Actor Tom Cruise has a new movie coming out, his first in four years thanks to Covid-induced release delays. You may have heard of it, a low-budget arthouse photo called Top Gun: Maverick.
Ecstatic critics fell on themselves to praise maverick not only also superior to the original Superior gun (just thirty-six years old now) but as one of the greatest action films ever made. It currently has an extremely impressive 97% “Fresh” score on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. Coincidentally, it’s the same score as Cruise’s previous film, Mission Impossible: Fallout, received there too. It will almost certainly be a massive box office hit. And the smiling permanent Cruise has done everything he can to promote it, short of going to space – where he’s apparently heading for his next movie.
I sometimes wonder what Scott Fitzgerald would have thought of Tom Cruise. At a time when the idea of the actor-draughtsman has faded from contemporary cinema, the oddly ageless man remains the latest working movie star today. Cruise coped with the changing vagaries of the industry through phenomenal hard work and, on another level, by simply ignoring them. He has his own franchise, the Impossible mission series, and with the exception of an appearance in The Mummyone of his rare outright flops best forgotten, he doesn’t appear in the others.
He’s worked with virtually every major (male) director of the past half-century, but now works primarily with writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, who has credit on virtually every project he takes on. His private life is constantly the subject of speculation and his public statements about his religion, Scientology, have attracted as many columns as his films. It remains both uniquely accessible – insisting on meeting fans for hours at premieres – and entirely opaque. He once jumped on a sofa, torpedoing his career for nearly a decade. I don’t recall reading an interview with him that offers any insight into who he really is. Which, of course, is the point. There’s Brand Tom – Cruise Control, if you will – and everything else is subject to that.
It helps that after a strange and atypically dull shape between mission impossible 3 in 2006 and edge of tomorrow in 2014, Cruise once again returned to pole position for his business instincts. The intriguing but little seen American made aside, he hasn’t made a non-blockbuster (or planned blockbuster) since Valkyrie in 2008. The days he collaborated with the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson, Stanley Kubrick—Stanley Kubrick! – and Steven Spielberg seem very distant.
It’s debatable how good an actor he is (I think he’s superb, but a cold technician rather than a warm, Hanksian man) or how infallible his instincts for filmmakers and projects are. But one thing seems clear: we will never see his equal again.
Films have changed beyond recognition since he returned to work four decades ago, but Cruise remains one of the few constants, an ever-fixed mark across our multiplexes and streaming services. First of all, of course: he is an evangelical partisan of the theatrical experience. He made an outsized deal of attending a public screening of Christopher Nolan Principle in 2020, at a time when many were reluctant to do so.
But he is far from reckless. It is telling that when he launched into a swear-laden rant against two crew members who had failed to observe Covid protocols on a Impossible mission together, most observers took his side. When he announced, “I’m on the phone with all the fucking studios at night, the insurance companies, the producers, and they’re watching us and using us to make their movies.” We’re creating thousands of jobs, motherfuckers. …Movies are going because of us. If we close it will cost people fucking jobs, their homes, their families,’ he was applauded for his commitment (swearer) to his industry.
We’ll probably never know who the “real” Tom Cruise is. And that, I guess, suits him well. But we know that this eccentric and physically daring man remains the last leading man who is happy to give his all in the service of entertaining his audience – and we are, of course, his spectators. In an age of bland, identikit actors, that dedication is something to applaud. For once, the Superior gun the sequel has the right title; his star is truly a Maverick. How long does his senseless and generous individualism last.