Val Kilmer’s Iceman is back in Top Gun: Maverick, reuniting with Tom Cruise’s high-flying aviator 36 years after the original movie.
In Tony Scott’s 1986 classic, Kilmer and Cruise’s tempered, not-at-all homoerotic tension drives the movie, whether they’re teeth-chomping, playing volleyball on the beach smothered in baby oil, or, by the end of the film, putting aside their differences and becoming each other’s wingmen.
It’s one of the most iconic movie rivalries. However, there was some uncertainty over the appearance of Iceman in Top Gun: Maverick, given the actor’s health in recent years.
Fear not: Cruise is said to have “rallied hard” for him to join the cast, and their scene together ranks most emotional in the movie.
Top Gun: Maverick spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned…
Val Kilmer’s cameo in Top Gun: Maverick explained
Early in the film, it’s made clear that while Maverick has remained a Captain his entire career, Iceman has gone on to become the US Pacific Fleet’s Commander. Not only that, but any time Maverick has found himself on the wrong side of the Navy, Iceman has always come to his rescue.
After Maverick risks his wings to push the Darkstar to Mach 10, he narrowly escapes being grounded forever when Iceman orders him to return to Top Gun and train a team of graduates for a mission the likes of which they’ve never seen.
The pair communicate via text for most of the film, until Iceman summons Maverick to his home. There, his wife informs Maverick that “it’s come back”, implying some form of cancer that’s impacted his ability to speak without any pain.
Maverick then meets him in his room, where they talk about Rooster (Miles Teller, playing the son of the late Goose). For most of the scene, Iceman talks to Maverick by typing his words on a computer, before making an effort to speak aloud. “The Navy needs Maverick,” he tells him.
At the end of the scene, they hug, before Iceman asks: “Who’s the better pilot, you or me?” Maverick replies: “This is a nice moment, let’s not ruin it,” prompting laughter from both of them (and everyone in the audience, if you’ve got a good crowd).
Soon after, it’s revealed that Iceman has passed away, with Maverick, Penny (Jennifer Connelly), Rooster, and the other Top Gun fighter pilots attending the funeral.
How Val Kilmer was able to speak in Top Gun: Maverick
In 2017, Kilmer publicly revealed his throat cancer diagnosis. While he’s undergone years of chemotherapy treatments, radiation and a tracheotomy – to the point he’s now cancer-free – Kilmer lost his voice in the process. “Speaking, once my joy and lifeblood, has become an hourly struggle,” he wrote in his memoir.
Using old recordings of his voice, Kilmer worked with tech firm Sonantic to create an AI version of his voice for Top Gun: Maverick, making it appear as if he’s actually speaking in the film. While built using past recordings, the voice itself is entirely synthetic.
Kilmer earlier praised the company for “masterfully restoring my voice in a way I’ve never imagined possible.”
As per Fortune, he said: “As human beings, the ability to communicate is the core of our existence, and the effects from throat cancer have made it difficult for others to understand me. The chance to tell my story, in a voice that feels authentic and familiar, is an incredibly special gift.”
How to watch Val Kilmer’s 2021 documentary
Val, released in 2021 and directed by Leo Scott and Ting Poo, is a documentary which chronicles the life and career of Kilmer through his fame and experiences with throat cancer. The film, assembled into a 108-minute feature from 800 hours of footage, is narrated by Kilmer’s son Jack, reading the actor’s own words.
Val is available to stream for free on Amazon Prime Video for those with a subscription.