“Top Gun: Maverick” has permission to buzz the tower, because it’s coming home a hero.
The long-awaited sequel to 1986’s “Top Gun,” again starring Tom Cruise as fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, maneuvered through a gauntlet of COVID-19 delays, with both filmmakers and the studio adamant that the film get a theatrical release.
The steely move paid off with a direct hit, as critics, old-school fans and newbies united in re-entering the “Danger Zone.”
“Maverick” has blasted through box-office records, bypassing “Titanic” and “Avengers: Infinity War” in all-time domestic earnings while raking in $1.4 billion worldwide.
“We e-mail every time another milestone is reached. Crossing over ‘Titanic’ to be Paramount’s biggest movie ever was a big one,” director Joseph Kosinski says of Cruise. “Our reaction is always the same: ‘Congratulations, can you believe this?’ And it just keeps going.”
As “Maverick” prepares to land Tuesday for digital rental and purchase, Kosinski spoke to USA TODAY about the film’s massive success.
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Question: That reunion scene between Cruise’s Maverick and Val Kilmer’s terminally ill Iceman really struck a chord. What was it about the scene that connected so strongly with fans?
Joseph Kosinski: It’s two of our finest actors reunited on screen for the first time in 36 years, playing these iconic characters people have grown attached to watching “Top Gun” hundreds of times. To see them together, confronting some real heavy ideas and themes – confronting the end and having to let go – that’s stuff anyone can relate to. Even more than the action, people tell me it’s the emotional experience in “Maverick” that has made people go back again and again.
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Q: Kilmer, who has dealt with throat cancer, types most of his scene dialogue on the computer. Does that make Kilmer speaking his final words in the scene all the more powerful?
Kosinski: Every time I’ve seen the film with an audience, that gets a reaction. It’s those final lines between them.
Q: There were reports that a London-based tech company has used artificial intelligence to restore Val Kilmer’s voice. Was that used in the film?
Kosinski: I’ve read about it and saw Val is working with that company. But I’ve never used that technology and we didn’t use that AI technology in “Top Gun.” (Kilmer’s) voice was digitally altered and blended a little bit just for clarity.
Q: Maverick and Charlie (Kelly McGillis) got steamy in “Top Gun,” but the bedroom scene with Maverick and Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) featured a lot of talking, with a kiss at the end. What was the thinking there?
Kosinski: The relationship between Maverick and Charlie is obviously a very different one. We’re now with someone at a different point in Maverick’s life. The relationship between Maverick and Penny is much deeper than a purely physical one. She’s a really important emotional counterpoint for Maverick in this film. This felt like the right way to tell our story.
Q: Was there any thought of having Lady Gaga sing a new version of the classic “Take My Breath Away” instead of her original song “Hold My Hand”?
Kosinski: No. “Take My Breath Away” is actually Maverick and Charlie’s theme from the first film. It never occurred to me to use it as a love theme for this film. It’s a different relationship. And then once we heard Gaga’s song that she had written, the problem was solved. We had our love theme.
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Q: Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” made a return, of course, and even has orchestral versions in Hans Zimmer’s “Maverick” score. Is that the ultimate honor for the ’80s classic rock song?
Kosinski: Definitely. Hans Zimmer uses those five or six notes from “Danger Zone” over and over, in the film’s beginning and in the third act. It’s a really brilliant way to take the melody from Kenny Loggins’ song and interpret it for an orchestral piece.
Q: Ed Harris (as Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain) told us that the jet flyover was so powerful, it knocked the roof off the guard station. Can you confirm the damage?
Kosinski: That was a filmmaking experience I’ll never forget – Ed Harris standing there for real at the end of that runway taking that shock wave. We had worked with each rehearsal to get the altitude we wanted. So we had one take at the perfect altitude. And it blew the roof off the guard tower. It was intense. We had to wrap after that shot. Anyone else would have been blown away. But Ed Harris took it. And the movie is forever.
Q: You’ve brushed off “Maverick” sequel questions in the past. But I’ll give you two choices: “Top Gun: Maverick” sequel or “Top Gun: The Musical.’ Can you choose one?
Kosinski: A musical sounds great. I would love to see “Top Gun” on Broadway. That might be a genius idea.
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