Mission Impossible 5: Why Tom Cruise is our last great movie star... seriously

This is a performer with an obsessive commitment to the audience experience

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The Independent Online

The trailer for the latest Mission Impossible film has been released, and after the usual quick cuts of punching, kicking, and Simon Pegg quips, there was an amazing shot of Tom Cruise, hanging off the side of an aeroplane as it took off. Tom Cruise, by the way, is 52 years old.

Special effects have moved to a point where it’s harder to become truly blown away by what you are seeing. You can still admire the artistry and scope, but seldom do you catch yourself asking: “how did they do that” because the answer is usually: “computers”.

But Cruise has form. In Mission Impossible 2, he and the film’s director had to bluff insurance companies so he could perform the opening climbing sequence. In the last Mission movie, he scaled the 130th floor of a tower in Dubai. Himself. This is a performer with an obsessive commitment to the audience experience, and so in this trailer, when I see the ground shrinking behind him as his hair is whipped by the plane’s velocity, I feel a kind of rush which is becoming more and more difficult for film makers to create. Because I know it’s really him.

And remember he didn’t start out an action hero. This isn’t Jackie Chan or Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Cruise’s long career has stand-out movies in every genre. The gothic horror (Interview With A Vampire) the romantic comedy (Jerry Maguire) the character drama (Magnolia, Rain Man,) the anti-war polemic (Born on the Fourth Of July) and the courtroom drama (A Few Good Men). How many stars can be as credible abseiling from the rooftops of Hong Kong as they can trading Sorkin volleys with Jack Nicholson?

So it is not only his commitment to practical stunts which seems retro, Cruise himself feels like the last great movie star. A holdover from an age in which studios bet big on names like Jim Carrey, Kevin Costner, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson to sell their movies. Now audiences seem more tempted by films based on intellectual property (books, comics, and even children’s toys) and of Cruise’s contemporaries it is perhaps only Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock who have managed to maintain a position as a name draw in the age of the mega franchise. And neither of them have quite the breadth of work which has proven the key to Cruise’s longevity.

Cruise can cut a divisive figure. He is the face of a controversial religion, and he has in the past expressed some strong views on things like psychiatry and the use anti-depressants. His box office powers are not quite what they were with movies like Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow performing short of expectations (though it’s debatable if without him they’d have been made at all).  Even Cruise has had to rest his star against a franchise - albeit one which is fuelled by his own vision as opposed to any latent affection the audience might have for the original show.  But as we hope that newly minted names like Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence may match the diversity of his career, we can be thankful that our last great movie star still works so hard for our money.