A particular school of quantum physics expresses the idea that there are an infinite amount of universes coexisting, each representing a different timeline until every possible manifestation of reality is accounted for. But in none of these realities is Tom Cruise not a superstar.
It's just not in the cards of the multiverse fabric to make Tom Cruise a nobody, a schmoe, an everyman. He always needs to be huge. And if physics doesn't know how to make Cruise a loser, you can't really expect Hollywood to, either. Think about every movie of his that you’ve seen in the past twenty years — he’s always at the top of his field, whether that be ‘80s rock, espionage, the film industry, taxicab crime, or the battlegrounds of feudal Japan. In every reality that the film industry dreams up, Tom Cruise is always a winner.
And this isn’t limited to his feature film work. Think about when Cruise went on Oprah (the biggest show on TV) and declared his love (the most memorable episode in the history of the biggest show on TV) for his wife, Katie Holmes (the It Girl of the late ‘90s — don’t even start with any of that “I’m more of a Jen Lindley fan” nonsense). In this universe and all others into which he traverses, Cruise just can’t seem to stop being huge.
Cruise is so huge, as a matter of fact, that even at the relatively diminutive size of 5 feet 7 inches, he has still earned the role of the hulking Jack Reacher, a character created by novelist Lee Child and set to be embodied on film in the developing One Shot adaptation.
Cruise is so huge that his 2011 blockbuster, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, had the actor playing the most adept member of the most elite agency in the most dangerous, secretive, and exciting occupational fields, rappelling from the very top of the tallest building in the entire world. And they’re making a fifth one — you know they’re going to try and outdo themselves!
And of course, Cruise is so huge that the nearly 50-year-old performer is laying waste to the would-be restrictions of the ascension of his years, and is taking on the role of Stacee Jaxx — the epitome of a rock and roll superstar, sex symbol, and all around timeless legend — in the musical film Rock of Ages, which opens on Friday. The dude leaves no territory unmarked.
So while it seems like Cruise is solidified unwaveringly as a god among men in the public’s spectrum, it is possible to remember a time before this was the case. Back before Cruise played the German soldier who came the closest to killing Hitler (the most evil man in history) with an explosion (the coolest way to kill Hitler) in Valkyrie. Back before Cruise fought through a remake of the iconic extraterrestrial invasion film (War of the Worlds), before he played the richest and most in-vogue dude in New York City (Vanilla Sky), before he played the very last samurai (…The Last Samurai). He was even huge (literally, and otherwise) in Tropic Thunder. But before all this, there was a time when Cruise was, dare it be said, a regular guy.
The kind of guy who could louse around with a few other wrong-side-of-the-tracks hooligans, looking for trouble and keeping his hair straight. The kind of guy who you’d believe really might be having some personal problems that a simple reconnection with his estranged Autistic Savant brother could solve. The kind of guy who would celebrate his parents leaving town for a few days by dancing around the living room in his underwear. You know, normal.
So what happened to that guy? When did the world stop believing Cruise as a man, and started insisting upon him the role of superman? When did Bob Seger-backed hallway sliding stop being enough? When did Tom Cruise become Tom Cruise?
One hundred and twenty-nine minutes into Jerry Maguire. That’s when.
That’s the moment Tom Cruise became irreparably unstoppable. The actor kicked off the movie as a regular guy; an ambitious loser. Then, through some fancy footwork and a few strokes of good fortune, Jerry Maguire hit it big. Right around this minute mark, Cruise's character had just returned home after living through the greatest underdog story to ever grace the sidelines of professional football (the premiere American sport — don’t even start with any of that “I’m more of a baseball fan” nonsense), with fresh claims to personal and professional victories, recognizing that he had one last world to conquer: he had to fix his marriage. And with that Tom Cruise, spouted the most referenced line in contemporary romantic cinema: “You complete me.” At that point, he became a hero. Wanted by some, envied by all. He was beyond human. Even beyonder than the undead character, Lestat de Lioncourt, that he played in Interview with the Vampire two years prior. From then on, there was nothing that Cruise couldn’t do. And all of his film roles since have reflected that.
Of course, there are a couple of different ways to look at this. On one hand, Cruise reigns supreme as an unparalleled Hollywood icon. He’ll never starve for media attention, or for blockbuster roles. On the other hand, however, this comes at a price. Cruise’s best films to date are his smaller, simpler stories: Risky Business, Rain Man, A Few Good Men. The movies where he played ordinary people dealing with personal struggles — not international espionage or the pressure of countless fans awaiting his rendition of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” — were the ones that really showcased Cruise’s talents as a performer.
The real question is, can Cruise ever play a role like these again? Maybe once he’s past the days of defeating alien races and flying over Dubai, Cruise will resolve to thicker character pieces — but at this point, such is no more than wishful thinking. The next few films the actor has on his plate maintain the status quo. And although Cruise movies are rarely short of entertaining, it’s about time for the man to really wow us once more.
But if Cruise can't seem to stray from his BMOC motif, maybe there's a middle ground. Maybe in M:I5, Ethan Hunt will undergo a jarring midlife crisis, asking himself whether or not he'd be happier living out his winter years in the comfort of suburbia, surrounded by a wife and children. Maybe Cruise can really explore what it means to be human in his forthcoming apocalypse pics. And maybe, just maybe, Top Gun 2 will get to the bottom of Maverick's daddy issues, all the while keeping him at the peak of his field.
So, hope is not lost to see a deeper, more intimate Cruise. We might have to see a deeper, more intimate Cruise who also saves the universe in the end, but you take what you can get. And who knows? Maybe an Interview with the Vampire/Twilight crossover piece wherein he and Robert Pattinson play a contentious father and son on a journey to a happier relationship will cover all bases.
Oh, come on! You'd see it! Don't even start with any of that "I'm more of a Jacob fan" nonsense.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.
[Image: New Line Cinema, TriStar Pictures]