Top Gun: Maverick’s Treatment of Iceman Is as Powerful as Any Flight Sequence
If you’ve heard anything about the film, it’s that the flying sequences are astonishing and, sure, they definitely take your breath away. But as thrilling and awe-inspiring as it is to be put firmly in the danger zone as a cinemagoer, there is another aspect of the movie that could linger longer.
Unlike other legacy sequels such as Scream or Jurassic World: Dominion, there are very few legacy characters who return. It’s just Tom Cruise’s Peter ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (obviously) and Val Kilmer’s Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky.
And it’s in the handling of Iceman’s return that Top Gun: Maverick delivers a sequence as powerful as any of its airborne moments.
(Note: There are some spoilers ahead.)
In the three decades-plus since Top Gun, Maverick (Tom Cruise) hasn’t advanced further than Captain in the Navy. It’s implied that it’s down to his fittingly maverick ways, but even when he’s been at his most disobedient, Maverick has always had a friend higher up: Iceman (Val Kilmer).
Just when it seems as though Maverick is going to get kicked out of the Navy for good, Iceman comes to the rescue again. He’s now an Admiral and commander of the US Pacific Fleet, so what he says goes.
It’s Iceman who recommends Maverick to train up a bunch of Top Gun graduates, including Goose’s son Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller), for a dangerous mission. As well as clashing with Rooster, Maverick unsurprisingly annoys Vice Admiral Simpson (Jon Hamm) and it all looks to be going very wrong.
That is until Iceman asks to meet Maverick and we get the most emotional scene in the sequel as they catch up at Iceman’s house. Maverick is told by Iceman’s wife that an unspecified disease has come back, but they’re keeping it a secret.
In the scene, Iceman largely communicates via computer to encourage Maverick to continue, aware that this mission is just what his friend needs to let go of his lingering guilt over Goose’s death. The scene ends with the pair embracing and in a brief bit of dialogue, Iceman jokes with Maverick over who the best pilot is.
Following their meeting, a later scene reveals that Iceman has sadly passed away. It’s a fairly needless detail to include and likely exists to rule out an Iceman return in a potential threequel, but it doesn’t take away from the emotion of their reunion.
It would have been easy for the sequel to leave out Kilmer altogether, much like it did with Kelly McGillis’s Charlotte Blackwood (who isn’t mentioned at all) or Meg Ryan’s Carole Bradshaw (who’s revealed to have died since the first movie). Iceman could have simply not returned, with a passing comment made regarding what’s happened to him.
But that would be going against what was one of Top Gun‘s most important relationships. Yes, Maverick and Goose had the emotional punch, but Maverick and Iceman’s journey from rivals to grudging respect to genuine wingmen was just as strong.
It wouldn’t have felt right for the sequel to just ignore that. Maverick needed a face from his past to help him resolve his guilt over Goose’s death, somebody who was there at the time and who also likely knows what it’s like to lose a wingman. In story terms, it’s important that Maverick is set straight by Iceman as why would he listen to anybody else?
But what makes the scene all the more poignant is that the filmmakers haven’t shied away from Val Kilmer’s real-life experience of throat cancer.
In December 2017, Kilmer revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that he had lived with throat cancer for two years, and that a procedure on his trachea reduced his voice to a rasp and left him short of breath. In his 2020 memoir, I’m Your Huckleberry, Kilmer revealed that, mercifully, he had been cancer-free for four years.
It’s because of his real-life condition that when we do hear Iceman speak in Top Gun: Maverick, he might not sound as you expect. It’s might be hard to watch as a fan, but you’re grateful that the scene is part of the sequel as it’s one of the stand-outs.
In his memoir, Kilmer also noted that it could have been different as he wasn’t always sure he’d be returning as Iceman.
“Tom was Maverick, but Maverick’s nemesis was Iceman. The two went together like salt and pepper,” he wrote (via Metro). “It didn’t matter that the producers didn’t contact me. As The Temptations sang in the heyday of Motown soul, ‘Ain’t too proud to beg’.”
Fortunately, Kilmer had his own real-life wingman in Tom Cruise.
“[Tom] said, ‘I’m not making this movie without Val’. When we filmed it, it was a very emotional day, having Val there and seeing him work with Tom after 35 years,” producer Jerry Bruckheimer told The Hollywood Reporter.
Kilmer’s daughter Mercedes added: “It means a lot to my dad, as he’s very proud of that film. This is what he loves to do. It was trippy, and very special, for my dad to be on set with all of his friends who made this movie when they were my age.”
We feel the need… the need for tears.
Top Gun: Maverick is out now in theaters.
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