Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Review: Punch drunk

Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh

Release date: October 20th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


Best part: Cruise’s charisma.

Worst part: The daughter subplot.

A-list megastar Tom Cruise has had a career most actors could only dream of. He has led some of the 20th and 21st century’s most compelling films, delivered multiple killer one-liners and lifted forgettable material. The man puts 110% into every role and production. However, his off-screen antics -Scientology, failed marriages etc. – have made him a polarising figure.

Since his last marriage’s decline, he has turned his attention to the silver screen. Almost every year since, he has delivered one critically and commercially viable actioner after another. 2013’s Jack Reacher, based on Lee Child’s seminal book series, delivered whip-smart dialogue and gritty drama. Sadly, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is merely a serviceable action-adventure. It begins with our titular character (Cruise) on the lam. Shifting between assignments, he finds solace in his and Major Susan Turner(Cobie Smulders)’s phone calls. He heads to Washington DC to take her on a date. However, Turner is arrested for espionage after botched military dealings in Afghanistan. Predictably so, he takes the case to uncover the truth.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back has little to do with the original. The events of that film are not even thought about here. Instead, like Child’s books, this is a pure standalone adventure. Sequel and blockbuster fatigue set in like rot. From the get-go, the story delivers limited stakes or tension. The opening scene defines Reacher: a superhuman with nothing to fear or even be mildly miffed about. The screenplay provides broad, simplistic characters and plot points. Reacher switches clunkily between personalities. As the plot kicks in, and more baddies show up, he becomes more powerful and stoic. On the other hand, after meeting his potential daughter (Samantha (Danika Yarosh)), he turns into a wise-cracking buddy-cop archetype. The mystery plot-line is infinitely less interesting, defined only by rushed flashbacks and exposition.

Director Edward Zwick once excelled with action sequences and tight story-telling. Many of his works – from crime-thrillers (The Siege, Blood Diamond) to historical-epics (Glory, The Last Samurai) – are compelling. The original set the bar for deftly handled fist-fights and shoot-outs. However, despite having worked with Cruise before, Zwick brings nothing new to the table here. The sequel’s set-pieces are few and far between. Worse still, it commits to quick-cut, shaky-cam hand-to-hand combat. The movie’s biggest flaws rest on the villain’s ultra-white shoulders. The movie delivers an even-blander Jai Courtney clone (The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger)) and nondescript military/government figures. Thankfully, Cruise and Smulders elevate said woeful material. Their back-and-forth sparring is suitable. Meanwhile, Yarosh is stuck with an idiotic, unlikable character.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is forgettable but not terrible. Cruise’s raw intensity turns a tough-guy cliché into a fun lead badass. However, Zwick and co. drop the ball. The movie’s bland action, story and characters make for another disappointing sequel.

Verdict: A serviceable action-thriller.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation Audio Review: Mile-high Spy

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie

Stars: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson


Release date: July 31st, 2015

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 131 minutes




2014’s Blockbuster Season: Conquerers & Wimps


2014’s Blockbuster Season: Conquerers & Wimps

Edge of Tomorrow Review – Live. Die. Repeat Viewings

Director: Doug Liman 

Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth (screenplay), Hiroshi Sakurazaka (graphic novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson

Release date: May 28th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes





Best part: Cruise and Blunt.

Worst part: The throwaway one-liners.

Hollywood, over the past decade, has sheltered one of the most influential and polarising public figures. This particular celebrity, known for jumping on Oprah’s couch and keeping Katie Holmes out of the spotlight, is outrageously attacked by critics and filmgoers the world over. Tom Cruise, despite his peculiar comments and religious allegiances, is still one of our bravest movie stars. His latest action flick, Edge of Tomorrow, alights his magnetic screen presence and immense buying power.

Tom Cruise.

In this intensifying action-adventure, based on Japanese graphic novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Cruise transitions from media spokesperson to blood-drenched saviour. This role suits the real-life Cruise more so than you’d think. Overlooking his recent comments about A-listers and the US Military, Cruise can sell entire audiences on any character, storyline, and leap in logic. However, despite plastering his impressive physique across the posters, Edge of Tomorrow is much more than a one-man show. The surrounding elements ground Cruise and the premise in an expansive and invigorating layout. The narrative, like similar apocalyptic sci-fi extravaganzas, begins by tying major political issues to the movie’s vicious alien invasion. Creating the United Defense Force to combat the Alien hordes (labeled ‘Mimics’), the world’s military units are straining to control the situation. From there, we meet advertising executive turned military PR advisor Major William Cage (Cruise). Ordered by UDF leader General Bingham (Brendan Gleeson) to join the front lines, Cage must suit up and fight alongside war-hungry privates. Thrown to the wolves, Cage is bullied by his fellow J-Squad members. Storming the beaches of Southern France, his character suffers a horrific death at the hands of a boss-level Mimic.

