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20 June 2017

The Mummy is a car crash, but don’t write off Tom Cruise yet

The very concept of him, and the adoration he attracts, is so much greater than any single movie.

By Ryan Gilbey

Now that the box-office receipts are in, it appears that the latest attempt to exhume The Mummy has not been an unqualified success.

The movie leans heavily toward the action genre and away from the spooky, campy thrills of the last Mummy cycle (which starred the engagingly dopey Brendan Fraser). That change in emphasis has satisfied neither critics nor audiences.

Sure, it opened big in certain places, such as South Korea, where it took $6.6m in its first day – the most successful opening ever in that market. And it’s doing lively business internationally. But a less spectacular showing in the US and UK (where it lagged behind Wonder Woman, even though that title was already a week old) has led some to suggest that the appeal of its star, Tom Cruise, may be waning. To which I would say: hold your horses.

We’ve been here before. Whenever Cruise releases a film which underperforms or attracts savage reviews, everyone starts measuring him for his coffin. (5’7″ in case you were wondering.)

Remember when the woeful action caper Knight and Day opened in 2010 and one foolish critic declared that “if he comes back from this one, Lazarus will have nothing on him”? Reader, I was that fool. What I didn’t comprehend at the time was that Cruise is invincible. The very concept of him, and the adoration he attracts, is so much greater than any single movie, however bad.

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That said, 2010 was probably the period when his hold was at its shakiest. It wasn’t just because of the witlessness of Knight and Day, which contained within it all sorts of “Paul Is Dead”-style hints about its star’s demise. (In one of his first scenes in that movie, Cruise plays an arcade game that informs him: “You’re Dead.” Later in the film, he has cause to pose as a corpse. We also discover that his parents believe he was killed in combat.)

There was also the contrast between the latter-day Cruise and his public persona BC – Before Couch, that is. The “couch-jumping” incident on Oprah Winfrey’s chat show in 2005 arose out of the actor’s attempts to quell scepticism over his relationship with Katie Holmes. He sought to demonstrate his love for his then-fiancee by leaping up and down on Oprah’s upholstery.

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Next, he was dropped by the studio Paramount. “As much as we like him personally, we thought it was wrong to renew his deal,” said Sumner Redstone, chairman of Paramount’s parent company Viacom, in 2006. “His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount.”

Included in that “recent conduct” was his messy public spat with Brooke Shields, during which he criticised her for fighting post-partum depression with psychiatry and anti-depressants, both of which are anathema to Scientologists. There was also a verbal contretemps over Scientology with the US television host Matt Lauer on The Today Show.

None of that, however, has an adverse effect on his appeal. In the AC (After Couch) period he has shown a good awareness of how to strategise and make his appeal lighter and more inviting – hence his comic turns in Tropic Thunder and Rock of Ages. He also seemed to respond directly to comparisons between his own career choices and those of Leonardo DiCaprio, riding high in 2010 with Inception. The critic David Thomson described that as exactly the sort of film that Cruise might have made a decade previously.

It took a while, but he got around to his own Inception in 2013 by starring in Edge of Tomorrow, a thrilling science-fiction Groundhog Day which required him to die over and over again, and to appear genuinely frightened in the process. (It’s probably his most human performance.) The best Cruise narratives usually involve someone building themselves back up again after a terrible humiliation or diminishment – Jerry Maguire being one of the juiciest – but the deaths, when they come, are usually symbolic. Edge of Tomorrow presented audiences with something they had rarely had to consider before: that one day, Tom Cruise might no longer exist.

But not just yet. The Mummy is only part of the story. There is already another, far more interesting Cruise vehicle, American Made, coming this summer from the same studio (Universal), in which he plays a real-life airline pilot turned drug smuggler and supergrass. Invoking (or is it challenging?) DiCaprio once again, the vibe from early footage suggests Catch Me If You Can fuelled by the mania of The Wolf of Wall Street. Another good sign: the director is Doug Liman, who made Edge of Tomorrow.

So write off The Mummy by all means. But whatever his limits as an actor, Cruise just doesn’t seem built to lose.

The Mummy is on release. American Made opens 25 August.