Mission: Impossible — Fallout opened in theaters over the weekend and despite being the sixth film in the franchise, it’s box office return was a solid 153 million, which means it already did way better than Solo: A Star Wars Story. People were pumped to see the Mission: Impossible, and that’s probably because we, as a movie-going culture, are deep in the midst of a Cruisassance.
Of course, the success of Fallout shouldn’t be completely credited to the franchise’s star. That being said, it’s hard to deny that Cruise is the key to Mission: Impossible’s unexpected staying power. So how exactly is a 56-year-old man able to still be the centerpiece of one of the biggest action movies of the last few years? Because against all odds, Tom Cruise is doing the best work of his career. That’s right, Cruise hasn’t just made a comeback, he’s actually managed to surpass his younger self and emerge as Old Tom Cruise, the best version of the actor we’ve seen so far.
Before we dive into why Old Cruise is unquestionably peak Cruise, let’s get one thing clear: we are not arguing which era he made the best movies. And we’re also not even arguing he’s a good person. Like at all. Just in terms of his onscreen persona, old Tom Cruise is better than young Tom Cruise.
There’s no denying that Young Cruse wins the filmography battle. His run starting with Risky Business and ending with A Few Good Men — a decade that includes Top Gun, Cocktail, Rain Man, and Born on the Fourth of July — remains one of the most dominant stretches in the history of movie stardom. However, as a movie star, Young Cruise always had some flaws that were overlooked thanks to his infinite supply of charisma and, let’s be real, the fact that Cruise is a goddam smoke show.
Young Cruise clearly wanted to be a true movie star; a universally beloved leading man who could make any movie must-see just by putting his name on the title. Obviously, he succeeded in this regard but looking back at his old movies, it’s hard to deny even while Cruise is clearly trying as hard as he can to be the everyman hero, he has an underlying cockiness that is fun but, at times, comes across as grating. There is no shame in trying as hard as you can to achieve your goals but Cruise seemed to specifically work hard at looking like he wasn’t working hard and, as a result, he comes across as a tad arrogant and out of touch.
None of this is to say that Young Cruise wasn’t a fantastic actor. He was and anyone who doesn’t think his portrayal of Maverick in Top Gun is one of the most compelling acting performances of the last 50 years is either lying through their teeth or simply out of their mind. He’s always been a talented performer who committed himself to both the art of acting and the incredibly difficult art of being a movie star. But with time, he’s just gotten better at both. Saying that Old Cruise is superior isn’t a criticism of him in his younger days, it’s a tribute to the way he has allowed himself to grow and evolve as an actor.
As most movie stars reach their 50s, they become complacent and begin chasing paychecks while phoning in performances that are, at best, forgettable or, at worst, tarnish their reputation. Think of Robert Deniro in Dirty Grandpa or Al Pacino in Jack and Jill. Two of the greatest actors of all time reduced to lazy punchlines. And after a decade-long string of flops (remember Knight and Day? Or Last Samurai?) and personal missteps (remember when he jumped on Oprah’s couch?) in the 2000s, it seemed the world had finally had enough of Cruise.
At this point in his career, it would have been understandable for Old Cruise to accept his best days were behind him and settle into mediocrity. But giving up has never been the Tom Cruise way so instead, he learned from his mistakes and slowly re-emerged as the new and improved Old Cruise. What made Old Cruise different from the Cruise we once knew? While Cruise can never fully shake off his desire to be loved, he realized that the best way to win over audiences is to let them see just how hard he works to entertain them onscreen. How? By becoming a full-blown action star.
Since Ghost Protocol, which is widely considered the beginning of Cruisaissance, Old Cruise has almost entirely avoided dramas or comedies in favor of kicking ass and taking names. And this gambit has paid off in dividends, as Cruise’s raw intensity has helped anchor some of the best action movies of the last decade, such as the last three Mission Impossible movies, the criminally underrated Jack Reacher, and the incredibly fun and inventive Edge of Tomorrow. He’s had a few missteps along the way — Oblivion and Rock of Ages were both major duds — but on the whole, Cruise has managed to pick the perfect roles that show why, nearly 40 years into his career, he remains a one-of-a-kind star.
So why is Old Tom Cruise better than Young Tom Cruise? Because his success is not portrayed as effortless as it was in his younger days. Cruise might still have his megawatt smile and an infinite supply of charm but in all of his recent movies, Cruise isn’t afraid to show that when a punch lands, it hurts like hell. He was once a Riggs — young, brash, dangerous — but as the years have passed, he’s transformed into a Murtaugh — older, wiser, still very capable of delivering an ass-kicking despite being “too old for this shit.” And in a time where even the biggest movie stars are proving to be vulnerable to box office bombs, that change may have not only saved his career but made him a bigger and better star than he’s ever been.