Emily Blunt.

Cruise haters will love seeing this A-list juggernaut become shockingly eviscerated by alien forces. However, Cruise’s character, after suffering this fate, comes back to life. In this instance, he wakes up 24 hours into the past. Holding onto specific details about the following day, Cage’s proactive nature throws him into each repetitious situation. The first third elevates Edge of Tomorrow above most sci-fi epics of its type. Co-written by Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie, Jack Reacher), the screenplay races through impactful dialogue, gritty warfare, and tender moments. Immediately ascending above Oblivion, this Cruise vehicle embraces its tried-and-true concepts. Like Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow’s time-loop-based narrative delivers immense surprises and twists on genre tropes. The military base sequences, featuring Cage’s encounters with optimistic Master Sergeant Farrell Bartolome (Bill Paxton) and obnoxious grunts, provide their fare share of witty lines and heartening revelations. From there, the storyline delves headfirst into each explosive action beat and character interaction. The first third’s beachside set pieces, pitting ExoSuited battalions against nasty alien warriors, become nail-biting moments that overshadow the time-shifting premise. Playing with video-game mechanics, Edge of Tomorrow’s relentless storyline lends intelligence to an otherwise derivative concept. These life-or-death scenarios, building to the explosive second-two thirds, are bolstered by Cage’s momentous character arc. Cage, struggling to cope with his newfound talent, looks to persistent Special Forces member Rita “Full Metal Bitch” Vrataski (Emily Blunt) for guidance. Gracefully, Cruise stands aside to allow Blunt’s charismatic persona to stand front and centre. Developing chemistry over several time-loop scenarios, this mismatched paring sidesteps everything we’ve seen before. Pitting a cowardly soldier against a sword-wielding badass, their training sequences deliver entertaining comedic jabs.

“Come find me when you wake up.” (Rita “Full Metal Bitch” Vrataski (Emily Blunt), Edge of Tomorrow).

Our cute, blood-thirsty couple.

Despite Edge of Tomorrow’s exhilarating pace and jaw-dropping action sequences, the narrative occasionally falls into dour patches and obvious plot-holes. Switching from a gritty sci-fi war flick to an unending chase story, the movie slowly pushes its time-loop guidelines into the distance. However, beyond these minor complaints, the final third throws landmarks, high stakes, and sacrificial acts into an extended set piece. Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith) perfects his action-direction here. As his most entertaining effort, Edge of Tomorrow brings back the frantic editing and swift camerawork he first brought to Go and Swingers. Beyond this, his alien-invasion thriller even constructs a backstory without dropping it halfway through. Comparing Military pragmatism to the conscription era, this tale of masculinity and second chances becomes a step above similar blockbuster schlock. Creating symbols of American idealism and Military prowess, our characters are transcendent and captivating examples of the modern political and social environment. More importantly, however, our characters are extremely likeable. Cruise’s everyman persona and convincing delivery moulds a multi-layered lead character. Before evolving into the typical Cruise/action-hero type, he first steps outside the norm to play this cowardly and manipulative anti-hero. His role – transitioning from blackmail, to acceptance, to pure determination – is nuanced compared to his more recent characters. In addition, Blunt, taking on the action-hero role, stretches her already significant range for her intriguing and damaged character. Mastering fighting skills and yoga poses; Blunt’s character is a mysterious and bubbly foil for Cruise’s outlandish role.

Weapons training and filmmaking rely on repetition. Fortunately, Edge of Tomorrow takes this conceit and delivers thrilling set pieces and refreshing characters. Along with a subversive sense of humour, the movie rewinds time and examines Cruise’s star power. Placing the narrative on a world-sized scale, this sci-fi actioner succeeds without superheroes, transforming robots, or brightly coloured CGI vistas.

Verdict: An entertaining and gripping sci-fi actioner. 

Tom Cruise’s 10 Greatest Roles



Tom Cruise’s 10 Greatest Roles

Oblivion Review – Cruise Control

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Writers: Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt (screenplay), Joseph Kosinski (graphic novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough

Release date: April 19th, 2013

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 124 minutes


Best part: Tom Cruise.

Worst part: The slow pace.

With two blockbuster movies under his belt, Joseph Kosinski has now established himself as an auteur. After his first Hollywood flick, the electrifying Tron: Legacy, Kosinski moved on to his pet project. He has now adapted his own graphic novel into a feature film. Written and directed by Kosinski, Oblivion is filled with wonder but is too derivative and contemplative to be as good as it should’ve been.

Tom Cruise.

