Could The 'Mission: Impossible' Series Continue Without Tom Cruise?

In the wake of seven The Fast and the Furious movies, a dozen features in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and going-on-24 official James Bond films, you wouldn’t think something like a sixth Mission: Impossible would feel like a pushing of limits. But when Tom Cruise took the opportunity of a The Daily Show promotion of his latest IMF outing, Rogue Nation, to announce the development of a sixth installment of the action-addled franchise, I couldn’t help but wonder about Mission: Impossible’s mortality. Probably because every time one of these movies heads into production, I’m a little worried about Cruise’s.

The espionage series has turned out a swath of enjoyable pictures, maintaining an air of freshness all the while thanks in large part to its revolving door of visionary filmmaker. Each of the five artists thus far charged with enlivening the misadventures of the IMF — that’s a list that includes Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, Brad Bird, and Christopher McQuarrie — has approached the task with a unique creative priority, allowing for an especial excitement in the prediction of which director will be wrangled to handle the next outing. The thrill of this innovation aside, the true consistent pull of Mission: Impossible lies with its main character. Not Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise.

Such is what separates the IMF franchise from its contemporaries. James Bond is a character that can, and has, transcended its performer. Comic book tradition allows for a passing of the super powered baton from one ill-fated scientist or mild mannered reporter to the next. And while The Fast and the Furious’ ensemble cast is not exactly absent of charisma, the real stars of those movies run on petrol. But Mission: Impossible, even with a league of ever strengthening supporting players, rests squarely on the shoulders of its smiling centerpiece. Shoulders that are at constant risk of serious injury.

Cruise’s biggest point of pride is that he does his own stunts. In 2011’s Ghost Protocol, this didacticism saw the star rappelling from the very top of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In this year’s Rogue Nation, it resulted in him strapped to the exterior of an airborne plane. (A take, by the way, that Cruise insisted on doing eight times.) More exciting than wondering who’ll be tasked with helming the next Mission: Impossible is betting what death-defying endeavor Cruise will come up with to top those prior. (If he doesn’t make a play for Felix Baumgartner’s high altitude jump record then I owe my roommate a healthy sum of money.)

But how much longer can Cruise keep up this racket? Though especially spry and youthful at the age of 53, his magic satchel of immortality serums is bound to run dry sooner or later. And when that time arrives, what will become of Mission: Impossible? The fostering of a steadily enriching supporting team has allowed for audience investment in characters played by Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson, and Simon Pegg — I’ve even seen some Ilsa/Benji shippers on social media. Entertaining the idea of a Mission: Impossible entry headlined by this bunch, we picture Avengers vet Renner and a Hercules-trained Ferguson handling the wealth of action, with Pegg’s humorous zest getting a bump to the foreground.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to imagine a Mission: Impossible entirely absent of Cruise, which makes it difficult to imagine many more Mission: Impossible movies — whose elaborate production value render a longer-than-average period of development — coming to fruition whatsoever.

The characters assigned to his costars might glean affection, but his entails fascination because, to reiterate, he’s playing Tom Cruise. Foxy, wily, hopelessly devoted to the cause beyond any sense of rationality.

And while the idea of Tom Cruise might be a noxious one to many, the actor has somehow managed to yank so many of us back into his favor through exploits like Mission: Impossible: a testament to his inimitable childlike merriment in the act of moviemaking and bona fide adventuring. There might be no one else capable of immersing so fully into this magical world the way Cruise can. Sadly, he can’t do it forever. Although someone might need to tell him that.

Image: Paramount Pictures