Even though he’s turning 55 next month, Tom Cruise seems ageless — and that’s partially by design. In the new film The Mummy, he stars as a man who may wind up (kind of) immortal; other recent films of his, like Edge of Tomorrow, play directly with the idea of death and life being intertwined. And only a few weeks ago, Cruise confirmed the long-gestating Top Gun sequel is speeding toward a production date; it’s not a sci-fi story, but the notion that Maverick will fly again, after over 30 years, reinforces that Cruise’s recent career choices are attempts to stay young.
Cruise has been marked by a boyish youthfulness in many of his roles in the last three-plus decades. Add to that the fact that his last few films include a number of examples of self-performed stunts, as if he’s trying to say he’s not too old to run around and play. In The Mummy, there’s a major set piece involving a plane spiraling out of control that was filmed inside a real plane as Cruise careens from one side of the plane’s cabin to the other. (It’s not nearly as dazzling as his climb up the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, but then, what is?) Though it hasn’t always been the case, Cruise these days feels more comfortable running himself ragged to prove he hasn’t aged out of action movies yet.
So it makes sense for Cruise to make more science-fiction/genre films, which has been the case since he starred in Steven Spielberg’s incredible sci-fi noir Minority Report. Within the last five years, Cruise has doubled down on science fiction, with movies like the aforementioned Edge of Tomorrow and Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion. Notably, he’s largely chosen to move past more serious roles; American Made, Cruise’s next film, is a notable exception in which he’ll play a real-life figure — the first time since Bryan Singer’s Nazi drama Valkyrie. (Cruise is now nearly a decade older than Barry Seal, the man he plays in American Made, ever was.) Aside from that and the action-heavy The Last Samurai, Cruise has eschewed working on more “serious” projects in the last 15 years — a long cry from the era of Magnolia, Eyes Wide Shut and others.
Genre fare like The Mummy makes sense if the goal is for Cruise to try to stay perpetually young. Perhaps that’s why the Mission: Impossible series keeps going on and on. In advance of Ghost Protocol in 2011, the underlying presumption was that Cruise would pass the leading-man torch to his new co-star, Jeremy Renner. Instead, Renner is not even appearing in the upcoming sixth film, opening next summer. Within the Mission: Impossible series, Cruise pushing himself makes more sense; the series is synonymous with him, to a point where it would likely be much less appealing to watch an M:I film without Cruise’s Ethan Hunt.
In The Mummy, Cruise’s character, Nick Morton, an Army sergeant/treasure hunter, stumbles upon a mummy’s tomb and is almost instantly chosen as the human vessel for Set, the god of death. In the end, after much CGI-infused fighting, Nick is able to destroy the Mummy (Sofia Boutella), but not without first housing Set within his body. The film ends with Nick still searching for a way to break the curse, the sense being that he’ll battle with the forces of evil buried inside of him until he can cure himself. Of course, it’s really just an excuse to feed into the larger Dark Universe of Universal’s hopeful series of monster movies.
If there’s a clear hint that Cruise’s agelessness may have an expiration date, it’s in considering his female co-stars in some of these recent films: Olga Kurylenko and Andrea Riseborough in Oblivion, Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow and, now, Annabelle Wallis and Boutella in The Mummy. The last time Cruise’s female co-star was less than 10 years younger than him was back in 2005, when Miranda Otto, five years his junior, played his ex-wife in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. (It should be noted that Otto’s in only a few scenes, unlike Blunt, Wallis, Boutella, Kurylenko, Riseborough or any of Cruise’s other female co-leads of recent memory.) Cruise is hardly the first male star to play opposite younger women, but the more he tries to stay the same age, the more obvious the age gap becomes and the less believable the repartee — a major problem for The Mummy, which tries and fails to build up Wallis and Cruise as a screwball-comedy-style couple.
The Mummy is, for various reasons, a weak beginning to the Dark Universe, what Universal would like to be a franchise on the same scale as the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the DC Extended Universe. Including Cruise lends the hopeful series an air of excitement, if only because of Cruise’s solid hits-to-misses ratio, even as he approaches the latter half of his 50s. The Mission: Impossible series remains one of the great modern action franchises after 20 years, for example. But the more Cruise tries to stay young, the clearer it becomes that he needs to move to the next stage of his career, to embrace his senior status next to younger stars.