The film starts off with an exposition-heavy prologue. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) explains everything we need to know before we are sucked into his post-apocalyptic world. He, and partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), are stationed on Earth after the apocalypse. They’re in charge of drone security and maintenance. They pick up the scraps that invading Alien forces have left on Earth. The human race is a mere two weeks away from jetting off to Titan (one of Jupiter’s moons).  Every day, Jack is sent out into the wasteland to search for survivors, fix damaged drones, and eradicate alien scavengers. He wakes up in a cold sweat every night, experiencing the same dream about a woman he may or may not know. One day, a strange spacecraft crash-lands on Earth. After surveying the scene, Jack changes his entire outlook on existence and humanity itself. Jack, reluctantly teaming up with resistance leader Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman) and crash survivor Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko), must find out why his existence has turned out the way it has.

Morgan Freeman.

It’s an overwhelming mix of action and sci-fi tropes. It’s derivative of such influential sci-fi films as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, I Am Legend, The Terminator, 12 Monkeys and Total Recall. It smashes together so many ideas and concepts from other films that it forgets to craft its own identity. However, there is still joy to be had with this by-the-numbers sci-fi adventure. Kosinski’s new movie has many of the same problems that his previous film had. Both are visually sumptuous but display Kosinski’s lack of care with story-telling and character development. The first third of the film contains many nods to the Pixar classic WALL-E. Unlike the lively, musical-loving little robot of that film, Jack is a dangerous and contemplative individual. Both characters are fun to watch. Jack looks for scraps on the Earth’s surface whilst asking questions about existence and memory. Both he and WALL-E also find the last plant left on Earth. The film’s glacial pacing is a questionable choice. A film such as this should move quickly to keep its audience excited at every twist and turn. Instead, Oblivion spends too much time on strained relationships and philosophical questions. Thankfully, Oblivion doesn’t become pretentious, dumb or muddled like many modern sci-fi flicks (Prometheus).

Olga Kurylenko.

Oblivion has a focused first half and a confusing and plot-hole-filled second. Despite my complaints, it’s nice to see an up-and-coming director with a keen eye for both sci-fi stories and kinetic visuals. The visual style elevates this film above mediocrity. Kosinski’s love of slick lighting and colour patterns brings both Tron: Legacy and Oblivion to life. Every special effect looks smooth and streamlined. Its Apple-like production design beautifully contrasts the Icelandic settings. These atmospheric and multi-layered scenic vistas are gorgeous to study when the camera lingers on certain images. Oscar-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi) livens up this cold narrative. Every shot is precise and touching. The movie is particularly effective when the action sequences kick in. Kosinski loves vehicle chases and futuristic weaponry. He re-invented the Tron franchise with an impressive motorbike chase. Here, the aeroplane/drone battle in the canyons is a stand out sequence. Jack’s jet ducks and weaves through every crevasse in spectacular fashion. However, the action only briefly distracts from the exposition-heavy dialogue sequences. Every-time a dull and derivative cliche pops up, there is an intriguing plot point that is left to the waste-side. However, credit should go to Kosinski for providing yet another thumping score. Much like Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack, M83’s music adds both intensity and scale to nearly every scene.

“I can’t shake the feeling that Earth, in-spite of all that’s happened, Earth is still my home.” (Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), Oblivion).

The movie bats you over the head with its environment and political messages. Oblivion soon becomes a haunting reminder of nuclear warfare and enemy invasion. Hopefully, life won’t imitate the events of Oblivion any time soon. Jack is a fascinating character. Despite his philosophical crisis and mental instability, his earnestness and humanistic tendencies make him a likeable character. As usual, Cruise provides enough charisma and magnetism to lift his role. Cruise is lively in some moments and heartening in others. His recollection of the final Super-bowl is a fun moment. Like Solaris, the lead male character falls for a mysterious girl. The love triangle between him, Victoria and Julia could’ve been interesting, but the script fails to develop the female characters. Julia should’ve been a prominent and alluring love interest. Instead, Kurylenko delivers the ‘deer-in-headlights’ look throughout the entire film. Riseborough provides a saucy performance as Victoria. Playing Jack’s friend with benefits and work colleague, Riseborough is much more energetic than Kurylenko. Morgan Freeman makes the most of his underwritten character. He proves that there are many eclectic performances still left in him.

For the most part, Oblivion is a rollicking sci-fi flick. If you can avoid the flaws scattered throughout the film, you may fall for the charismatic performances and glorious aesthetic. Kosinski has a unique eye for visuals, but let’s hope that his next film will avoid jarring tonal shifts and pacing issues.

Verdict: An energetic yet problematic sci-fi actioner. 

