by DAVID AXE
It turns out we probably won’t get to see Tom Cruise pilot an F-35 stealth fighter in deadly air combat. The long-awaited sequel to the 1986 action flick Top Gun — or long-dreaded, depending on your taste for shirtless sailors and Kenny Loggins — has been shelved following the recent suicide of series director Tony Scott.
According to The New York Times, executives at film studio Paramount “quietly debat[ed]” what to do with Top Gun 2 after Scott threw himself off the Vincent Thomas suspension bridge in Los Angeles in August. “But now the sequel has fallen apart,” the Times reported.
For the few readers who aren’t already intimately familiar with Scott’s techno-erotic early work, Top Gun was the story of firebrand Navy pilot “Maverick,” played by a then-24-year-old Cruise in one of his first major film roles. The insubordinate Maverick was a genius at the controls of his F-14 fighter, earning him a spot at the Navy’s prestigious Topgun aerial combat school, then located at Miramar in California.
At Miramar Maverick battled rival pilot Iceman (played by a skinny Val Kilmer), took off his shirt a few times, walked around in nothing but a towel and experienced love, loss and a crisis of confidence before rising again to save a Navy aircraft carrier from an unspecified foreign power flying fictional “MiG-28s” — in reality, U.S. F-5s painted a sinister black.
With its blend of slick machismo, full-throttle aerial combat (the filming of which claimed the life of a stunt pilot) and a rockin’ soundtrack by Loggins, Top Gun was a massive hit in the U.S. and overseas and is widely credited with boosting Navy recruiting.
For Top Gun 2, Scott, the studio and the military were hoping for similar success despite the more-than two-decade gap between the original film and the sequel. Early story ideas had Maverick remotely piloting drones. The filmmakers wisely ditched that, ahem, less than heart-pumping setup and, instead, approached aerospace giant Lockheed Martin about putting an aged Maverick into the cockpit of the company’s F-35 stealth fighter, currently in prolonged development for the Navy, Marines and Air Force.
In the sequel, Maverick would reportedly be a Lockheed test pilot. It’s not clear how the filmmakers intended to write Maverick into a combat situation, although we’re sure it would have been cringe-inducingly contrived. The last Hollywood “blockbuster” that attempted to portray naval air combat, the universally-panned 2005 Jamie Foxx vehicle Stealth, demanded a huge suspension of disbelief in order to involve its heroes in dogfights over North Korea.
In March Lockheed exec Tom Burbage said that Scott’s crew was scheduled to start shooting footage of the F-35 in the “next month or so.” Burbage’s obvious excitement was understandable: the F-35 has suffered repeated delays and cost overruns. Its image surely would have benefited from director Scott’s star-making lens.
But now Scott is dead, and so too is Top Gun 2. It’s probable Cruise and the F-35 will never meet on the silver screen, although the stealthy plane is set to appear in the upcoming Superman film. As a consolation prize to disappointed fans of Cruise’s abs and/or worshipful movie portrayals of jet fighters, Paramount is still mulling a limited release of a 3D version of the original Top Gun.