This summer’s blockbuster movie, Top Gun: Maverick shows why every man needs a wingman and a mentor, even if you don’t fly a Navy fighter plane!
As I wrote in the Introduction for this series New Year; New Types of Friends, every man needs several different types of friends in his “inner circle.” These include a Mentor, a Wingman/Bachelor, a Handyman, a Fitness Buff, a Work Pal, and my personal addition: the GodBuddy.
The long-awaited sequel to the 1986 original Top Gun, finds Tom Cruise reprising his role as ace fighter pilot, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. Still haunted by the death of his best friend, co-pilot Nick ‘Goose’ Bradshaw, Maverick carries around the events of his past and survivor’s guilt. But a request by his former nemesis-turned-friend, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (played by Val Kilmer) reinvigorates Maverick.
Read on to find out how a wingman and mentor apply to a GodBuddy friendship.
About The Sequel
Set more than thirty years later, the latest film opens with a sequence that pays homage to the first film visually and musically. Even before the actors arrive on screen, viewers get a sense of déjà vu. The opening sequence models the original film as pilots and support crew ready planes for take-off on an aircraft carrier while you hear Kenny Loggins’ song, “Danger Zone.”
Over the years, Maverick remains at the rank of Captain. He has successfully avoided promotions that would have kept him from his passion: flying fighter jets. His issues with ego and defying authority remain as strong as ever though. His immediate superior, Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain plans to shut down the program and redirect funds to drone programs. When Maverick flies the prototype beyond its speed objective and nearly destroys it, Cain tries to ground Maverick for his recklessness.
Just as it seems like Maverick has again broken one too many rules, he’s saved by his naval pal, Iceman. Now an Admiral, Iceman transfers Maverick back to the Top Gun program to train a group of elite pilots for an extremely difficult assignment.
Among the pilots assigned to this dangerous mission is Goose’s son, Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (played by Miles Teller).
A Bond Formed by Top Gun
In the original Top Gun, Maverick and Iceman were rivals who became friends. Off-screen, Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer were also friends but became rivals during the filming of the original movie.
Iceman and Maverick’s fictional rivalry is rumored to spill into real life that Kilmer and Cruise do not get along.
In his 2021 documentary titled, Val, Kilmer shared how Cruise didn’t fit in with the rest of the “party boys” on set. He also said he purposely kept Cruise at arm’s length while making the original Top Gun film as a way to make his character more realistic. Kilmer admitted that he altered his real friendship with Cruise as a way to connect to Iceman. “On the page, there was very little to the character Iceman,” Kilmer explained. “So I attempted to make him real. I would purposely play up the rivalry between Tom’s character and mine off-screen as well.”
By the end of the film, the two developed a newfound respect for each other, with Kazansky even becoming Mitchell’s wingman.
Despite the rumors, Kilmer contends that he and Cruise have always been friends and supportive of each other. Kilmer maintains “It was fun to play up the conflict between our characters, but in reality, I’ve always thought of Tom as a friend, and we’ve always supported each other.”
Wingmen Have Your Back
Protected and reassigned to the Top Gun unit by Iceman, Maverick faces an uncertain future. He wants to move on but still feels the guilt of Goose’s death over thirty years ago.
Charged with moving from pilot to teacher, Maverick must now train a group of Top Gun graduates for a specialized mission like no living pilot has ever seen. The mission is to bomb a foreign country’s unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant. The plant sits in a deep depression at the end of a canyon defended by surface-to-air missiles. Fifth-generation fighter jets operating out of a nearby air base protect the airspace. This is a risky mission that may demand the ultimate sacrifice from its pilots,
In his new role, Maverick is drawn into a confrontation between his own fears of the mission and a promise made to Goose’s mom to protect Rooster.
While still pushing the boundaries himself, the older – but not any wiser, Maverick is determined to prevent the same sorts of dangerous behavior that defined his career. The mission needs extreme training and a few miracles to have any chance for success. In typical Maverick fashion, he pushes the pilots beyond the training manual and their own boundaries using unconventional methods.
Mentoring Reenergizes You
Mentorship is another aspect of friendship that comes through in the sequel. Maverick is dealing with a world in which drone technology threatens to make his previous style of flying obsolete. He has to win the approval and support of the team.
