By James Hancock July 30th, 2015
Very fun and very forgettable was my first reaction walking out of seeing Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the latest film from writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, the screenwriter behind last summer’s less fun and even more forgettable Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow. The latest entry in Tom Cruise’s flagship enterprise, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, reunites the most interesting members of the IMF in addition to a few newcomers such as Rebecca Ferguson who brings some much-needed sex appeal and European sophistication to a franchise that for me has always felt like a watered down James Bond series with none of the wit, style or charm. I’ve never seen either of the Mission: Impossible television series, but I’ve been obediently watching the movies ever since writer David Koepp and director Brian De Palma resurrected the concept back in 1996. I’m not entirely sure why I keep coming back to this franchise. The plots of the movies blend together after a while amidst countless exposition sequences where guys like Jeremy Renner explain the details of the story and all that remains a few days after seeing one of these adventures are a few memories of Tom Cruise performing a few cool stunts. Admittedly, the stunt that opens Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is absolutely awe inspiring and apparently required multiple takes by Tom Cruise. My hat is off to Mr. Cruise who has developed a formula for producing these hit movies every few years and at 53 still seems to show no real signs of aging. I assume the Church of Scientology takes the souls of the people whose lives that organization has destroyed and feeds those souls to Cruise through an IV to keep him looking fresh and vigorous. All kidding aside, Cruise has my respect from many great moviegoing experiences I’ve had such as Risky Business (1983), The Color of Money (1986), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), but many years have passed since I have seen him willing to take any risks of any kind. Tropic Thunder (2008) is probably the last time that Cruise set aside his ego and gave us a great uninhibited performance. I fear in the years to come, all we can expect from Cruise is more movies like Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, impressively mounted productions with no edge or teeth of any kind, the type of movie that people watch on airplanes in order to help themselves fall asleep.
I recently stumbled across a brilliant description of Tom Cruise by filmmaker Guy Maddin and I hope he’ll forgive a little plagiarism on my part as I quote him liberally from his book From the Atelier Tovar: Selected Writings of Guy Maddin. In a review of Minority Report, Maddin writes:
‘I look in vain at this face for evidence of a weakness, a decadence, a criminal subsoil, anything mysterious. Cruise’s processed charm is so devoid of affecting connections that it’s distancing…This Teflon perfection is also why he’s actually scintillant in, and the perfect correlative to, the ‘Mission: Impossible’ stories, whose plots unscroll with the zeal of someone’s else dogma – massively convoluted, but too tidy, and difficult to relate to. Drained of any lurking shadow, Tom’s franchise face bathes in a lucrative nimbus of inner armistice that reflects nothing back but its own flawlessness.’
First of all, Guy Maddin can go to hell for being a far better writer than anyone has a right to be. That withering criticism is just beautiful to read and is just as relevant today as it was back in 2002. We were only two movies deep into the Mission: Impossible franchise at that time and the last three movies in the series have only underlined the inherent problem in Cruise as a persona and superstar. His action movies are almost completely devoid of any lingering humanity that makes me want to return for a second viewing or even a third or fourth viewing as I have with the latest James Bond film Skyfall (2012). Even superhero movies, with their primary colored superheroes and family friendly predicaments, have more to offer. The reason Chris Pratt is suddenly one of the biggest superstars alive is that through his character Peter Quill (some people call him Star-Lord) in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Pratt held absolutely nothing back and displayed all of his various charms, weaknesses, humor, vulnerability and all around badass traits that other movies are now seeking to take advantage of. I’d love it if Tom Cruise would take off his producer hat for just one movie and completely surrender to the vision of a dynamic director like Paul Thomas Anderson or Quentin Tarantino. Cruise exercises such intense control over his vehicles that every drop of life gets squeezed out of the production. Tom Cruise clearly has all the talent that an actor could hope for and who knows how much money already tucked away in the labyrinthine vaults beneath the Church of Scientology. But if he wants to avoid becoming one of those sad cases where a superstar deliberately trapped themselves in amber, he needs to let go and work with some first-rate filmmakers. I have all the confidence in the world he has the capacity once again to blow our minds if he’d just release his deathlike grip on remaining an A-lister.
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