Mission: Impossible IV without Cruise? A new franchise?
Reading an article the other day about the upcoming M:I:IV or Mission: Impossible IV I gleamed a very strong shift in perception of the franchise, that it was bigger than the star Tom Cruise, and that there was the possibility that Cruise may not star in the lead role.
I don't know about you but that's something I find surprising, and yet reading the article and a quite from Paramount does make you think that the franchise has definitely become bigger while Cruise has become smaller, in the eyes of the studio anyway.
Here's the first comment that caught me in the article from Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore:
”We absolutely are excited about having Tom Cruise star in this movie.”
Now if you look back on all the previous stories about Mission: Impossible films it was all about Tom Cruise being the driving force, apparently choosing when to do them, who to direct, and so on. Before this story you would undoubtedly see that Cruise was bigger than the Mission: Impossible films and that he was the main factor.
Then parts of the article in The Hollywood Reporter started flagging up questions, indeed it opens with the following lines:
”Never in his decades of stardom has Tom Cruise been more delicately poised than he is right now.
Paramount is pulling together a fourth "Mission: Impossible." There's no question the studio intends to make another installment in the valuable franchise.”
Even before I got to the main heart of the story I was thinking that this was odd, it's a complete turnaround in the focus of the series and there's a hint that Cruise was replaceable, imagine hearing that for the past three instalments?
Reading on it revealed that Paramount are allegedly monitoring how well the action-comedy Knight and Day does overseas and if it earns less than US $200 million...
”...some industry observers think Paramount will consider recasting the Ethan Hunt role.”
Wow, that is strong indeed. Let's not forget though that Tom Cruise left Paramount in August 2006 after Mission: Impossible III (Filmstalker review), or M:I:III, was completed, so previously the franchise was all about Cruise leading, however it's been four years since that film and it's been some time since talk began about the fourth film, and this is the first time that the possibility of a non-Cruise led Mission: Impossible film has really come forward.
Later in the article a former studio chief who is not named says:
”Mission: Impossible is a brand...It didn't have anything to do with Tom Cruise in the beginning.”
Well that's true, in the beginning it was a television series from the late sixties to the early seventies, with a poor attempt to resurrect it in the late eighties. Yes, it had nothing to do with Cruise in the beginning, but take it to the start of the film franchise with Paramount and it had everything to do with Tom Cruise.
Call me naive but the first film was marketed on Cruise, his name was bigger than the title of the film in a lot of the marketing as was his face, and although there was a big cast to match him, he was the lead and the key selling point. You didn't see Paramount, or perhaps the very former studio chief above marketing the film more on Brian De Palma, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Kristin Scott Thomas, or any of the other big name actors and actresses in the film, no, it was all on Cruise. So don't try and say it was nothing to do with him to begin with, it was all to do with him, and has been since.
However it's clear what they are trying to do, they're seeing a wane in pulling power of the films the actor has been in, they are looking at the fact that Cruise doesn't work so closely with Paramount, and they're looking to other franchises like Bond where the leading role is recast.
Actually I think that they could easily recast this role, but they don't need Ethan Hunt to return. From the first film it's clear that there are other teams, and the Hunt character has already given up the job once, could he do it again and the film turn to the next team who become the top team within the secret agency? Easily. They don't need to recast the Hunt character.
However this looks more like manoeuvring by Paramount to start getting people used to the idea that the Mission: Impossible franchise is actually about more than the lead actor. There's mention in the article that Cruise is looking at other roles, and there are some nine films sitting on his IMDB In Development list with two, including Mission: Impossible IV, of course not all of them will come to fruition, but there are a lot there and that means there's less time available for a fourth in the franchise.
Could this be preparation and groundwork for the fact that Cruise might say no? Is the decision to cast Cruise in the lead role really down to whether Knight and Day performs overseas? After all looking at the release of each of the Mission: Impossible films Cruise has had poor performers before each. Is that really the reason?
The big outcome from this though is that Paramount now view Mission: Impossible in a very different way to the first three films. This is now going to be a franchise that will run and will see different actors take the lead. If it works, it'll be their Bond, their Bourne - let's face it that franchise is going to return with a new actor.