Tom Cruise: the last great Hollywood entertainer?

The Mission: Impossible series is burdened by none of the hamfisted politicking that drags down every other blockbuster.

Darragh McManus

Topics Culture USA

The latest Mission: Impossible film, produced by and starring one-man pop-culture cyclone Tom Cruise, has just landed on NOW TV. Also available to stream are all six preceding films, so I’ve been doing what any lover of action movies would: bingeing on the lot.

The new one has, as is standard procedure, a wearingly cumbersome title: Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. A colon and a dash in one name? Come on now.

That aside, M:I7 is, like the others, fantastic fun. Remember that – when action-adventure films were fun? When this kind of espionage-type caper would lean into its inherent ridiculousness and be playful, over-the-top, daft and – because of all those things – brilliant?

Most importantly, these films were politically and culturally neutral. Blockbusters didn’t always offer sanctimonious homilies or seek to socially engineer the cattle in the cineplex. Their messages never went beyond basic and unobjectionable encouragements to ‘do the right thing / fight the baddies / find the courage within’, or what have you.

The Mission: Impossible series is great stuff, for no other reason (and none is needed) than that it’s pure entertainment, done very well, with zero pretentiousness, lecturing, identity politics or self-importance. Essentially, it’s free from all the crap that’s ruined much of Hollywood – and especially that other blockbuster spy series, James Bond.

In fact, Cruise’s baby is like the anti-Bond. It’s Bond when those movies used to be fun, not annoyingly and laughably po-faced. Mission: Impossible takes the job of entertaining us seriously, without taking itself too seriously. To quote the Hill’s Christian Toto: ‘Cruise’s “Let’s put on a show!” ethos, bereft of political posturing, hearkens back to an era when the audience came first.’

Contrast that with Bond since Daniel Craig debuted the role in 2006’s Casino Royale. 007 was suddenly no longer the classic ‘sexy bastard’ archetype, killing and bonking and playing baccarat for Queen and Country. Now he was so tortured, complex and self-doubting and, like, deep.

Even the greater realism of these films was stupid. Lads, he’s an immortal super-spy, unkillable by bullets, bombs, STDs or cirrhosis of the liver. You don’t have to overthink it.

The Craig-era films probably needed a little post-Jason Bourne spikiness to go with the smoothness, but did the producers have to excise 90 per cent of the reason people enjoyed 007 in the first place? The Bond franchise became way too self-important about its cultural role: ‘No longer shall we merely entertain – now we shall change how people think.’

Stop! Licence revoked! The only way Bond should try to save the world is by dismantling that nuclear bomb 0.07 seconds before detonation.

We haven’t even mentioned the identity politics that have also poisoned the series – and not in a cool, arsenic-laced-spike-on-boot KGB way. ‘When will we have the first female Bond?’, obsessive weirdos cry aloud. The first Bond of colour? TransBond? Two-spirit Bond? Deaf Bond? Bond in a wheelchair? Bond as a Hamas, er, ‘freedom fighter’?

Daniel Craig, it should be noted, is a fine actor – but maybe that was part of the problem. He wanted to ‘act’ as if he were doing a Chekhov play or a Terence Mallick picture. He should have saved the serious thespian stuff for other types of films – just like Tom Cruise did in Magnolia or Interview with the Vampire.

The Cruiser is great in Mission: Impossible because he understands what an action film is supposed to be all about. And ironically, for all the slagging off he gets as an egomaniac or a control freak, he has no problem poking fun at himself and allowing his character to be imperfect. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt gets tired, cranky and flustered. And he often relies on dumb luck.

Weirdly enough, Cruise is one of the most admirable movie stars knocking around right now. He doesn’t appoint himself the moral guardian of humanity or anything else like that. He’s an entertainer, pure and simple. His blockbusters don’t talk down to the plebs. In real life, too, he seems to mostly steer clear of pontificating. Cruise is an old-school Hollywood star giving the people what they actually want, rather than what he thinks they should want.

When accepting the David O Selznick Achievement Award last year, Cruise told the assembled Hollywood great and good: ‘You’ve enabled me to have the adventurous life I wanted, and I’ve been able to travel the world and work and watch films in so many countries, to share in their cultures and realise how much we all have in common, and to admire our differences.’ Amen to that.

The year before that, he shouted out directly to fans on social media with the more succinct: ‘Thank you for allowing us to entertain you.’

If you had told me 30 years ago that, one day, the cheesy, grinning, strutting prat from Cocktail and Days of Thunder would be one of the few actors I would have any respect for, I would have laughed. But there it is. Tom Cruise is one of the last great entertainers standing.

Darragh McManus is an author and journalist. Visit his website here

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Culture USA


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