers can’t cram in everything, but man it looks cringe.

But let’s face it, I’m going to watch. Even if She-Hulk is terrible, welp, disappointment is part of fandom. Same goes for Maverick. Even if it wasn’t getting better reviews than the new Alex Garland movie, I’d still get tickets for opening night. Wanting to like things has led to a gun-shyness that’s pretty much endemic to being a fan of anything these days—especially now that anything even remotely nostalgic is getting mined for fresh revenue. That, more than anything, is what’s left me shocked. At a time when the expectation is catastrophe, something that could have easily failed has managed to escape the danger zone.

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