Should Tom Cruise Stop You From Seeing 'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation'?
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation has spent two straight weekends at the top of the box office charts, pulling in some of the best numbers the franchise has ever done in its two decades of existence since Tom Cruise and Brian De Palma rebooted and modernized a dated television show in 1996, really going against the grain with what you would expect for a franchise that has so many years on it and so many sequels. It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out why it’s made so much money and garnered so much praise. It’s legitimately a great action movie. It doesn’t hit the story marks of an "upper class" action movie like Ex Machina or Mad Max: Fury Road, but it doesn’t need to. You go to the theater, you get your popcorn and large soda, you sit your ass done and you watch Tom Cruise exchange quips with Simon Pegg and run around elaborate action set pieces for two hours.
Throughout the entire film, I had a smile on my face. It was funny, it was exciting, chalk-full of action and intrigue and plot twists you see coming a mile away but don’t care because they’re executed really well. You leave that theater satisfied, excited, and positive towards a studio system that doesn’t usually leave you that happy. A lot of those feelings have to do with Tom Cruise. He produces Mission: Impossible. He keeps the franchise going, not only with what he does on screen, but behind the scenes as well, most notably by handing the each film to a new director he knows he can work with and make not only a great movie, but one different enough from the last, even though, as Honest Trailers pointed out recently, the beats of each film resemble each other a lot. A Christopher McQuarrie can therefore take what a Brad Bird did and modify it to fit his tempo. Same as, for better or for worse, Brian De Palma, John Woo and J.J. Abrams all did in the past. The credit for that belongs to Cruise, thanks to his role as a heavily involved producer.
That being said, even though we can attribute a lot of Mission: Impossible’s success and quality to this one particular man, it’s that same man who forces us to do a lot of soul searching when it comes to actually seeing his movies.
Why do we go to Tom Cruise movies? It should be for all the reasons mentioned above. He seldom delivers a bomb, and even his bad movies tend to be watchable. He’s been on an impressive streak as of late as well between the last two MI movies and last year’s amazing
Live Die Repeat Edge of Tomorrow. But something about Tom Cruise tends to turn people off, forcing us to go to great lengths to justify patronage of these very movies, no matter how good they wind up being.
The main reason I wanted to see MI5 was because of the hype Cruise managed to create around his stunts. He hung off the side of an airborne plane for Rogue Nation. It’s the first scene of the movie and it’s just as good as it’s billed. Even better, arguably, is a later scene underwater for which he actually learned how to hold his breath for several minutes, as well as an extended motorcycle chase during which Cruise doesn’t even bother to find a helmet to wear.
But it’s not just the action and how good it winds up being on screen. It’s the fact that he’s actually scaling buildings, hanging onto planes, holding his breath and defying death during high-speed chases which sells it. I’ve been making this point these last few weeks (or probably read it on Twitter or something and forgot about it) that we don’t go see Tom Cruise movies because of the films themselves, but because there’s a tiny part of us that actually believes there’s a chance he might die on screen doing his crazy practical stunts. Of course (spoiler alert) Tom Cruise nor his character Ethan Hunt die during Rogue Nation, nor is there any real chance of that ever happening (even with Cruise doing the stunts himself, they’re fairly safe, it just boils down to an insurance issue since he isn’t an experience stunt man) or us getting to see it, but it feels like that’s kind of the reason we keep coming back for more.
And why is that? Sure, there’s a novelty to a rich celebrity doing things he clearly doesn’t have to do, be it for the sake of the craft, for that extra buzz it’ll get his movie heading into opening weekend, or even if he simply has a death wish. Which is fine, if that’s how Tom Cruise wants to promote his movies. It’s smart PR, and as a result, he’s cornered a segment of the action movie market no one else is willing to go to. Vin Diesel is cool because he jokingly walks around on stilts in preparation for his role as Groot in Guardians of The Galaxy, but he’s never going to scale the Burj Khalifa. That’s Tom Cruise’s schtick, and it makes him a cool, pure action hero, and one who can act to boot.
Yet we shouldn’t need this as an excuse to see his movies. I’ve already explained everything that makes Rogue Nation (and that made Ghost Protocal) great, and you’ve hopefully seen Edge of Tomorrow by now. The films speak for themselves. Still, a lot of us need that caveat; that forced danger which was the centerpiece of the film’s marketing campaing.
It’s clearly because of Tom Cruise the person. Let’s face facts. His personal life has always been kind of a mess, the subject of public scrutiny through tabloid rumors and innuendo, all leading back to his relationship with Scientology. Even though his life is supposedly sheltered, he’s their poster boy, the model for what they want their organization to be. And as a result, he’s the face of a glorified cult which is very negatively viewed by the public for its aggressive treatment of its members and the wealth it amasses, and the outlandish things they claim to believe in. Not only is Cruise the face of all of that, but he isn’t very forthcoming about any of it, which allows the rumors of what Scientology does for him, particularly around his relationships and sex life, rage out of control.
But should any of that really matter? We just want to go see movies, after all, and we’ve already talked about how Cruise gives it his all when it comes to making these things. Whatever crazy things he decides to do in his private life shouldn’t have an effect on that. Or should they? As much as we’re moviegoers, we’re also human beings that are supposed to be socially responsible and socially aware. And Cruise is associated to a bad thing, so even something as simple as going to a movie has to be weighed against the fact that ten of your hard-earned dollars will somehow find their way back to a terrible organization. And in a way, Cruise is kind of making up for that, possibly through insecurity, by going way further than he needs to in the first place with these stunts.
It goes beyond just filming the movie too. Just look at how he’s promoted Rogue Nation. We already talked about how the plane stunt is the big centerpiece of the marketing campaign (and more impressively that it happens literally in the first scene of the movie). But it’s also in how he comports himself in television appearances. His interview on Jon Stewart was pure fluff, drawing criticism from Going Clear documentarian Alex Gibney. His Lip Sync Battle was painfully PR-y in how forced it felt, and the examples go on. It’s all part of crafting this post-smear campaign image for Cruise, and it just adds to negative aura around handing him money for these movies.
At least that’s my pseudo-psychoanalytical way of looking at it.
The reality is probably just that Tom Cruise is a great actor and great producer committed to going the extra mile so that his movies stand out, regardless of the kind of people he might be associated with. His craziness drives the quality of his films, once way or another. And no matter the justifications we try to make in going to these movies, when we’re there, we’re enjoying them for what they are. That being said, I really don’t know if we should boycott Tom Cruise for what he does the same way we boycott other content creators. It should probably be in the conversation, and it’s certainly interesting to wonder if the movies come out the way they do because of Scientology, but all I can really speak to is the quality of the films themselves. And Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is most definitely peak Cruise.
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation gets 9 death-defying stunts out of 10.