Tom Cruise is unquestionably one of the world’s biggest movie stars. But he isn’t a movie star in the same way that Will Smith, Brad Pitt, or George Clooney are movie stars. While those other guys can mix action films in with serious dramas, sports films, or breezy heist thrillers, Cruise has gone all-in on framing this stage of his career around the idea that he’s known as one thing: an action movie star. Sure, occasionally you’ll get an outlier like 2012’s Rock of Ages that shows he’s still willing to do other things, but if you look over his career, you’ll see that he used to have a much more varied combination of genres in between the action blockbusters.
Stay with me here: after Top Gun, Cruise went on a creative tear – he made The Color of Money, Cocktail, Rain Man, and Born on the Fourth of July before hitting his next true action movie, Days of Thunder. Then he was in Far and Away, A Few Good Men, The Firm, and Interview with the Vampire before Mission: Impossible brought him back to action. After that, the number of non-action movies start to steadily decrease between action projects. Following the first Mission, he made Jerry Maguire, Eyes Wide Shut, and Magnolia. It was back to action in M:I 2, and then Cruise made Vanilla Sky before five action movies in a row: Minority Report, The Last Samurai, Collateral, War of the Worlds, and MI: 3. Then he did Lions for Lambs, Tropic Thunder, and Valkyrie before choosing a buddy action comedy, Knight and Day. That led to M:I – Ghost Protocol, which he followed with the non-action movie Rock of Ages, but it’s been all action since: Jack Reacher, Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow, and Mission: Impossible 5 starts filming next.
There’s a pattern there: Cruise’s choices are funnelling toward a career which only includes action films – at least for the immediate future. He obviously can’t keep that going forever – the guy is 51 years old right now – but if you look at what Stallone and Schwarzenegger are doing in their mid-to-late 60s, it’s not completely unreasonable to imagine Cruise still doing his infamous sprinting on film fifteen years from now (although he’ll be considerably slower at that point). That’s not a future I particularly want to see. Look, I love action films, and I’m not saying there’s no place for intelligent action movies in the modern film landscape, but I also think Cruise is far too talented an actor to spend the rest of his career, or even the rest of this decade, committed only to that genre. (The rest of this article presupposes he agrees with me on that.)
His newest movie, Edge of Tomorrow, is in theaters right now. It’s terrific – the kind of sci-fi action spectacle that has a brain, a sense of humor, and some fun thrown in there, too (read Kate’s review here). In the film, Cruise plays Bill Cage, an Army media specialist who’s thrust to the front lines of a war against an alien species because of his cowardice. Donning a mech suit, he barely figures out how to take the safety off his weapon before he’s killed in battle. But the film’s video game-style catch – as I’m sure you’ve seen from the trailers – is that every time he dies, he wakes up before the battle has even begun, giving him the opportunity to learn more each time as he tries to figure out what’s happening to him.
As I watched, I couldn’t help but think of the film as a metaphor for Cruise’s recent career choices. If Cruise feels like I do about the film’s he’s been working on lately, the themes of Edge of Tomorrow likely spoke to him on a deeper level than just the surface story: stuck in a perpetual loop of action, Cage learns a little more each time out before ultimately restarting the whole thing over again. Similarly, Cruise may feel “trapped” in a rut of big action films, but – spoilers for Edge of Tomorrow – as Cage breaks the cycle at the film’s end and walks toward Emily Blunt’s character with a huge smile on his face, it’s easy to think of Cruise himself having a similar reaction if he chooses to break his own pattern. Is this movie an example of the actor working out these issues on a subconscious level? I have no idea – I just thought the storyline featured an interesting parallel to Cruise’s career trajectory, and figured it’d be worth bringing up.
Guys, I’m torn here. I’d obviously love to see Cruise tackle genres other than action movies, and if you agree with me, the easiest way to communicate that desire is to vote with our wallets. If we were talking about his last film, Oblivion, I’d feel totally fine telling people to avoid that movie; its story was a pastiche of things we’ve seen done much better elsewhere, and though it had a couple of nice visual flourishes, that wasn’t enough to really recommend it. But Edge of Tomorrow is really great, and I can’t in good conscience tell people to skip it just because I selfishly want Cruise to change his career path. There’s no easy answer to this one. I can only hope that the guy who delivered such awesome performances in The Color of Money, A Few Good Men, and Magnolia feels the need (not that one) to explore other genres on a more regular basis.
What do you think? Would you like to see Cruise work in other genres, or are you content with just seeing him in action films?
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