Tom Cruise and the Mission: Impossible conundrum — Super-successful franchise has limited the star

Gautam Chintamani

Jan,27 2018 18:33:23 IST

Taking a cue from the great American writer Raymond Chandler — who believed that when in doubt, a writer should simply have a man come through a door with a gun — Tom Cruise is back to doing what he does best. In other words, there is a new installment of Mission: Impossible in the works.

Cruise recently brought traffic in London to a standstill while filming a signature Mission: Impossible stunt in the middle of the road. This alone makes clear how dedicated he is to maintaining his superstardom. While he is at, he'll also want to resurrect some of that sheen he lost thanks to projects like The Mummy and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back that fell short at the box office. What else would explain Cruise doing a sixth Mission: Impossible at the age of 56, and also a sequel to the very first film that transformed him into a global phenomenon (Top Gun that is slated to release in 2019)?

Tom Cruise in a still from Mission: Impossible 5

Tom Cruise in a still from Mission: Impossible 5

One of the biggest stars in the world, Cruise might not have found the going tough yet. But there are signs that the road ahead could be bumpy. Both Cruise and the studio, Universal Pictures, had bet heavily on The Mummy becoming his next go-to franchise; Universal had intended the reboot to be the first installment of its ‘Dark Universe’, based on the classic Universal Monsters film series. In the years to come there was speculation that Javier Bardem and Angelina Jolie would play the leads in a remake of Bride of Frankenstein, which was also projected to be within the said Monsters’ universe. With so much riding on it, it was hardly surprising that Universal chose The Mummy with Cruise and not Dracula Untold (2014) as the first film in the series. But once the film released to lackluster response, there was little talk of connecting it with the franchise. Similarly, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) failed to set the box office on fire.

Also read — Mission: Impossible - Fallout is the name of upcoming sixth film in the franchise, reveals Tom Cruise

When a Tom Cruise project fails to get ‘em talking (as with The Mummy) or when a film with a production cost of $96 million manages to make only a worldwide total of $162.1 million (such as Jack Reacher: Never Go Back), you know it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Unfortunately for Cruise, and to some extent also his fans, 'going back to the basics' entails yet another Mission: Impossible film. With Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011) the series could have come to its logical end but perhaps the nearly $700 million that it made might have convinced the producers to carry on. This series was the first that Cruise was attached with in a producer's capacity as well and its box office receipts only strengthened his safety net. When Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (2015), the fifth film in the series, made almost the same amount at the box office all doubts about the future of the franchise were laid to rest. In the years between the two films, Cruise tried hard to change his image with films like Rock of Ages (2012), Jack Reacher (2012), Oblivion (2013) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014) but nothing could recreate the magic of a Mission: Impossible.

Cruise performs a stunt for the sixth Mission: Impossible film — Fallout. Image via Twitter/@MissionFilm

Cruise performs a stunt for the sixth Mission: Impossible film — Fallout. Image via Twitter/@MissionFilm

In many ways, portraying Ethan Hunt, the lead from Mission: Impossible, has practically had the same effect on Cruise that playing James Bond has on actors. It’s very difficult for Cruise to go back to the late 1990s mode where he hit the right chord in being the box office star who every now and then would also experiment. In fact, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that since 2000, Cruise’s filmography looks insipid. Of course, he has had monstrous hits but where is a Jerry Maguire (1996) or an Eyes Wide Shut (1999), or Magnolia (1999)? The thing that separated him from the others was the manner in which he could merge artistic brilliance — be it a great script (Jerry Maguire) or a great director (Stanley Kubrick) or both (Magnolia and Paul Thomas Anderson) — with commercial feasibility.

Today, Tom Cruise could pick any project and at a time when he truly needs something like a Magnolia or Lions for Lambs (2007) kind of role he is merrily off to do yet another Mission: Impossible. It’s been a decade since the last time Cruise truly tried something different. One wouldn’t have expected him to shine as Les Grossman, the megalomaniac studio chief in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder (2008), which was a little more than a cameo, but watching him drop his guard was liberating. Wouldn’t it be intriguing to see what Cruise could do with Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA), who wrote the brilliant part of ‘incredibly distasteful’ Frank TJ Mackey for the actor in Magnolia that also fetched him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor? Legend has it that Cruise was filming Eyes Wide Shut in London when he saw Anderson’s seminal Boogie Nights (1997) and called to congratulate him. Anderson was in London and visited Cruise on Kubrick’s set and it was sometime later when Cruise asked the director to write a part for him. The result: a character that simply transformed Cruise’s oeuvre.

Perhaps it might behoove Cruise to call PTA again. In the interim, if he still wants to revert to a Mission: Impossible every now and then maybe he should pick up the darn phone and let bygones be bygones with Brian De Palma, who directed the first (and best) film of the series and nearly transformed the spy thriller genre to high art.

Published Date: Jan 27, 2018 18:33 PM | Updated Date: Jan 27, 2018 18:33 PM