Film Review – Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Here we go again…another round with that other Tom Cruise action franchise, Jack Reacher. Cruise returns once again in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back as the titular character…a former military police officer who now travels across the country solving…military crimes. Naturally he felt too restricted by the law.
Based on the 18th book in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child, yes…you read that number correctly, this story has all the earmarks of a franchise that was built for episodic content. Nobody is back from the last time around except Cruise. There isn’t even a reference to the characters or events of the previous movie creating an atmosphere of disposability where all the other characters minus Cruise have little long term significance. Not even Christopher McQuarrie, the director of the original film, has returned. Edward Zwick takes over, and while he is an accomplished director in his own right it feels like he is given little chance to put his stamp on the series. This is in stark contrast to the Mission: Impossible series which has a different style under each new director; here it feels more like paint by numbers than a creative endeavor.
This time Reacher is joined on his journey by Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), a friend he made during his days criss-crossing the country righting injustices. While on his way to visit her in Washington, D.C. she is framed for some crimes, and Reacher makes it his mission to save her…while finding out why she is being framed. As they work to evade their mysterious pursuer The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger), they are joined on their journey by a young girl Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh) who may have ties to Reachers past. Neglecting that this is a slight variation of the plot of the original film, the majority of plot turns end up being quite predictable anyway given all the action genre cliches that it hits…but we will ignore that all for the moment.
I am the first to admit that I would see a new Mission: Impossible film on opening day, but Tom Cruise is not the action star he once was. If it wasn’t for him, this franchise almost certainly wouldn’t have lived this long. The character depth in this franchise is so flat, it is in desperate need of some supporting players, and they did not give him much to build on. It tries to create the illusion that there is some history for his character here, but it is pretty half-hearted at best.
The one primary area I think that this film has an advantage over the original is in terms of audience accessibility. The plot of the original Jack Reacher was in some ways made a bit overly complex and as amazing as it was to have Werner Herzog as the villain, he was more of a cerebral character. Perhaps that is what has lead the producers to simplify this film, but unlike the original, you can enter the story at pretty much any point and figure out what is happening with little effort. Those with small bladders are totally safe watching this entry in the series.
While technically the primary villain, Robert Knepper, is barely in the film. Heusinger does a decent job as the main antagonist to Cruise for most of the movie, but with Knepper playing such a small role it kind of makes the core mystery underlying the plot fall a little flat. The rivalry that develops with Heusinger could have been more engaging if time was been spent developing it instead of it boiling down to “action scene…phone sparing…repeat” since neither character has any real knowledge of the other.
This franchise has all the elements of a franchise running on auto-pilot, yet not of the past success to forgive that choice. Maybe the book series is fantastic, and to that point I can’t speak. At its core, the problem I have with the film is in its fundamental structure. Since this is based on a series with upwards of 18 books there is no concern about Tom Cruises survival, sure he will get beat up but there is 0% chance of him dying. Similarly, because it is episodic, everyone else he meets is disposable, none of the relationships seem significant, and none of the “changes” that occur in the characters feels really worthwhile. Given this, I would be shocked if this franchise lives to survive to another day.
The action in the film is decent, nothing particularly noteworthy but it is executed well. The one real disappointment is having Smulders along for the ride but tremendously underutilized, much in the same way she has been in The Avengers. She has shown herself to be a solid action performer and at times in this plot she is painfully sidelined for pretty lame reasons.
Overall, I have to sheepishly admit that I enjoyed the movie. This is the cinematic equivalent of candy corn, it will do in a pinch, but there is little nutritional substance to sustain you for the long run. It is certainly not the kind of movie that I will think about a week from now, but it provides two hours of moderately engaging action…the kind of stuff I’m always on the look out for. I would recommend the film to fans of the original or people in desperate need of a decent action film, other than that save your money for all the films coming out during awards season.