Oblivion: It seems clear by now that Tom Cruise is in some kind of damage-control blockbuster mode; following his public meltdown and a couple of his only movies ever to disappoint at the box office and with the critics simultaneously (Lions for Lambs and Knight and Day), he headed back to the familiar comfort of Paramount franchises. When Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol hit big like it was 1996 all over again, Cruise got further encouragement: maybe everyone’s ready to embrace Tom Cruise, Popular Movie Star, all over again. Hence a star turn in Jack Reacher that seemed like a move he could’ve made in 1994 or so, had he not made a conscious decision to work with top-level directors like Brian De Palma, Paul Thomas Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, Cameron Crowe, Steven Spielberg, and Michael Mann. Now he has committed to what feels a bit like the B-movie alternate universe of his movie star career: Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion is the first of three sci-fi action pictures Cruise has signed up for. Doug Liman’s All You Need is Kill follows in spring 2014, and it’s looking like the Japanese-originated sci-fi adaptation Yukikaze may follow. Odd that someone who spaces out his signature Mission: Impossible franchise enough to avoid burnout is heading back to the sci-fi well for three straight trips, especially when the non-sci-fi Cruise projects in the mix are a fifth Mission, a second Reacher, and maybe that Man from UNCLE movie that’s clearly never getting made by anyone ever.
I actually think Oblivion looks cool; I didn’t even hate Joseph Kosinski’s widely disliked Tron: Legacy because all I wanted out of that movie was some pretty pictures in IMAX and I got ‘em. I like science fiction and I especially like anticipating this year’s parade of non-franchise sci-fi year in the form of the confusingly named and sometimes similarly premised Oblivion, After Earth, Elysium, and Gravity (to say nothing of Pacific Rim and a new Star Trek). But because of his prime work with the aforementioned filmmakers, Cruise struck me as the kind of movie star who would, against all stereotypes, look comfortable as he ages, maybe taking his step-back from romantic/action consideration as an opportunity to further challenge himself. Instead, his second or third or fourth wind, whatever this is, more or less follows the template of Knight and Day, albeit less emphatically and self-consciously: embrace the Cruiseiness, and do the kind of Tom Cruise MoviesTM that he hasn’t actually made that many of, all things considered. He doesn’t look uncomfortable aging yet because he hasn’t really allowed himself to. Think about it: following the small-scale toughness of Jack Reacher with the effects-driven ambition of Oblivion is the kind of leading-man progression Ryan Reynolds or Bradley Cooper might’ve tried out a few years ago. If the dude can pull it off at 50, hey, good on him, but I wonder if it will take a run of hits as substantial as that of 80s Cruise to get Aging Cruise off an all-popcorn diet.