SAN DIEGO — After three years of delays, and nearly 36 years after the original 1986 “Top Gun” film blasted into theaters, Tom Cruise took the stage at the “Top Gun: Maverick” world premiere Wednesday to finally introduce his long-awaited jet-fueled sequel.
“Does anyone want to see a movie in a movie theater? Let’s do it!” Cruise, 59 exhorted the raucous, full crowd at San Diego’s North Island Navy Base Lowry Theater. “Let’s light the fires and kick the tires.”
Cruise had reason to celebrate at the high-octane premiere, which included his red carpet arrival by helicopter aboard the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier. After finally agreeing to return to the role of hot-shot pilot Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell that made Cruise an international superstar more than three decades ago, the sequel has overcome production and COVID-19 delays to open in theaters May 27.
“It’s been 36 years, on and off, thinking and dreaming about this,” Cruise told USA TODAY from the red carpet. “And I had to push this movie off during the pandemic, and call everyone. Because I wanted this movie to appear in theaters and on the big screen. I’m happy for the cast and for audiences to finally be able to see this on the format that it was always intended for.”
10 must-see movies: From ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ to ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’
With co-stars Jon Hamm, Miles Teller, Glen Powell and Jennifer Connelly in the audience, Cruise gave thanks to director Joseph Kosinski, who has been persistently talking about making a “Top Gun” sequel since the two worked together on 2013 sci-fi thriller “Oblivion.”
In 2017, Kosinski and “Top Gun” producer Jerry Bruckheimer flew to Paris to pitch Cruise on a return during the action superstar’s production of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout.” Kosinski said he had 20 minutes to convince the sequel-reluctant Cruise of his concepts.
Kosinski laid out his plan to step up the technology from the original, setting up six cameras inside the jets’ cockpits to allow for real and close-up views of Cruise and the pilot actors’ faces. Kosinski then discussed a new emotional storyline around Mitchell’s continued guilt following the “Top Gun” flight death of his best friend and radio intercept officer Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards). In the sequel, Mitchell runs the elite flight training program that includes Bradshaw’s grown son, Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller).
“And I said that we’re going to call it ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ because it’s about Maverick, it’s his story,” Kosinski said. “So that was the pitch. And (Cruise) looked at Jerry, picked up the phone, called Paramount and said, ‘We’re making this movie.’ “
The new cast features a diverse team of young pilots, including the first female pilot, Monica Barbaro, “Insecure” star Jay Ellis, Lewis Pullman, Greg Tarzan Davis and Danny Ramirez. The crew underwent an elaborate pilot training program established by Cruise for the flight shots.
“Maverick” also stars Connelly as Cruise’s new screen love interest and Hamm as Cruise’s taskmaster Navy commander. For Hamm, 51, appearing in “Maverick” was an extension of a childhood dream. His first theater viewing of “Top Gun” at age 15 inspired him to purchase his first set of Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses, the same ones that Cruise wore in the original.
“You have to mow a lot of lawns to buy a pair of Aviators in 1986,” Hamm said. “I got the gold ones with the green lenses. I had them about two weeks before I sat on them in the car and absolutely ruined them.”
‘Top Gun: Maverick’ first reactions:Tom Cruise is ‘our greatest movie star’ in 2022’s ‘best film’
The “Mad Men” star was able to put the sunglasses back on in an official working capacityfor “Maverick.”
“Aviators look a lot better in a naval officer’s outfit,” said Hamm.
Hamm said he was not surprised to see Cruise arrive in dramatically by helicopter to the premiere. “Tom knows how to make an entrance. We knew he was planning something special,” said Hamm. “I got here on a bike.”
Musician Kenny Loggins, whose guitar screed “Danger Zone” was one of the musical hits from the original film, received a shout-out from Cruise at the premiere. “Kenny Loggins in the house! Thank you for your music!”
Along with new music such as Lady Gaga’s ballad “Hold My Hand,” the new movie kicks off with the nostalgic “Danger Zone” once again.
“They moved it up in the movie, they decided to get that energy going right away,” said Loggins, who had asked Cruise during a chance meeting if the song was going to make it at all. “I asked him, ‘Is the song in or out?’ And he told me, ‘It wouldn’t be ‘Top Gun’ without ‘Danger Zone.’ I didn’t change a thing. He wanted the original just as it was,” Loggins said.