Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, Henry Cavill's mustache isn't an essential component of Mission Impossible: Fallout, which hits theaters today. It's not even a little bit important.
This is somewhat confusing, especially given the kerfuffle over the mustache's continued existence during the actor's filming of Justice League, and its forced erasure in post-production of that film. Why did Cavill need this mustache to play a CIA operative assigned to shadow Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt? Was it to signal some kind of macho-manliness? Have you seen Henry Cavill? Giving him facial hair to underscore his masculinity is like giving his Man From U.N.C.L.E. co-star Armie Hammer wedges for height.
This is all part of the mystery that is Henry William Dalgliesh Cavill. At 36, the actor is an enigma: a leading man carrying some pretty heavy-hitting blockbusters and franchises who hasn't managed to decipher how to carve out a Hollywood identity of his own. He's not quite in control of his message, which means the internet is. And that, my friends, is how a chiseled-jawed — and British, to boot! — performer becomes the butt of facial hair jokes.
The problem is that he isn't in on that joke. Unlike the Hollywood Chrises — the label grouping Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine, and Chris Pratt — who have only benefitted from their superhero and Big Franchise associations, Cavill has languished on the edge of true popularity. He is the anti-Chris.
Like Cavill, the Chrises all check Hollywood's white male lead handsomness boxes. They are beloved for their bizarre white buff sameness, but their strength lies in the way that they're able to embrace this persona and lean into their meme status. On their own, they're blandly and conventionally attractive. But together? They're a dynamic quartet, the Rat Pack reborn.
The Chrises know they're a joke. They love it. They engage with it. They send each other tender Twitter messages explicitly designed to delight their audience. Remember when Pratt and Evans — New England Patriots and Seahawks fans, respectively — made a Super Bowl bet that ended with both of them visiting a Boston children's charity in costume regardless of the loser (Pratt)? Even their publicity stunts are noble!
They've managed to carve out separate sub-"Chris" identities: Pratt is frat-bro Chris, the Chris most likely to be able to open a beer with his teeth; Pine is subtle Chris, the kind of Chris who you gently warm to until you can't remember a time before he was the objectively best Chris; Evans is Ally Chris, the kind of man who loves dogs and is almost worthy of dating Jenny Slate; and Hemsworth is Thor Chris, in keeping with his hunky Marvel persona, too pure to be lumped in with mortal men. Chris Pratt cannot pull off Chris Pine. They aren't interchangeable, and yet they all enjoy the comfortable warmth of the Chris blanket of fame.
So, what makes Cavill different from the Chris breed of Hollywood leading men? The obvious answer is that his name is not in fact Chris. That doesn't matter at all. Being a "Chris" transcends the name at this point. It's a lifestyle, a vibe, a way of being that exudes affability and sweetness. His name could be Chris Cavill — still not a Chris.
The thing that the Chrises have going for them is that no matter what they do, they have a cushion of Chrisness to guard them agains public ridicule. We have given them exaggerated personas of what we imagine they're like, combined with the the best qualities and characteristics of the characters they play. And because they've accepted this role in their public appearances, the branded Chrises and the real Chrises have merged in our imaginations. We feel like we know them. Unless they go and do something incredibly out of character, we'll root for them. That's how Chris Pratt survived ending a beloved internet love story when he filed for divorce from Anna Faris. It's how Chris Evans managed to win us back after Jenny Slate's honest and sad post-breakup interview.
Unfortunately for Cavill, he doesn't have that magic Chris shield to hide behind. In addition to the Justice League mustache incident, the actor recently came under fire for comments he made to GQ Australia regarding how the #MeToo movement had impacted his ability to hit on women.
"It’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place,” he told GQ. “Because then it’s like: ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her, because I’m going to called a rapist or something.’"
Twitter unsurprisingly took issue with this, taking the actor's words to imply that women cannot tell the difference between sexual harassment and a harmless come on. (The fact that Cavill had made headlines in 2016 for dating a 19-year-old woman didn't burnish his reputation, either.)
The force of the backlash pushed Cavill to apologize less than 24 hours later. “Insensitivity was absolutely not my intention," he told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement. "In light of this I would just like to clarify and confirm to all that I have always and will continue to hold women in the highest of regard, no matter the type of relationship whether it be friendship, professional, or a significant other."
The fact that he's willing to learn from his mistakes is a baby step in the right direction. That's good news, because if he manages to stop offending women, there's hope for Cavill yet. His Instagram denotes a willingness to be in on the joke. Exhibit A: This work of art complete with a soundtrack — showing the actor going unrecognized under his own Superman billboard in Times Square (while wearing a Superman T-shirt).
I have watched this video at least a dozen times in the 28 months since it was posted, and it moves me to genuine tears of laughter every single time. The intended joke, of course, is that like Clark Kent, Superman's alter ego, Cavill can also go unnoticed. But it's also such a bold move to post this on a public platform. Celebrities don't usually like to admit that they don't get noticed.
If the Chrises have proven anything, it's that there's nothing the internet loves more than a woke bae in spandex. All the elements are there, Henry. Lean in! We're rooting for you.