Maverick and Iceman Have the Best Relationship in the ‘Top Gun’ Films

It has been a wild summer for Top Gun: Maverick. There was huge anticipation from fans of the original for this follow-up, but no one, not even Tom Cruise himself, could have expected what has happened. It has racked up an astounding $1.4 billion at the global box office. $683 million comes from the domestic box office, making it the sixth biggest film in US box office history. Incredibly, Top Gun: Maverick is still going strong in theaters nearly three months after its release. Now, with the digital release arriving, fans can watch the film yet again at home. As you do, let’s take a look at the film’s emotional core, the friendship between Maverick and Iceman.

1986’s Top Gun is remembered for many things, from the intense action of the flying sequences, the romance, the music, to the friendship between Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Goose (Anthony Edwards). The most impactful part of the film that drives the narrative, however, leaving a lasting impression on fans and examined again in this year’s sequel is the relationship between Maverick and Iceman (Val Kilmer).

On the surface, the original Top Gun played out like so many other 80s films about the good guy and the bully who butt heads, but in the end, are brought together and become friends. Maverick and Iceman are both students at the U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School in the Top Gun program, where aviators compete to see who is the best in the class. Maverick is our protagonist, a superb pilot, but whose carefree, danger-seeking attitude rubs some the wrong way. One of those constantly irritated by his style is Iceman, a fellow pilot whose arrogance and conceited nature clashes with Maverick’s fun, cool demeanor. Iceman takes everything a little too seriously, while Maverick doesn’t take things seriously enough.

Right away, the audience notices that what one lacks, the other has. Maverick and Iceman can’t see this though, as they’re so caught up in the competition and winning. We can also see that their relationship isn’t so black and white. Maverick and his big smile might seem to make him the good guy, with Iceman being the egotistical jerk, but it’s more complicated than that. Maverick is reckless and Iceman isn’t wrong in believing so and telling him when others won’t, even if his delivery makes him come across as a heel. No matter how it’s said, it’s what Maverick needs to hear. Top Gun’s push against expectations, to have the hero be wrong and the supposed villain be right, only adds to the dynamic between Maverick and Iceman.

The clash between Maverick and Iceman reaches its crescendo when tragedy strikes and forces them together. We all know the scene. It’s one of the most heartbreaking moments in film history when Goose is killed in an inflight accident. Both Maverick and Iceman are at least partially to blame. Even if they didn’t mean to, their rivalry and push for perfection helped to cause the accident. Goose’s passing creates an unbreakable bond between them, even if neither wants it. They share something that no one else will ever be able to understand. There was already an unspoken respect when they were enemies. Maverick and Iceman were so invested in beating each other because they knew how great the other one was. Now that respect is etched in something much bigger than competition.

That respect and forced bond are tested in the film’s climax, where, in a scene that begins to unfold similar to how Goose dies, Maverick comes through, working together with Iceman. When we get our sappy, “You can be my wingman anytime” finale, it means more because of who is saying it. These aren’t two close friends. These are two men who are opposites in almost every way, who were forced together by their profession. It’s a relationship built on time and circumstances, rather than a natural bond. A relationship that blooms in chaos is always more impactful than one whose roots grow parallel.

That respect and forced bond are tested in the film’s climax, where, in a scene that begins to unfold similar to how Goose dies, Maverick comes through, working together with Iceman. When we get our sappy, “You can be my wingman anytime” finale, it means more because of who is saying it. These aren’t two close friends. These are two men who are opposites in almost every way, who were forced together by their profession. It’s a relationship built on time and circumstances, rather than a natural bond. A relationship that blooms in chaos is always more impactful than one whose roots grow parallel.

When we see why Iceman has brought Maverick back to Top Gun, to teach Goose’s son, Rooster, and from that, to hopefully learn to forgive himself, it speaks to the power of their friendship, built by respect and time. Iceman looks out for Maverick because Maverick once looked out for him. It leads to the most emotional scene of the film, when Maverick meets a dying Iceman in his office. The filmmakers found a powerful way to film around Val Kilmer’s cancer and inability to speak. Maverick and Iceman don’t need words. A look can say it all. There are times, with Iceman sitting at his desk, quietly looking at Maverick, that it almost feels like he is a therapist, being silent as he lets his patient figure it out.

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