Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Defend your willingness to see the new Tom Cruise movie. (This premise will self-destruct in 474 words.)
Guess what: I can't defend it. Aside from the thing of just liking what you like, I really can't account for how much I enjoy Tom Cruise movies. By which I mean proper late-period Tom Cruise movies, the ones with stunts and running, especially the Mission: Impossible series—the sixth installment of which, Fallout, opens July 27.
By the way, this is not a review of Fallout. I haven't seen it. Yet. They didn't screen it in time for our deadline; why bother when they know how much people who care about cinema hate Tom Cruise?
Goddamn, they really do hate him, and not just critics. Once I went to see Mission: Impossible 2 with a friend who hated it so much that as soon as the credits rolled, he literally spit on the floor in disgust. I dared not mention it wasn't the first time I'd seen it (nor would it be the last).
Cruise is not the kind of actor I tend to like, either, but "like" isn't really the correct framework for understanding his appeal. It's different from the way you feel about an actor you're a fan of. There's no sense of wishful identification, no longing, not even admiration in the classic sense. He is a technically amazing physical specimen, but he isn't dashing or beautiful or witty or interesting. Still, he has something most actors can never have: a total pre-postmodern commitment to being the hero.
Tom Cruise is why big movies are great, which is not the same as good. He's the last truly practical special effect in Hollywood, a velociraptor of flesh and blood. His presence walks the knife edge between vacuous and Zen, which is also to say it's pure. His fidelity to stupidly far-flung, physics-defying fantabulism erases the off-screen world. (P.S. It only works if you see his films in a theater.)
He inhabits the most ludicrous scenarios—free-climbing a sheer mountain, hanging onto the outside of an airplane as it takes off, holding his breath underwater for a full five minutes until he literally dies and then comes back to life—with the pure, intense conviction of someone who has never experienced self-doubt.
Imagine experiencing the total absence of self-doubt, even just for two hours.
I don't care about his religious delusion; all gods are fake. Nor do I care about his presumed sexual orientation and the weird NDA arranged marriages. All marriages are contracts. And all major film stars are cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. Fact.
All I care about with Tom Cruise is this: Will Ethan Hunt climb on top of the helicopter and have to run superhumanly fast to keep his feet from being chopped up by the whirring blades while simultaneously stealing and decoding some essential floppy disk from the Eastern European crime supermafia bent on killing every spy's mom?
Of course he will. Mission: accepted.