When the Top Gun: Maverick trailer was released on July 19, it seemed business as usual for Tom Cruise and his fighting crew: Beach volleyball, motorbikes, bar singalongs and Ray-Bans aplenty.
Even Cruise’s iconic leather bomber jacket was back – but now keen eyed fans have noticed part of its signature look has been changed, resulting in controversy and theories Maverick’s switch-up is because of politics, not fashion.
In 1986’s original hit Top Gun, Cruise’s jacket had the Japanese and Taiwanese flags on the back.
In Paramount Pictures’ trailer for the long-anticipated sequel, the patches appear to have been replaced with two others in the same colour scheme.
The “ambiguous” symbols quickly led to speculation the swap has been made by the studio to stay sweet with Beijing censors and China’s huge box office audience.
Since Top Gun came out 33 years ago, China has risen “from a theatrical backwater to the world’s second-largest film market”, said the Hollywood Reporter, explaining why Twitter lit up with theories the jacket tweaking was “reflexive pandering to Beijing”.
There’s also the fact the movie subsidiary of Chinese tech giant Tencent is one of Paramount’s partners on Top Gun: Maverick.
China and Japan have historically had a sensitive diplomatic relationship, with heightened tensions in recent years over disputed islands in the South China Sea.
China also has a sticky relationship with Taiwan, which Beijing describes as a “rogue province” despite being self-governed since 1949.
In June, Taiwan took several jabs at China on the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. Its president Tsai Ing-wen said China continued to cover up the truth about the bloody crackdown, and urged it to “sincerely repent”.
In April, Beijing issued a deadline to more than 40 airlines to refer on their websites to Taiwan as a Chinese territory, not an independent nation.
Last month, Qantas bowed to the pressure and said it had plans to comply with the Chinese directive.
Social media users are saying Top Gun: Maverick’s own flight squadron – the US navy – has also caved.
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
One Twitter user called the disappearing flags an example of “more tools of Chinese soft power coercion”.
Wrote another: “A film glorifying the US military, bowing to Chinese sensitivities.”
For decades, Western studios have been “careful” to paint China in a neutral light at the very least, the Hollywood Reporter said. Films casting a critical past or present eye over the country – Seven Years in Tibet, Red Corner – “haven’t gotten made since the 1990s”.
But some Twitter users suggested there could be a less geopolitical reason for Top Gun: Maverick’s patch switch.
In Top Gun, it’s revealed Mavericks’s father, ‘Duke’ Mitchell, died flying a combat mission in Vietnam.
Online fans suggested the original, now-missing patch is from Duke’s tour and the new patch appears to say ’85-86 along with the words ‘Indian Ocean Cruise’. which is where the Top Gun dogfights happened.
“Instead of a Chinese government conspiracy, it’s just very accurate movie prop details,” noted one fan.
Cruise, 57, didn’t give away anything about political machinations or family allegiances when he debuted the Top Gun: Maverick trailer at Comic-Con in San Diego.
The sequel takes place decades after the original and sees Miles Teller as Bradley Bradshaw, the son of Anthony Edwards’ doomed friend Goose.
“For me, Top Gun is about competition, it is about family, sacrifice, heroism, aviation,” Cruise said.
“It’s a love letter to aviation.”
Neither Paramount nor Tencent has publicly addressed ‘Jacket Gate’ yet, but pundits noted Maverick may not be flying reconnaissance missions to the East China Sea any time soon.