Maverick’ With Fewer Action Movies?

Deadline had a story yesterday concerning Tom Cruise’s upcoming projects: they were all alongside writer/producer/director Christopher McQuarrie. They also were not necessarily conventional franchise plays. One is a ‘gritty action movie with franchise potential,’ one is a song-and-dance musical and the other is a possible return of Less Grossman. One can hope that these three projects mark a return of Tom Cruise: Actor after nearly two decades of Tom Cruise: Action Hero. after Top Gun: Maverickwhich returns to IMAX this Friday, as it passes Black Panther globally and nears Avengers: Infinity War domestically, I think Cruise can stop trying to prove that he’s still a movie star.

Grossman was a comic caricature version of a Hollywood executive played by Cruise in Ben Stiller’s Hollywood satire Tropic Thunder. Cruise was three years out from his PR meltdown on the Oprah Winfrey Show (and a related combatative Matt Lauer interview which centered Cruise’s involvement with the Church of Scientology) in the summer of 2005. He donned a fat suit, a bald cap and unflattering wardrobe choices, playing a genuinely loathsome person to let folks know that he was capable of poking fun at himself. It was image rehab, even if it was a damn good performance with at least one piercingly self-lacerating monologue.

That the speech is topped off by a lazy ‘watch Lens dance again’ sequence negated some of the impact. I hope we don’t get a Lens Grossman film, as the character isn’t compelling enough to justify a full-length feature. It’s a gimmick that served its purpose at a specific moment in Cruise’s career. The other two projects are more promising. The last few original or ‘part one’ Cruise-led action movies (Edge of Tomorrow, Oblivion and Jack Reacher) were all varying degrees of excellent. I can hope he remembers the lesson of The Mummy and doesn’t try to push franchise potential over in-the-moment entertainment value.

Well-choreographed action sequences can feel like glorified dance sequences, a comparison we’ve been making at least since John Woo’s Hong Kong breakout flicks. So I’m very curious to see what the guy who directed the last two and the next two Mission: Impossible movies (and Jack Reacher) can do with his favorite movie star in such a sub-genre. granted, Rock of Ages may be Cruise’s worst mainstream movie. Still, Cruise gives his all in a supporting role as a toxic heavy metal rocker and, like his terrifying performance as a hawkish NeoCon senator in Lions for Lambsbetrays not a hint of comforting ‘wink to the camera’ self-mockery.

This all argues that the blow-out success of Top Gun: Maverick and the presumed successes of the next two Mission: Impossible movies will serve as a kind of finale to Cruise’s last two decades spent trying to reclaim his movie star mojo. That mission has meant almost exclusively action-adventure/sci-fi fantasy flicks. After all, in the 22 years since Mission: Impossible II (which began Cruise’s rebranding into the most incredible, sexiest, most invincible action hero) and especially in the 15 years after when Cruise’s over-the-top romantic declarations of love over Katie Holmes became an early point-and-laugh YouTube sensation, Cruise has mostly avoided non-action movies.

Before the meltdown during the promotion of Steven Spielberg’s ($600 million gross) War of the Worlds, a talk show appearance that played just fine to the studio audience but played as poorly sans context as Howard Dean’s infamous celebratory scream,’ Cruise’s star power was in pulling audiences to genre flicks of all stripes. think, offhand, Eyes Wide Shut, Interview with the Vampire, The Firm, A Few Good Men, Jerry Macguire and Risky Business. He made a few actioners before (Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Mission: Impossible) and after(The Last Samurai and collateral) that Mission: Impossible sequel, but he wasn’t an action star. Instead, he was a towering movie star who occasionally made movies with action.

Since 2010, with James Mangold’s Knight and Day (essentially a 007 movie told from the point-of-view of Cameron Diaz’s Bond Girl), the vast majority of Cruise’s films have been action movies. Most of them, save for The Mummy (a rare case of Cruise trying to mimic the success of its next-gen competitors) and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (which isn’t a good movie, alas), have been varying degrees of excellent. Most fans and general moviegoers who saw Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow and the last three Mission: Impossible movies liked them. The closest thing he’s made to a ‘studio programmer’ was Doug Liman’s American Made.

That action comedy, starring Cruise as an in-over-his-head pilot who ends up involved in the Iran Contra affair, is a good film with a tremendous old-school Cruise star turn that earned ‘just’ $135 million on a $50 million budget in 2017. It was also the first non-action movie he had made since Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs in late 2007 and Bryan Singer’s Valkryie in late 2008. I don’t entirely begrudge the actor for spending the last decade or so making the kind of movies that tended to do best at the global box office. However, he didn’t use to need guns and explosions to pull in crowds.

He’s had as much of an issue as everyone else soaring to box office glory sans marquee characters. I guess Pete “Maverick” Mitchell was a bigger marquee icon than Ethan Hunt. If the last 15 years have been about proving that Tom Cruise is still a box office movie star and a towering cinematic icon, I think Top Gun: Maverick did the trick. It has thus far earned $662 million domestic and $1,352 billion worldwide amid rave reviews, white-hot buzz and James Cameron-worthy legs. It may have saved movie theaters by reminding older and irregular moviegoers how much they can enjoy a good movie on a huge screen.

Tom Cruise, now 60, can’t have much left to prove in terms of old-school and newfangled stardom. Top Gun: Maverick, whose subtext is about how Hollywood failed so severely to nurture a new generation of movie stars that Cruise had to get off the bench and save the industry, is a fitting finale to his action hero days. The final two Mission: Impossible movies could supply an epilogue. Maybe he’ll spend the next act of his career doing more than just stunts (including Universal’s Doug Liman-directed outer space flick) and heroics. In a more actor-driven, less IP-centric time, just seeing him get the girl or win a race was enough.


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