Tom Cruise’s Bomber Jacket Restored to Original Glory in the New Top Gun Movie

By Matthew McMullan
Jun 02 2022 |
Paramount Pictures

Once the Chinese financiers left the film’s production, the edit to appease Chinese government censors was undone.

More than three decades after the first installment made Tom Cruise a star, the Top Gun movie franchise is back – and the sequel already is a bona fide blockbuster.

Top Gun: Maverick broke the record for a Memorial Day weekend opening. It made $154 million in North America, and drew an older crowd to do it. That includes yours truly. I’m old now, but I still parked myself in a movie theater seat for the first time since the pandemic began, and bought a bucket of popcorn and a cartoonishly large soda pop. The guy at the concession stand was like, “how much ice do you want?” And I was like, “just a little.” And then he topped off my Pepsi so that I got my money’s worth. It was legit.

As for the movie? Man, lemme tell you: It may have been long-awaited and much delayed, but it does not disappoint. Just look at ol’ Tom Cruise getting after it:

It’s got it all, including the Kenny Loggins song from the original, Maverick’s Kawasaki Ninja, and a scene where the hardbodied fighter pilots get sandy and sweaty and play sports. It remains ragingly patriotic. And, of course, it has tons of its real draw: Jaw-dropping camerawork shot from inside the cockpits of F-18s in flight. If you like action movies, it’s worth your dime.

But you know what it doesn’t have? Chinese money involved in its production.

This is honestly the real story here, and the Wall Street Journal has a good writeup on it. Maverick was not cheap to make and the studio backing it is sparing no promotional expense. And early on the financing involved Tencent, the Chinese tech conglomerate, which had a 12.5% stake in the movie … until it didn’t:

The reason: Tencent executives backed out of the $170 million Paramount Pictures production after they grew concerned that Communist Party officials in Beijing would be angry about the company’s affiliation with a movie celebrating the American military, according to people familiar with the matter.

Association with a pro-American story grew radioactive as relations between the U.S. and China devolved, the people added. The about-face turned “Top Gun: Maverick” from a movie that once symbolized deepening ties between China and Hollywood into a fresh example of the broader tensions forming between the U.S. and China.

Now look, they’ve got plenty of televisions and DVD players in China, so it’s kinda weird the Tencent execs didn’t expect the friggin’ Top Gun sequel to be jingoistic. The first movie is basically a paean to the American military, a recruiting tool if there ever was one. The sequel, I can confirm, is no different.

Nevertheless, a release in the enormous Chinese movie market was part of the plan. And just like the writers did in the original, the filmmakers managed to write an entire movie about U.S. naval aviators that climaxes in spectacular dogfights with foreign warplanes without naming the foreign adversary.

It’s not Russia, it’s not China, it’s not even some made-up country like Zamunda, and it’s not a mistake: They’re trying to thread the needle on this one to make it palatable to moviegoers the world over, including those whose governments have frosty relations with the United States.

I guess that was enough to get Tencent on board during production. And its influence was obvious, as evidenced by the changes made to patches on Maverick’s bomber jacket. In a trailer released in 2019, the Taiwanese and Japanese flags – referring to tours of duty made by the character’s fighter pilot dad – were replaced by rectangles with vague shapes and similar color patterns. China considers Taiwan a rogue province and has longstanding beef with Japan.  And so that change came “per a suggestion made by a Tencent financier on the film,” reported the Journal, because they argued the original jacket was likely to run afoul of the Chinese censors whose approval would be needed to secure the film’s release in that country.

Having watched the movie, I can report the patches on that jacket get approximately five seconds of screen time, but China’s censors don’t kid around. They zapped a Spider-Man movie’s release a couple of months ago because there was too much of the Statue of Liberty in its climax. They tanked another superhero movie in which Benedict Cumberbatch plays a wizard – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – because there’s a scene that shows a curbside newspaper box for the anti-communist Epoch Times for all of two seconds.

Tencent isn’t kidding around either. It operates an enormous streaming video platform in China and doing that means playing ball with the censors. So it does. It made news in the U.S. a couple of months ago when Chinese audiences pointed out the version it was showing of Fight Club – a Brad Pitt movie form 1999 about disaffected disaffected middle-management types who join underground boxing clubs and are funneled into an anarchist Luddite movement – included jarringly silly edits to the film’s ending that were meant to neuter its message.

The “Fight Club” edits came off kinda like this.

But sometime between the release of that 2019 trailer and now, Tencent quietly pulled its money out of Maverick. Someone must’ve finally deduced that there was only so much softening of the edges the filmmakers could do to make a triumphant movie about the American military less triumphant, and that the chances of this film getting approval to be shown in China were always gonna be close to nil. And so, with Tencent gone and no use in appeasing the Chinese censors, the original patches were replaced.

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Now, it’s being asked: Does Top Gun: Maverick kicking major butt at the box office mean a roaring return to the movies this summer? I gotta be honest, I have no idea. I’m probably not going back anytime soon. I’m busy! I got things going on! And I don’t particularly want to see the new Jurassic Park movie – I’m just not that excited to see it, what can I say?

It’s also being asked: Does Top Gun: Maverick making all of that money domestically mean Hollywood executives are ready to stop altering the details of their films to mind the delicate sensibilities of the Chinese Communist Party?

I gotta be honest about that too: I doubt it. If that’s gonna happen it’s going to be a slow shift, not an abrupt stop. Even as China admits fewer and fewer foreign films into its theaters and its own film industry – fully capable of making hyperpatriotic, moneymaking action flicks of its own – ramps up, selling stuff to Chinese people remains super lucrative to big American corporations. The NBA is back in China on state TV. All the companies that were criticized for sponsoring the Beijing Olympics despite the Chinese government’s human rights abuses have weathered the bad publicity and continue to sell their products there.

And, there’s a whole campaign going on right now in the United States where ostensible environmentalists are trying to lock in a Chinese solar panel supply chain that draws on forced Uyghur labor. We’ve got some thoughts of our own on that one.

When it comes to moviemaking, plenty of American movie stars are still willing to bend over backward so as not to offend Chinese moviegoers. Remember when John Cena – this same guy – profusely apologized for calling Taiwan a country? He didn’t want to screw up the Chinese release of “Fast & Furious 9.”

There are nine of those movies! And Cena did it in Mandarin. That was last year.

Life comes at you fast!

But that’s enough of the real story here. Let’s end with the movie. Top Gun: Maverick is awesome. It’s big, loud, fast, exciting, and I ate my entire bag of popcorn. And while it likely would have done just as well at the box office had it kowtowed to the Chinese government’s censors, I’ll consider it an added bonus that they didn’t. As Maverick tells his junior officers, “don’t think, just do.”  No prob, Maverick! I’m no longer thinking too hard on this. Do go see it!