‘Top Gun: Maverick’: Val Kilmer cameo, health issues explained

Warning: Radar shows “Top Gun: Maverick” spoilers ahead.

Val Kilmer’s single scene in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is surprisingly powerful – not only because it successfully projects decades of close friendship between his character, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, and Tom Cruise, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, but because it also draws on the actor’s own experiences. The combination creates fertile ground for an often overlooked great performer to shine, if only for a moment.

In the 1986 original, Iceman was Maverick’s contender for the top spot on the Top Gun – both were also hot-headed, testosterone-packed young fighter pilots, but Iceman read the standard playbook and Maverick, for the sake of it. say nicely, had authority issues. By the end of that film, the two had been bonded in battle, relying on each other to survive. ‘Maverick,’ set some 35 years later, finds Cruise’s character largely the same – still disobeying orders, still buzzing with tricks – if a bit toned down and altered, and grappling with his failure. as the surrogate father of his deceased best friend’s son. He also finds 35-year-old Mav and Ice in what turned out to be a very deep and brotherly friendship, with now Adm. Kazansky having rescued yet-Capt. Mitchell’s bacon multiple times. After many setups, viewers are finally treated to a scene (and only one) bringing the two together in the flesh.

Much of the poignancy of the scene, of course, comes from the fact that Kilmer, the handsome golden boy of 80s cinema and critically acclaimed chameleon of the 90s and beyond, was stricken with throat cancer in the 2010s. Chemotherapy and multiple tracheostomies left the actor with a difficult rasp for a voice, an ordeal he describes in his autobiography, “I Am Your Huckleberry: A Memoir,” and in the Amazon documentary “Val.” , which contains stunning behind-the-scenes footage from much of his career, shot by the actor himself.

Due to Kilmer’s medical condition, throat cancer was written into his character for “Top Gun: Maverick” – a movie in which he wasn’t always a lock to appear. As Kilmer writes in “Huckleberry,” “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.'” In a 2013 interview with Larry King, he said “nobody writes the checks” had approached when the sequel was being discussed. .

It was Cruise, who had ‘joined’ Kilmer to star in the original, who pushed for his inclusion in ‘Maverick’, according to producer Jerry Bruckheimer: ”We have to have Val, we have to get him back. . We have to have it in the movie,’” Bruckheimer told People last summer, quoting the film’s star. “We all wanted it, but Tom was really adamant that if he was going to do another ‘Top Gun’, Val had to be in it.”

Either way, it’s a very good thing for Cruise that Kilmer has taken over the role because Cruise arguably does his best work in Iceman-related scenes. Even before Kilmer appears on screen, the moment Maverick learns that Iceman’s cancer has returned is beautiful acting – so simple, so direct. He looks like someone saying something out loud that he feared was true, guessing and trying not to make a fuss about it. There is almost a smile on his face; a smile of confirmation, to face the worst. His presence is appropriate and distressing.

Val Kilmer, seen here in the documentary “Val,” which is about his struggles with throat cancer, was no shoo-in for “Top Gun: Maverick.” But star Tom Cruise insisted Kilmer be in it.

(A24)

But when Maverick and Iceman finally reunite on screen, that’s when we see something truly alive. There is communication. We see a relationship informed by years of blanks that we can fill in ourselves: Iceman maturing beyond his brash youth and becoming the leader he was born to be; Maverick stumbling down his own more flashy, heroic, and less establishment-focused path. These two rivals from the first film have presumably become best friends, if not brothers. Writing by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and longtime Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie; the discreet staging of Joseph Kosinski; and above all, the installed and lived performance of Kilmer and Cruise sells us on this radical change. It’s quite an achievement.

Typing his communications to be read on a computer screen, Kilmer can only act physically for most of the scene. It’s all about looks and body language, and we buy it all. Here’s a stick jockey in his late 50s or early 60s who grew up in a very different way than his little brother. Iceman is now an Admiral. He understands the system; he understands responsibility in a much broader way than his friend does. And even now, with a terminal diagnosis, he tries to help and guide Maverick. Kilmer conveys all of that and more in this brief appearance. He does this thing that is so hard to do for real: he listens.

And he gets the most out of his stage partner.

Maverick finally releases his emotions because of Iceman’s standing with him and because Iceman knows exactly where to apply pressure to get an honest answer. It’s one of Cruise’s most believable on-screen moments.

When Iceman finally speaks out loud, the emotion he conveys – and creates in the viewer – will have you looking back on his long career wondering how he is. never been nominated for an Oscar. But it’s what he does without a word in his “Top Gun: Maverick” cameo, and his connection to his own life, that speaks volumes.

In the end, Kilmer’s silence is blatant.

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