Let’s face it… Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible films is awesome. While many critics argue that the actor (coming to his sixth decade on Earth) can no longer be expected to play a leading action hero, I argue that Tom Cruise is not only aware of his age and aging body, but that he has incorporated the theme of aging and corporeality into the series. Hence allowing himself to continue to play the leading action hero in a credible and grounded manner
The post-millennial aging action hero, by allowing himself to grow older and grayer, is replacing the idea of action heroes as demi-gods to become person who perform heroic acts. Indeed, ignoring the realities of the actor’s age and the effects of aging upon the action hero invites even more criticisms. A common point of criticism amongst critics and fans alike is Roger Moore’s run as James Bond in the late seventies and eighties where his age and physical abilities makes it hard to believe that he is capable of performing the stunts and fight sequences as depicted in the films.
At the same time, the obvious age gap between the actor and his younger female co-stars saw him wisely turning down the advances of one in For Your Eyes Only (John Glen 1981). One of the more popular ways of dealing with age and aging in action cinema is to openly make fun of them. This strategy can be encapsulated by a catchphrase from the Lethal Weapon series. The “I’m getting too old for this shit!” approach in depicting aging and age of action heroes can be useful in deflecting criticism regarding the plausibility of watching middle-age men continuing to chase down bad guys whilst dodging bullets and explosions
The most effective way to deal with aging (in terms of aging actors and aging protagonists) is to emphasize the benefits of age and aging. This strategy circumvents negative connotations of aging by amplifying experience, effectiveness and efficiency. By doing so, older action actors and heroes reshape action heroes from a body of spectacle to matured and specialised bodies.
This can be seen in the development of Tom Cruise’s character in the Mission Impossible series. In the first entry of the franchise, Cruise’s character goes through many feats of physical action in order to protect the identities of unnamed agents. But in Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie 2018), the character races against time to defuse a nuclear bomb not so much because of the greater good but because the lives of his loved ones are at stake in the narrative. Instead of dominating and subordinating other bodies, the post-millennial aging hero directs his aggression towards the protection of his loved ones.
These acts of aggression and violent behaviours thus transform and channel the toxicity of masculinity into productive outcomes. Hence, these productive qualities of masculinity are prioritized above its toxic cousins.