Marshalltown native’s long-awaited ‘Top Gun’ sequel finally set to hit theaters
LOS ANGELES — Joseph Kosinski saw “Top Gun” at the Orpheum Theater in 1986, and even though he was only 12 years old at the time, the experience “blew him away” — or took his breath away, to steal a line from the iconic Berlin song on the soundtrack — and left an indelible mark on the man who would ultimately direct the film’s sequel over three decades later.
“I remember going to the Orpheum Theater as a kid and seeing all of my favorite movies there, so that was about as close as I ever thought I’d get to Hollywood despite growing up in the town that Jean Seberg came from,” Kosinski said. “It wasn’t something I thought about when living in Marshalltown, but I had a great childhood there. What I loved about growing up there is it gave me a great imagination because you had a lot of time to grow up and have kind of an old fashioned childhood.”
Although its release has been delayed on numerous occasions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kosinski’s long-awaited “Top Gun: Maverick,” the follow-up to Tony Scott’s bombastic action classic about Naval aviation pilots, will finally hit theaters on May 27 just in time for Memorial Day weekend.
Kosinski, who earned an engineering degree at Stanford and then an architecture degree at Columbia University after graduating from Marshalltown High School (MHS) in 1992, came to filmmaking later in life than most directors. He shot his first short in his late 20s and spent the first half of his 30s working on television commercials before landing the opportunity to direct another big budget sequel to a 1980s classic featuring an A-list star, 2010’s “Tron: Legacy.”
“It was one of those cases where not knowing exactly what you’re getting into is a good thing. I had a very strong vision of what I was trying to create, and I had great support from everybody I was working with and Disney to make something unique and special, which we did,” Kosinski said. “It was my film school, that first movie. Obviously Jeff Bridges as the lead was an amazing way to start off.”
“Top Gun: Maverick” marks Kosinski’s second collaboration with Tom Cruise — the first, 2013’s “Oblivion,” was based on an unpublished graphic novel the director had written himself — and after just four films, he can already count Hollywood titans like Cruise, Bridges (who also worked with Kosinski on 2017’s firefighter drama “Only the Brave”), Morgan Freeman, Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris among his collaborators. It isn’t always easy to establish a rapport with such well-known actors as an up and coming filmmaker, but as Kosinski explained, it all starts with a meeting.
“As a director, you have to pitch your vision for the film you want to make, and those guys have made enough to know if you’ve got a strong grasp on that or not,” he said. “I’m lucky that both of those guys (Cruise and Bridges) take shots on first-time directors or directors who don’t have a lot of experience, and they’ve been very successful doing that. I think I was just lucky that I ran into both of those guys early on in my career, and they believed in me and trusted me to make a movie.”
Beyond the challenge of making a movie in the first place, crafting a sequel to one of the most beloved summer blockbusters of the 1980s, which grossed over $350 million at the box office during its initial run, is an even more daunting task. Cruise, who has become famous for his commitment to performing all of his own stunts, is back as Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the cocky young student turned instructor, and so is Val Kilmer as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, Maverick’s rival turned friend who has also become an instructor and serves as the commander of the Pacific Fleet.
“There’s a lot of aviation problem solving on this movie because we were shooting it for real. You know, we put cameras in the airplanes. Tom is in a real F-18 Super Hornet and some other aircrafts in this movie,” Kosinski said. “I just wanted to create something that you have to see on the big screen, and I think now, after this pandemic, it’s more important than ever to make things that people have to go out and see in theaters. And that’s what we set out to do.”
Otherwise, however, the cast is mostly populated with new faces including Harris (who Kosinski called his “dream casting” for the role) as a Rear Admiral, Connelly as Penny Benjamin, and Jon Hamm as Cyclone, paired with rising stars like Miles Teller, who plays the son of the late Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, Glen Powell as “Hangman” and Jay Ellis as “Payback.” Famed producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a frequent collaborator with the late Tony Scott, who was originally interested in making his own sequel before his death in 2012, is back onboard as well. Kosinski caught Bruckheimer’s eye after “Tron: Legacy,” and the director relished the opportunity to work with one of the giants of the industry.
Because Kosinski has always considered himself an aviation enthusiast — and, to boot, he’s already gained a reputation as one of the most striking visual filmmakers in modern Hollywood thanks in part to his mastery of computer-generated imagery (CGI) — a “Top Gun” sequel seemed like a perfect fit. Still, he wanted to avoid the obvious trap of creating a “cover band version” of the original and sought to make something with his distinctive style and stamp.
“The first film is beautiful, and certainly I wanted this film to feel like… when you do see it, in the first few minutes you’ll understand that it’s a ‘Top Gun’ movie — that we love ‘Top Gun’ and we’re going to take you back into that world,” Kosinski said.
Other than the anticipation and excitement surrounding the film, the other major “Top Gun: Maverick” storyline has been the seemingly endless number of release delays, first after Cruise broke his ankle shooting the latest “Mission: Impossible” movie and then, of course, due to the pandemic. Although many films moved to a hybrid or streaming release model as a result of COVID-19 — and a few outliers like Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” bombed at the box office with theatrical only releases — Kosinski and his production team knew their project was worth waiting for and worth seeing on the biggest screen possible.
“It was really hard to wait, but we designed it for the big screen. And the idea of releasing it online, I just couldn’t imagine it because we shot it with IMAX quality cameras. It would be a shame to watch it on your phone for the first time,” he said. “We wanted it on the big screen, and it was really hard to wait. But I’m glad we did because theaters are opening up, people are going back to the movies, and it’s Memorial Day weekend. We feel like this is a great way to kick off the summer.”
“Top Gun: Maverick” will finally be released into the world in a few short weeks, but Kosinski isn’t resting on his laurels or taking a sabbatical. Another of his films, the Australia shot sci-fi thriller “Spiderhead,” which stars Teller, Chris Hemsworth and Jurnee Smollett and is based on a George Saunders short story, will hit Netflix on June 17, and he has his eyes on a project set in the world of modern Formula One racing sometime in the near future.
His job now takes him all over the world, but in Kosinki’s own words, he’s dying to get back to Marshalltown for a Maid-Rite this summer. If there’s a lesson to be gleaned from his filmmaking success, he added, it’s that kids should go out and make something.
“Go out and shoot something. Make something that’s unique to you, something that you’re interested in, and if it’s good, someone will notice it, and you’ll be on your way,” he said.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is in theaters nationwide on May 27.
Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or