Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman, reeling from a recent viewing of The Mummy, has written one of the best “whither Tom Cruise over the last decade?” pieces in a long while. Does Cruise intend to be some kind of throbbing Energizer Bunny in power-pump action franchise flicks until he’s…what, 70 or thereabouts?

Gleiberman excerpt #1: “The eerie thing about Cruise’s career in the last decade is that he has been churning out the cinematic equivalent of holograms. It walks like a Tom Cruise movie, it talks like a Tom Cruise movie (it’s got speed and ‘intensity,’ even a soupçon of cleverness), but it’s a Tom Cruise movie that leaves no shadow. It’s a piece of virtual entertainment.”

Gleiberman excerpt #2: “Cruise now seems to be throwing franchises against the wall to see which of them will stick. Another M:I film, another Jack Reacher mystery, now The Mummy and what’s next? He’s all these characters, but in another way he’s none of them, because the characters (except for Ethan Hunt) aren’t sinking into moviegoers’ imaginations. They’re like suits of clothing he’s rotating through.”

Gleiberman excerpt #3: “At the very moment when he should be taking on more character roles, Cruise has doubled down on one thing and one thing only: the awesome global transcendence of his image. He’s still choosing movies like he’s king of the world, [and] proving that, each and every time, by making movies that exist for no organic reason but to win the box-office contest they’re not even winning anymore has become, for Cruise, a game of diminishing returns: for his fans, and for himself, too.”

Energizer Bunny with Creases, Furrows“, posted on 6.2.14: “Cruise has always conveyed intelligence, drive and intensity, but he became a more interesting actor when stress lines began appearing on his forehead and around his eyes, and vague suggestions of vulnerability started to peek through.

“This began to happen with his landmark performance in Oliver Stone‘s Born on the Fourth of July (hippie makeup, wheelchair, rage) but it really kicked in with Cameron Crowe‘s Jerry Maguire (’97), when Cruise (born in July ’62) was only 34 or 35. That was the first time I sat up in my seat and muttered to myself, ‘Whoa, he’s got little crow’s feet! No more Joel Goodson. A new phase has begun.’

“That was Cruise’s crossing-the-Rubicon performance. I’ve since tended to process his performance as pre- and post-Maguire.

Best pre-Maguire performances: All The Right Moves, Risky Business, Rain Man, Born on The Fourth of July, The Firm.

Best post-Maguire performances: Eyes Wide Shut (although he seems straight-jacketed in that film), Magnolia, Vanilla Sky, all four Mission Impossible films (even though these were hardly about reaching inside and “acting”), Collateral (his third-best performance after Born on the Fourth of July and Jerry Maguire), “Les Grossman” in Tropic Thunder, Jack Reacher (arguably Cruise’s best low-key performance), Edge of Tomorrow.

Decent-to-acceptable Cruise performances in generally tedious, irksome or underwhelming films: Top Gun, Legend, Days of Thunder, Cocktail (I hated, hated, hated this bartending soap opera), The Color of Money, Far and Away (awful…one slamming right cross after another), Interview with the Vampire (by no means ‘bad’ but for some reason I’m having trouble recalling any exceptional scenes), The Last Samurai (in which Cruise played a werewolf who could only be killed with a silver bullet), War of the Worlds, Lions for Lambs, Knight and Day, Oblivion.”