Mon. Dec 5th, 2022

The age-defying actor’s return in a belated Top Gun sequel adds to a fascinating career ranging from Magnolia to Mission: Impossible.

Tom Cruise saved cinemas this summer, or so we’ve been told. In many ways, Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick , a surprisingly belated, metallically handsome and often enthralling sequel to Cruise’s 1986 flyboy romp Top Gun , is such a throwback item that it feels almost wrong to watch it digitally, (as you can now on premium VOD platforms or free to Paramount+ subscribers from 22 December). You half expect a limited-edition VHS in time for Christmas. And though the film’s flimsy story hangs on Cruise’s navy pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell having grown from young rebel to, er, maverick mentor, it’s primarily an attempt to stall the star’s ageing in the minds of the audience. He’s Peter Pan; he just needs a machine to fly.

But if Cruise’s star quality is undimmed after nearly 40 years, it isn’t unaltered – the evolution of his career has been among the most fascinating in modern Hollywood. He began as a fairly straightforward teen idol, quite literally sliding into stardom in 1983 in that famous pants-clad shot from the horny boys’ daydream Risky Business.

A credible turn the same year in the ensemble cast of Francis Ford Coppola’s angsty youth drama The Outsiders hinted at more ambition to come, but first would there was the charismatic posturing of Top Gun and game dramatic apprenticeships opposite Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman in The Color of Money (1986) and Rain Man (1988) respectively. His elder co-stars both won Oscars: never mind that Cruise actually gave the best performance in Rain Man as a cocksure alpha thrown by Hoffman’s autistic savant.