This is the most moving scene of “Top Gun Maverick”: the reunion, more than thirty years later, between Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer. A highly anticipated sequence, made even more poignant by the state of health of the interpreter of “Iceman”.
“Between you and me, who was the better pilot?” “Do we really have to waste this moment?” In Top Gun Maverickit is in the privacy of the office of the one who is now Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky that Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell finds the one who was his greatest rival in Top Gun. Before becoming his best wingman, and his greatest support against the military hierarchy who dreams of breaking the wings of this outstanding pilot who is difficult to manage.
Ever since the sequel became official, fans of the original film have been eagerly awaiting the reunion of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, knowing that the state of health of the actor, affected by throat cancer in 2015, would necessarily limit his presence on the screen. Val Kilmer indeed had to undergo two tracheotomies (a hole in the trachea to facilitate his breathing) which damaged his voice and turned his life and career upside down, as evidenced by the poignant documentary Val (available on OCS) which explores the memories and daily life of the actor/artist through his personal archives.
After viewing Val, we certainly come out upset by the condition of Kilmer, now almost mute as the use of speech is painful. The documentary is narrated by Jack Kilmerthe actor’s own son, who thus lends his voice to his father to help him tell his life story. And even though Val Kilmer has since partnered with a company specializing in artificial intelligence and machine-learning to recreate his stampand that he expressed his enthusiasm very early on to join Top Gun Maverick, the nature of his participation remained mysterious. A simple evocation? A quick photo, revealed in the trailer? Or an actual scene with Tom Cruise? All three, my… Admiral.
First evoked as a (very) high-ranking guardian angel of “Maverick” who has advised and protected him in the shadows for all these years, then displayed in uniform in the entrance hall of Top’s base Gun, “Iceman” intervenes in the feature film through text exchanges, before offering himself a long sequence in front of his former flight partner, who has come to visit him at his home. And this is where the emotion takes precedence over the joy of reunion for the viewer, while the border between reality and fiction becomes blurred.
The disease of Val Kilmer is indeed not only assumed, but integrated into the story and its character, which we understand confronted with the last hours of a long fight against cancer. His interactions with Tom Cruise / “Maverick”, full of sweetness, nostalgia and wisdom, is done first by interposed screen, while “Iceman” types his answers to his comrade’s questions. He ends up speaking, painfully, the time for a few lines, before offering himself a hug with the one he considered to be “uncontrollable” and “dangerous” in the original film, and who has since become his closest friend.
In the same way that the subtext of the film presents “Maverick” as one of the last human pilots in the age of drones and Tom Cruise as one of the last actors of “real” cinema in the age of the all-powerful CGI (“It’s not who I am, it’s who I am”), the character of “Iceman” also takes on a meta dimension, no longer in celebration but in emotion. He reveals himself to be sick, his voice and body (the two major instruments of an actor) damaged, and in particular advises “Maverick” to agree to let go, making this sequel and this character who stuck to his skin for more than thirty years, a sincerely moving cinematic testament.
All the more touching that at the time of the first film, Val Kilmergraduated from the prestigious Juilliard School, follower of the famous method-acting and star on the rise favoring leading roles, did not particularly wish to sign for Top Gunwhose screenplay he found “stupid”. It is at the insistence of Tom Cruisewho had the same agent, that he will agree to participate – reluctantly – in an audition that he will even try to sabotage… before discovering to his great surprise that he had been selected. “I read the lines with indifference and yet, amazingly, I was told I got the part. I felt more downcast than motivated,” he says in his memoirs I’m Your Huckleberry.
“On the first Top Gun, I absolutely wanted Val Kilmer to play Iceman”remember Tom Cruise*. “He was so perfect for this role! (…) For this new shoot, I wanted Val to be in the film and he wanted to be there too. I wanted this film to be a progression of their relationship. “It was magical. Playing scenes again, Val and I. Sitting with him and chatting in that context was really moving.” And Val Kilmer* to add: “We hadn’t seen each other in many years and it was amazing to see how quickly we caught up. Plus, the euphoria of seeing our characters become friends no doubt gave us a great energy.”.
Director Joseph Kosinsky was also carried away by this last privileged moment between “Iceman” and “Maverick”, as he testifies in the pages of the magazine Total Movie as part of the promotion of Top Gun Maverick : “It was huge, huge – having Val come back to play Iceman. Working with an actor of that caliber, seeing the chemistry, the camaraderie between him and Tom, and bringing those two characters together in this movie, was a really special and one of my favorite parts of the movie.” And that of many spectators of the film, certainly.
*words taken from the press kit