Jack Reacher Review – Cruise the Conquerer

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Werner Herzog, Richard Jenkins

Release date: December 21st, 2012

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 130 minutes



Best part: Tom Cruise.

Worst part: The laughable antagonists.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, films starring muscular heroes, one liners and brutal action sequences ruled the box office. The advent of CGI technology has sadly decreased the number of popcorn-chomping blockbusters of this type. With superheroes, aliens and models headlining blockbusters in the 21st century, it’s up to the remnants of decades past to rekindle a dormant sub-genre. Along comes Hollywood heavy-weight Tom Cruise in a role perfect for both a career resurgence and a nod to classic action films.

Tom Cruise.

Jack Reacher is a tense yet tedious ode to a time of anti-establishment messages and roaring gunfights. This thriller begins with a devastating act of terrorism in the heart of America. A man drives up to the top of a parking garage, slides a coin into a parking metre, puts together a heavy-duty sniper rifle and kills five innocent people. Disturbed war veteran James Barr is convicted and District Attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins) considers it to be an open and shut case. His daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike) however, also a lawyer, is convinced that Barr is an innocent man. Barr’s only testimony requests a mysterious ex-military loner named Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise). Reacher’s cunning detective skills inevitably attract attention from advanced criminals, led by the Zec (Werner Herzog) and Charlie (Jai Courtney). Reacher and Helen become uneasy allies at a time when trust may be much more dangerous than the truth. A gritty and visceral popcorn flick is needed every once in a while. Jack Reacher prevails in this case due its intensity and inventive thrills. The first five minutes are excruciatingly uncomfortable. The sniper sequence is a silent examination of the human psyche. One unending shot depicts the shooter’s perspective, choosing his targets carefully before pulling the trigger over and over again. This scene may hit too close to home in the wake of the Newtown massacre, but the scene propels the story forward.

Cruise & Rosamund Pike.

Cruise & Rosamund Pike.

Jack Reacher effectively reveals the key elements of this complex case. Director and writer Christopher McQuarrie (writer of The Usual Suspects) creates a dark, energetic yet smart edge-of-your-seat thriller. Our likeable protagonists face off against the creepy underbelly of America. Crime and national prejudices are examined succinctly. The west’s involvement with Iraq and Afghanistan is dutifully discussed as our characters comprehend with a world that has abandoned them. However, the story itself is riddled with overused tropes. This fun action flick quickly becomes a generic and forgettable detective thriller. Certain clichés detract from the intensity created earlier in the film, stretching this relatively simple plot out longer than needed. Jack Reacher becomes a relevant and thoughtful character study. Based on Lee Child’s best-selling novel One Shot, his Jack Reacher character is a familiar anti-hero with shades of something much more sinister. He carries only the clothes on his back and a bus pass to his next destination. Unlike most action heroes however, Reacher places people above order. Like the heroes of Sergio Leone films, he wanders America in search of trouble. His entrance into the film is priceless, depicting the loner who wanders into town without a hint of warning. The film is an enlightening homage to classic action/crime cinema.

“You think I’m a hero? I am not a hero. And if you’re smart, that scares you. Because I have nothing to lose.” (JAck Reacher (Tom Cruise), Jack Reacher).

Jai Courtney.

Jai Courtney.

This Dirty Harry crime narrative combines seamlessly with the revenge fantasy elements of Point Blank. This is a film with a profound personal edge. It’s as gritty as dirt underneath fingernails. The action sequences, for example, are taken to greater heights than most modern hand-to-hand combat sequences. every hit lands with a loud crunch as McQuarrie opts for unique camera angles instead of pesky quick cuts. While Cruise doing all of his own stunts allows for the film’s car chase sequence to be captured with pristine beauty. Tom Cruise is the most important aspect of this adaptation. Cruise caused major controversy when he was cast as the beloved character. Fans openly objected to the star’s casting saying he lacked the muscular build and towering height of the literary icon. The A-lister has silenced his harshest critics here. Cruise’s steely-eyed persona and startling intensity create a charismatic anti-hero. Cruise is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors. Couch-jumping and Scientology aside, Cruise is a true professional with a thirst for the unknown. Not since Collateral has he been this intimidating. He is able to convincingly deliver several silly lines of Child and McQuarrie’s gruff dialogue. “I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot.” This line stands out as Cruise grits his teeth and menacingly threatens Jai Courtney’s henchman character over the phone. 

Whether it be mad action fans or common film-goers, Jack Reacher is likely to entertain. Despite rather common narrative flaws, Reacher is bolstered by an energetic performance from the now 50 year-old Cruise. Its an action flick unlike most coming out nowadays.

Verdict: Cruise excels in this enjoyable yet clichéd action flick.