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Tom Cruise is considered one of the greatest movie stars of all time, thanks to his tremendous work as Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible franchise, as well as his iconic roles in Top Gun and Risky Business. However, Cruise has also found success in big-budget sci-fi films, including a couple of them directed by Steven Spielberg.
While characters like Hunt and Maverick are portrayed as invincible men who can't be defeated, the protagonists that Cruise embodies in his sci-fi epics are vulnerable individuals who get caught up in complicated situations, such as going to war against alien forces, getting involved with murder cases, or trying to regain important memories. Cruise also has strong interactions with female characters in terms of working with them to understand the main conflict, which sometimes includes messing around with the conventions of time and space.
This sci-fi picture reunited Cruise with Jerry Maguire director Cameron Crowe, which also combines psychological thriller with romance. Cruise plays David Aames, a publicist with plenty of privilege who appears to have everything: a successful job, a beautiful partner, a nice home, a fast car, etc. However, when a car accident nearly kills David, he (and the audience) tries to solve a complex puzzle that questions what is real and what is fantasy (similar to Christopher Nolan's complex film Memento).
Along with having a heavily disfigured face and needing to wear a mask to help him heal, David also finds himself in a love triangle with two seductive women: his partner Julie (portrayed by a wild Cameron Diaz) and Sofia (played by Penélope Cruz). David also has reflective conversations with a psychologist (played by Kurt Russell), who tries to help David figure out if he murdered anyone after being charged with a murder he doesn't remember nor believe he committed. Like Memento or Inception, this feature is a test for its protagonist to question his sense of reality and to figure out what makes his life happy and enjoyable.
This action-packed sci-fi film features an apocalyptic future in which Cruise portrays Jack Harper, one of the last remaining humans on Earth in 2077 after alien scavengers destroy the Moon and leave the planet in turmoil. Harper uses combat drones to encounter all the scavengers left on Earth, but when he learns that the scavengers are actually humans trying to defeat the alien artificial intelligence threat called Tet (which controls the drones), Harper also discovers that there are clones of him (and several other humans) who are loyal to Tet and become a major threat to humanity.
There are eye-opening images of a broken-down New York (including the New York Public Library in ruins, and the Empire State Building and city bridges left uninhabited and in darkness). As Harper, Cruise's character is reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger's role in Total Recall due to the fact that Harper has dreams based on his past, which involve memories of previous missions he's had as a commander for NASA. Harper's dreams help him remember his true identity and the love he shares with his wife Julia (also a soldier). Along with Cruise's complex role, Morgan Freeman also stars as a rebel leader, and there are high-octane action sequences that include shootouts and chases involving big space aircraft.
Steven Spielberg's adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel is intense and hard-hitting as Cruise plays Ray Ferrier, a dockworker who is divorced and spends time with his children during a weekend gathering at his home. Ray is considered a flawed husband and father, but he is put to the test when blue spaceships with sting rays invade Earth to take out humanity. Ray does everything he can to protect his teenage son Robbie and young daughter Rachel from harm.
While the effects involving the alien creatures are massive and loud, what makes this sci-fi feature effective is the drama surrounding Ray and his family. Ray proves to his kids that he is capable of providing safety for them, even if that involves bumps along the road (running out of food and water, trying to find shelter to keep warm, etc.). The paranoia surrounding the human characters also provides plenty of drama, especially in a scene where Ray has to fight numerous civilians who intend to steal his minivan or another moment in which a paranoid man (well played by Tim Robbins) believes everyone is going to die. The best action scene occurs when Ray is grabbed by one of the alien tripods but manages to slip a pack of grenades inside, destroying it before the pod can take him away.
The Bourne Identity director Doug Liman crafts a unique spin on time travel in this ingenious sci-fi picture involving William Cage, a U.S. Army Major who is skilled in providing public affairs to an army called the United Defense Force (UDF) in their fight against powerful aliens called "Mimics." However, when Cage is ordered to fight aliens with a squad in France, he fears for his life and ends up dying and repeating the same day over and over again (a nod to Groundhog Day).
This is one of Cruise's most vulnerable roles because his character isn't a professional when it comes to combat and fighting in a war. However, by reliving the same day repeatedly, Cage manages to get better at facing the aliens and anticipating their every move. His partnership with Sergeant Rita Vrataski (a tough Emily Blunt) is also engaging because as she helps him become a skillful warrior, Cage provides Rita with information about how to destroy the Mimics. While the film is most intense, there are comedic scenarios in which Rita kills Cage many times whenever he fails and messes up during training, or when Cage constantly meets the same members of a squad and memorizes their actions and personal histories.
Before War of the Worlds, Spielberg and Cruise collaborated for this sci-fi action thriller based on Philip K. Dick's short story of the same name. The story revolves around Chief John Anderton (Cruise), a cop who works for a police program that solves murders and crimes before they occur. When Anderton finds out that he is wrongly accused of murder, he becomes a wanted fugitive.
This is Cruise's best performance in a sci-fi feature because he manages to portray an intelligent but conflicted detective who intends to clear his name, as well as a husband who misses his wife. The scenes in which Anderton and his unit use advanced technology in his "Precrime" police program to track down would-be killers is fascinating because it's all so far ahead of its time, along with flying police cars and vehicles used in elaborate chase sequences when Anderton is a suspect being hunted down by fellow cops. The film effectively combines elements of the noir and chase film in a whodunit thriller with cool tech, along with strong supporting work from Colin Farrell and Max von Sydow (who aren't what they seem).
These sci-fi features are not only filled with action and/or psychological tension, but they also display Tom Cruise's versatility as an actor, portraying characters who go through tremendous obstacles. Audiences will have to wait and see what type of film Cruise will do in space with Elon Musk.
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About The Author
Christian Colby Eltell
(58 Articles Published)
My name is Christian Eltell. I was born in Colorado, but I've lived all my life in New York. I'm an NYU Tisch graduate with a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies, and a St. Joseph's College graduate with a Bachelor's Degree as an English major and history minor. I've always enjoyed watching movies, especially crime dramas, Westerns, gangster pictures, and superhero films. I hope to entertain everyone with my writing on movies and television.
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