Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) Movie Review: And you thought M:I 2 was bad!?

Tom Cruise, the star and producer of the Mission and Reacher series has an impeccable track record of working with some of the word's best directors. What looked to be an inspired decision to bring The Last Samurai team onto the Reacher is unfortunately the series version of Harakiri (a Samurai killing himself with his own sword). When Jack Reacher arrives back at his former post in Washington to catch up with his successor Turner (Cobie Smulders), he discovers that she's been imprisoned for espionage. Sensing a frame-up Reacher breaks her out of prison and desperately avoids the dogged pursuit of Military police and War profiteers parading as contractors that want to silence her.

The original self-titled Jack Reacher was a genuine surprise. He's part modern day cowboy; part P.I; part swaggering throwback, muscular 'man's man'; and screenwriter/director Chris McQuarrie showed a great sense of what the character is. McQuarrie and team set a sensational formal template for how to render the character on screen. American muscle cars roar and scrape through the tight Pittsburgh cityscape, punches mash flesh and rattle bones and bullets sing through the air with deadly accuracy. Jack Reacher opens with a meticulously constructed, seemingly senseless crime committed and only the audience knows that it's a frame up. When the accused asks for Jack Reacher and the authorities are scratching their head at who he is and how to get in touch, in walks Reacher hell bent on bringing him to justice. Reacher is an enigma, and his ability to navigate the spider's web, shocks his foes and the audience alike. Blessed with the inspired casting of Werner Herzog as the fierce eastern European gangster 'The Zec,' and Jai 'thicker than a snickers' Courtney playing monosyllabic henchman calmly dishing out violence, Lawyer daughter and father Rosamund Pike and Richard Jenkins; along with ambitious detective David Oyelowo. It's so good that you're genuinely impressed at its economy and brevity with every new viewing.

Fast forward to Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and it's a completely different proposition. Edward Zwick is A philosophically concerned filmmaker; striving for a balance between accessible and meaningful. In Blood Diamond he redefines the treasure hunt through the framework of the exploitation of the African continent. With The Last Samurai, he takes the kinship between warriors and examines the problematic cultural imperialism and war profiteering by the U.S to Japan. Love and Other Drugs is a viagra charged rom-com that charts the spectrum of modern medicine's capacity to fuel addict culture and pursue cures for devastating afflictions such as alzheimers. This is not the popcorn movie for a cause Mr Zwick. The audience isn't along wanting to be so overtly drawn in to the ethics of corrupt army contractors, potentially smuggling weapons out of Afghanistan. They're here to watch BAD guys that REALLY deserve it, getting their comeuppance...HARD.

McQuarrie's template is abandoned. From the moment the story starts you can't see the events that caused Reacher's successor to assign investigators to Afghanistan, and therefore cast any doubt that Jack is right. The writers Richard Wenk, Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz don't know how to set up the centrepiece of the mystery that fuels the story and instead tries to focus on bringing Reacher back to the fold and fleshing out the character more than the first film was able to.

Cruise, Smulders and young Danika Yarosh all deliver competent central performances but the rest of the cast, essentially blends into anonymity. You don't care who they are, they don't terrify you to your core; Patrick Heusinger's character The Hunter is essentially a Reacher crash test dummy.

Cruise's series stumble HARD on that second entry. The quality drop between Jack Reacher and Never Go Back might make it a worse sequel than Mission: Impossible II. Instead of piling on the twelve headline pun collision of reviewer's saying that the filmmaker's should have listened to the title, Jack Reacher Never Go Back, I'm going to leave you with this. Without Wolverine Origins there would not be The Wolverine. Without Iron Man 2; there would be no Iron Man Three. Without Quantum of Solace; there's no Skyfall. In the words of Rose in Titanic...come back Jack, come back.

★★

Left to right: Tom Cruise plays Jack Reacher and Cobie Smulders plays Turner in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions
Left to right: Tom Cruise plays Jack Reacher and Cobie Smulders plays Turner in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

Directed by: Edward Zwick .Written by: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick & MArshall Herskovitz (based on the book "Never Go Back" by Lee Child)Starring: Tom Cruise ... Jack ReacherCobie Smulders ... TurnerAldis Hodge ... EspinDanika Yarosh ... Samantha Patrick Heusinger ... The Hunter

Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.