Tom Cruise’s surprise appearance at the Paramount presentation last Thursday to unveil the new Top Gun: Maverick trailer was one of the defining moments of Comic-Con 2019. But it has also stirred up a controversy.
Over the weekend, obsessive fans began calling attention to a potentially significant difference between the classic leather jacket Cruise wears in the original film and the one he’s shown putting on in the new trailer. Two patches on the back of the jacket that originally showed the Japanese and Taiwanese flags appear to have been replaced with unidentifiable symbols in the same color scheme.
Of course, probably the biggest change to unfold in the global movie business since Top Gun was released in 1986 is the rise of China from a theatrical backwater to the world’s second-largest film market. Thus, Twitter has lit up with speculation that Paramount Pictures tweaked Maverick’s iconic jacket in reflexive pandering to Beijing.
There’s a new Top Gun movie coming out. And Maverick is wearing the same leather jacket – only this time it’s Communist Party of China-approved, so the Japanese and Taiwanese flag patches are gone (screenshot on right is from the new trailer)… pic.twitter.com/gUxFNFNUKX
— Mark MacKinnon (@markmackinnon) July 19, 2019
Suspicions have been heightened by the fact that Tencent Pictures, the film division of Chinese internet giant Tencent, is a co-financier of the new Top Gun movie. Tencent also is a part-owner of David Ellison’s Skydance, which is co-producing the film with Paramount.
But even without the direct involvement of Chinese investors, Hollywood studios have for years avoided storylines, characters or even visual elements that could conceivably cause offense to either Beijing authorities or nationalistic segments of the Chinese audience.
Given Beijing’s historically fraught relationship with both Taiwan and Japan, the reference to Washington’s military alliance with Taipei and Tokyo on Cruise’s original bomber jacket very well could catch the attention of Beijing censors and Chinese filmgoers, who are no less eagle-eyed in their scrutiny of film details than American fans appear to be.
For the better part of a decade, U.S. studios have been careful to portray China in an unfailingly positive, or neutral, light. Film projects casting a critical eye on the China of the past or present — Seven Years in Tibet, for example, or Richard Gere’s Red Corner, which criticized China’s legal system — haven’t gotten made since the 1990s. Instead, China has tended to be portrayed — if at all — as a thoroughly stabilizing and technologically advanced partner, as in the finale of Ridley Scott’s The Martian or Roland Emmerich’s 2012.
Some Twitter users, however, have suggested there could be an explanation for the Top Gun sequel’s jacket changes that doesn’t involve geopolitical kowtowing.
The original patch is said to be from Maverick’s father’s Vietnam tour. The new patch appears to say “85-86” along with the words “Indian Ocean Cruise,” which was where the dogfights in the original Top Gun took place. Perhaps, by 2020, Maverick’s sartorial shout-outs are more about paying tribute to his own glory days. Still, what are those new ambiguous symbols then?
Neither Paramount nor Tencent has released a statement addressing the mystery yet. But rest assured that Maverick won’t be diving his jet over Beijing’s controversial new military bases in the South China Sea anytime soon.