Maverick also has to sift through the egos and personalities of these highly competitive pilots, who initially rebuff his plans. Friction develops between Rooster and Jake “Hangman” Seresin. Hangman has a cavalier attitude towards his wingmen and criticizes Rooster’s caution. Rooster then confronts Maverick about his dad’s death.
As the pilots observe Maverick’s extreme flying skills, the entire squadron reassesses their position and rally behind him.
Maverick’s mentorship of all the pilots, helped them see that they could stretch beyond their boundaries. His mentorship pushed Rooster’s limits to the point that helped him overcome his own fear. Ultimately, he wins over Rooster, who saves Maverick’s life.
You will have to watch the sequel to get all the details but it is as good as the original.
The Sequel Renewed Their Friendship
In 2017, Val Kilmer revealed in his memoir, I’m Your Huckleberry that he had throat cancer after discovering a lump in his throat and waking up in a pool of his own blood.
Now 61, Kilmer has since made a miraculous recovery thanks to chemotherapy, radiation, and a tracheostomy. But his voice was permanently damaged by these treatments. The tracheostomy left a hole in his throat which he covers with a scarf or handkerchief. “I can’t speak without plugging this hole. You have to make the choice to breathe or to eat,” he told People, adding that he now eats through a feeding tube.
By all accounts, Cruise refused to make this sequel unless Kilmer was involved in some way.
Director Joseph Kosinski later said, “You’ve got two masters at the top of their game playing the most iconic characters of their careers. I think there is a lot of Maverick in Tom, and Iceman in Val, so what you are seeing onscreen is an authentic friendship that has lasted over 36 years.
Kosinski agreed “After one of the takes (we only did a few) I noticed that both Tom and Val had tears in their eyes. It felt like a genuine moment between two old friends.”
“Let’s Not Ruin It”
The bond between Maverick and Iceman results in one of the most powerful moments in this film.
Much like Kilmer, Iceman has been affected by throat cancer, leaving him to communicate with Maverick through text in a pivotal juncture in the film that reunites the two iconic characters in the most beautiful of ways. In the touching scene, Iceman first communicates with Maverick by typing words that appear on a computer screen. He eventually speaks to his dear friend, but his voice is clearly affected by the illness. Ice encourages Maverick to train Goose’s son for the big mission.
As the two men part, Ice manages a few words: “One last thing,” he suddenly rasps after a brief embrace. “Who is the better pilot, you or me?” Staying true to character, Maverick responds with a smile and says, “This is a nice moment, let’s not ruin it.”
“You can be my wingman anytime”
There is a quote in the original Top Gun that epitomizes the type of friendship every man needs.
Near the end of the movie, Maverick’s rogue style of flying saves Iceman’s life. Upon their safe return to the flight deck, Iceman says: “You can be my wingman any time.” Maverick retorts: “Bull—-! You can be mine!”
Iceman later returns the favor in the sequel and saves Maverick’s career by reassigning him to the Top Gun unit. Maverick’s wingman helped him overcome his fears and move on from his painful past.
In real life, Tom Cruise may have helped revive Val Kilmer’s career and possibly even extend his life. Their bond remains as strong as ever.
Both Top Gun films demonstrate how your wingman and mentor will benefit your friendship.
By definition, a wingman is a pilot who flies behind and outside the leader of a flying formation. But it is also a male friend who accompanies and supports you in a variety of ways. For instance, some guys find large groups of women intimidating. Your wingman can take the pressure off as he approaches her friends while you ask her for a date.
Being a mentor to younger guys is beneficial to both the older man and the younger guy. For older men, mentorship can help them learn new technology. It also provides you with purpose and energy for the second half of life. For younger guys, you can learn from the experiences of an older man. He will help your transition to the next phase of adulthood. Your mentor also helps push you to take risks when you don’t think you have it in you. He will also help keep your ego in check when needed.
Regardless of whether you are a fighter pilot or moving on after a failed romance, your wingman can help you thrive. Your mentor will also keep you energized. Make sure both are part of your inner circle of friends.
My next post wraps up the friendships in movies so I can move on to the next subset: examples of friendships in television.