Friday 14 October 2016

Is Tom Cruise Hollywood's Last Action Hero? (VOR)

I have something to get off my chest concerning Tom Cruise and haters ain't gonna like it.

Few movie stars divide opinion like Tom Cruise; I'm struggling to think of another A-list actor who elicits such a myriad of reactions like Cruise. Case in point: a merry trip to the cinema to see Sully with a group of friends the other week was brought screeching to a halt when we came face-to-face with the shiny poster for the new Jack Reacher movie, Never Go Back.

"Ugh, Tom Cruise just needs to stop", was the prevailing opinion. As the ardent Cruise fan that I am, I protested and stuck up for my boy Tom - but it was a futile attempt. The tribe had spoken; Cruise was cooked, an aging star who was overshadowed by a divisive and highly-publicised personal life. Take a hike Tom, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

However, this got me thinking. For all his faults, isn't Cruise still the closest we get to the concept of a 'movie star' nowadays? The kind of bankable actor who sells a film on name recognition alone, like Will Smith, Bruce Willis and Jim Carrey did in the late 90's? Setting aside the weird personal stuff, Cruise has all the ingredients we ask for in an A-list action hero - and sometimes we need to be reminded of how unique that is in 2016.

Across the last thirty years, Cruise has curated a successful acting career via a game of perpetual one-upmanship against himself. Once upon a time he was the dashing, baby-faced fighter pilot involved in an oily homoerotic relationship with Val Kilmer in Top Gun; now Cruise is best known as the rogue superspy Ethan Hunt from the Mission Impossible series, a gig that has spanned 20 years and five movies.

Alongside a rotating door of directors like Brian de Palma, John Woo and JJ Abrams, Cruise has cultivated the series from its humble beginnings as an adaptation of a long-forgotten 60's TV serial to a kickass platform for some of the most exciting action cinema seen this century. Each entry is defined by a stunt (or series of stunts) bigger than the last - oh, last time he abseiled down the Burj Khalifia? Well this time he's clinging to the outside of a cargo plane during take-off.

As both lead actor and producer, Cruise's involvement with the series outlines his commitment to crafting quality action. In 2011, Rolling Stone's review of Ghost Protocol stated that "If someone asks you what a true movie star is, point to Cruise. He has it all."

It's a quote that encapsulates Cruise's mandate with the Mission Impossible series; to craft and serve up iconic, lasting cinematic magic. Creating an aura of awe at each movie perpetuates this movie star quality - no-one else can and is doing what I do, they scream. And they're right - there isn't another actor working today who does what Tom Cruise does.

Of course, in this day and age dominated by superhero sagas and existing properties, the star power of Cruise (and almost every A-lister) is on the wane. Headlining a film just isn't enough anymore; look no further than Robert Downey Jnr's 2014 effort The Judge or the lacklustre return that 90's powerhouse Arnold Schwarzenegger enjoyed with Sabotage or Escape Plan. Actors like Sandler, Clooney or Pitt used to sell films just because their mug was on the poster - nowadays you need an existing property like Jurassic World or Suicide Squad to prop up a film lead by a Chris Pratt or a Will Smith.

Cruise himself has seen more than his fair share of knocks in recent years; 2012's Jack Reacher, 2013's Oblivion and 2014's Edge of Tomorrow all dipped below expectations at the box office, irrespective of the fact that they range from decent (Oblivion) to straight-up instant classic (Edge of Tomorrow) in terms of quality. But you can't fault the guy for trying; saying that Cruise gives 100% on each and every project he works on is like saying water is wet. Like, duh.

Simply put, no-one else in the business conducts themselves with as much genuine eagerness and excitement as Cruise. Following the release of Rogue Nation in 2015, Paramount President Megan Colligan acknowledged the significant contribution Cruise had on the whole film, from start to finish: "He was a producer and the star of the movie, he was involved in the writing, the shooting, the set pieces, the postproduction work, calling in to check the tracking, everything”.

Like, damn son - leave some work for the rest of the crew why don'tcha? All kidding aside, Cruise remains a dedicated, hardworking consummate professional. In 2016, I struggle to think of another actor who routinely conducts himself with as much discipline and enthusiasm as Cruise, and it's a damn shame that his legacy and work is continually overshadowed by the negative public perception of his personal life and beliefs. I'm not saying I agree with them - I'm just saying we shouldn't let them distract from the work he does on set.

At age 53, we can't expect Cruise to hang off of planes and skyscrapers forever - whose to say that the next Mission Impossible movie, due in 2018, won't be Cruise's last? It's hard to imagine the series existing without him, and even if it could, who would replace him? Furthermore, who will fill the void left by Cruise when he eventually steps back from blockbusters entirely? Right now the closest thing we have is Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, but even he is prone to moments of uncharacteristic antagonism. Vin Diesel, maybe - but he can't carry a film that isn't called Fast and Furious. Chris Pratt is getting there; Jennifer Lawrence is a reliable box office draw too.

Continue to hate on Cruise is you like; I'm not here to try and change your mind on the bloke. That really would be an impossible mission. Just know that too few actors apply themselves with the same vigour as he does, and even if you don't like the guy off-screen, his feats of daring-do and presence onscreen should be commended and appreciated whilst they're still a thing.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is in cinemas across Australia on October 20. The Mummy arrives next June.

This article was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out. 


  1. Point well made Rhys! I think I suffer from some sort of second-hand Cruise hatred, because I grumble about every new movie of his that comes out, and yet, every time I actually watch one, I think he's great. I can't explain it!
    - Allie

  2. Awesome write-up! I'm in complete agreement about everything. His on-screen work is really unprecedented as an action star. I love his commitment to making memorable stunts rather than just packing in action shots, and he brings together a good cast in fun scripts. His characters are different too - Ethan Hunt isn't exactly Jack Reacher or Bill Cage. He changes everything slightly, and always tries to seem to outdo himself. He's definitely one of Hollywood's last, if not the last, action hero - unfortunately. But man, he is awesome anyways.

  3. Great piece! Tom Cruise may have had his share of negative publicity, but he knows how to make an action movie.



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