Column: Tom Cruise, industry superhero of “Top Gun: Maverick”?

In the “Top Gun: Maverick” roll-up, people keep saying that Tom Cruise is the last real movie star and I don’t get it.

How else would a reasonable person describe Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Will Smith (pre-slap), Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Hugh Jackman, Denzel Washington, Robert Downey Jr., Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Melissa McCarthy, Scarlett Johansson, Octavia Spencer… well, you get the idea.

For memory :

11:09 a.m. on May 27, 2022An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the seventh “Mission Impossible” movie opens in July. “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One” will be released in July 2023, the second part will open in 2024.

Apparently these people aren’t quite up to it. Apparently, to be a real movie star, you have to act exclusively in movies (someone has to break the news to Dames Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith, among others – and allow me to be present while they’re doing it).

You also need to have a name that on its own can conjure up audiences and multiple franchises out of thin air.

If that is the criteria for a movie star, then to paraphrase Elizabeth Bennet’s remark to Mr. Darcy, I wonder if anyone knows of one.

(Also, what is Liam Neeson? Chopped Liver?)

That said, there’s no denying that Cruise has accepted the role of the last movie star — or at least the movie star determined to save the movie industry single-handedly.

It’s a role in which he is quite convincing.

Whether it’s yelling at the crew of “Mission: Impossible” for violating COVID-19 protocol because the industry is “watching us and using us to make their movies” or insisting that “Top Gun : Maverick” is a theatrical release only and prefaced by a big splashy, eventful and very expensive advertising campaign as we rarely see anymore, Cruise is there to remind us that the industry will not die before his eyes. Not if he can help her.

While, you know, continuing to risk his life and his limbs doing his own stunts in his “Mission: Impossible” movies, the seventh of which is set to open in July 2023, because doing his own stunts is what a true movie hero does. action – as he recently said at Cannes: “Would you like to ask Gene Kelly why he dances himself?”

In many ways, this moment is just an extension of his career, especially over the past few years: against all odds and against all odds, Tom Cruise manages to save the day.

This all fits nicely with the plot of “Top Gun: Maverick,” in which aging (ha!) main character De Cruise is enlisted to prepare a group of elite pilots for a dangerous mission, even though everyone involved think it’s washed. It’s hard not to see this as a nod to Cruise himself, who, despite appearing preserved in ice for the past 20 years, is approaching 60.

Read a different way, every “dinosaur” crack intended for Maverick (and there are many) could be directed at a film industry struggling to preserve the theatrical experience in an age of prestige television and wars of streaming.

That Maverick’s nemesis is played by Jon Hamm, who, as “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, has done as much as anyone to put the TV in the alpha position, which makes it even sharper.

And honestly, who among us won’t be thrilled if Cruise triumphs in life and in the movies? Who won’t rejoice if the absurd and uplifting “Maverick” gives the movie industry the big win it so desperately needs? If we have to briefly genuflect at the enduring charm of Cruise’s boyish smile, the powerful twitch of his jaw muscles, and his frankly uncanny ability to still rock a tight T-shirt, well, that seems like a pretty small price to pay.

But the last real movie star? I do not know. Hollywood has been predicting the extinction of this species for decades, but even in the late 90s, for example, when Julia Roberts was smiling at every billboard, Tom Cruise existed in a distinct part of the stratosphere.

Handsome in the Preppiest Senior way, always giving 200%, he took himself and his career very seriously. Even with the occasional twist of a serious or artsy movie — “Born on the 4th of July,” “Magnolia” — his movie choices seemed to revolve around maintaining a high-octane leading man image.

There was, for many years, very little drama about Cruise. No addictions or benders or tantrums on set, no politics. Although he always looked great on a red carpet, you couldn’t imagine him pulling pranks or playing with his celestial companions. And as a performer, he’s worked almost exclusively in a genre that’s best described as, well, “Tom Cruise.”

He could land a one-liner but he wasn’t a comedian; he was passed out but not really sexy. He ran in every movie (he still does) and played a lot of soldiers or ex-soldiers but there was, inevitably, at least one scene in which his eyes would fill with tears.

He never played a superhero, but many of his characters had superhuman tendencies, and for years Cruise himself appeared indestructible. He survived two Hollywood divorces, including one from Nicole Kidman, without putting a scratch on his dream-boy-next-door vibe.

And then, in 2005, he went on Oprah to promote “War of the Worlds” and introduce his new girlfriend, Katie Holmes.

While not in the same league as, say, slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars, Cruise’s insistence that he was really, really nuggets on top in love was, and remains, downright bizarre. Like the moment Stepford’s first wife had a glitch, it forced the world to suddenly ask, “What is this? at the top with this guy?

Well, Scientology is one of the things that was going on with this guy, and as the organization faced increasing scrutiny, so did Cruise.

No one would claim he stopped being a movie star that day – half of ‘Mission: Impossible’ and all of Jack Reacher’s movies were ahead of him, along with ‘Valkyrie’, ‘Edge of Tomorrow », a perfectly hilarious performance in « Tropic Thunder » and, of course, « Top Gun: Maverick ». (We’ll throw a veil over “Knight and Day” and “The Mummy.”)

But he stopped being the kind of movie star he had been. Gone are the complex character-driven hits, replaced almost completely by action pictures and sequels.

Part of it was the slow decline of mid-level movies, which had started long before. But as the likes of George Clooney and Meryl Streep struggled to keep them alive, no one turned to Tom Cruise for help.

In 2012, when his divorce from Holmes was followed by a Vanity Fair cover story about the role the Church of Scientology played in his life and marriages, Cruise was not on Hollywood power lists. . He had already become more super-soldier than superstar, playing charming and very competent but isolated men, consumed by their work and obsessed with the next mission.

Some of them also seemed to describe Cruise. Each “Mission: Impossible” was now heralded by news about the actor doing his own increasingly difficult stunts. During the sixth film, he broke his ankle jumping from rooftop to rooftop and still got back up and got the hold.

And a whole publicity tour based on the incident.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Cruise seems utterly indifferent to characters dealing with middle age or parenthood or even the pain and wisdom that comes with time. In “Top Gun: Maverick,” Cruise’s main character is continually reminded that he’s too old for his job as a fighter pilot, but he can’t move on and the story won’t.

Because it is needed where it is.

This is where Cruise finds himself right now, determined to prove that there is still life in the old movie industry.

It’s important to remember that Cruise isn’t the only — or even the biggest — audience to attract to the job. ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is a long-awaited sequel to an iconic film; people want to see the jets as much as the leader.

To be fair, these particular jets wouldn’t exist without Tom Cruise. So while he’s not the last real movie star, he might be the one to help remind people that movies don’t need a multiverse to be big, loud, and super fun.

That sometimes a killer smile is all the super power you need.

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