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Why It Was Important For Val Kilmer To Return In Top Gun: Maverick

In "Top Gun: Maverick," Tom Cruise returns in his signature role as Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, the renegade, cocksure pilot who had to learn how to be part of a team in 1986's original "Top Gun." More than 30 years later, Maverick is still flying as a test pilot for the Navy when he is called back to the Fighter Weapons School — also known as TOPGUN — to train a whole new cadre of pilots for a dangerous mission to destroy an enemy uranium enrichment facility.

While that means that most of the cast of "Top Gun: Maverick" is filled with relatively new faces (as well as familiar actors like Jon Hamm, Jennifer Connelly, and Ed Harris), someone else from the original movie's cast other than Cruise makes an encore appearance: Tom "Iceman" Kazansky, played once again by Val Kilmer. Maverick's one-time nemesis at TOPGUN is now not only one of his dearest friends, but has also climbed the ladder all the way to becoming commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

We won't spoil the details of Maverick and Iceman's time together in the movie, but we will say that it's one of the film's most genuinely heartfelt and satisfying sequences. According to writer Justin Marks, who co-wrote the story on which the film's screenplay was based, the desire to include Kilmer as Iceman in the movie came all the way from the top brass.

"That was something Tom [Cruise] said very early on," Marks said while speaking on the red carpet at the film's San Diego premiere. "He said, 'There is no "Top Gun 2" without Iceman. You've got to figure out a way to do it.'"

Making Iceman's return in Top Gun: Maverick work was 'very important'

Val Kilmer's participation in "Top Gun: Maverick" was not a given. Although the actor wanted to join the film (via Yahoo), his recent health issues — including a throat cancer diagnosis seven years ago that curtailed his ability to speak (via People) — could have sidelined that possibility.

With Kilmer eventually able to participate, the next step was finding a way to make Iceman's appearance in the movie meaningful. "It was very important, and the most critical thing was, how do you encapsulate a 36-year friendship that really only lasted 30 seconds at the end of the first movie?" said writer and producer Christopher McQuarrie. "How do you tell that whole story over the course of the film with so little time?"

Justin Marks added that it took five different writers and many drafts of the script to figure out how to get Iceman into the film. "I don't know who it was who finally cracked how to do it best," he explained. "The version that you see on screen is a credit to the group in a really powerful way. I was floored watching what they did."

For Glen Powell, who plays TOPGUN recruit Hangman, a brief encounter with Kilmer just as Powell had wrapped his scenes sums up the veteran actor's importance to the film. "I was leaving San Diego and was in the elevator with Val," Powell recalled. "The only thing left on the luggage cart was protein powder, weights, and tequila. When he saw that, he was like, 'That's "Top Gun." That's "Top Gun" right there.'" He added, "It was such a special moment. I'm so glad we got Val in this movie because he's just an exceptional human being."

"Top Gun: Maverick" opens exclusively in theaters on May 27.