‘Never Go Back‘ says the poster for the new Jack Reacher film. However the sequel goes back to basics and delivers an enjoyable if predictable romp. John Mosby gives a belated review…
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) has just arranged the arrest of corrupt police-officers and decides to head to Washington to meet up with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) who, until this point, has largely been just a voice on the other end of a phone – though a supportive one in a world where Reacher usually manages to piss people off quite quickly. By the time he reaches the capital, Turner has been relieved of her duties and is accused of treason and within hours of Reacher’s arrival, he too is being followed by military officers and some less scrupulous individuals.
Realising that her life is in danger, Reacher breaks Turner out of her temporary jail-cell and they go on the run, heading for New Orleans and determined to find out why two of Turner’s colleagues were killed and why she’s being framed. It seems it’s all connected to missing weapons shipments in the Middle East but the couple must follow the money trail to find out who is truly responsible.
Matters are complicated when both good guys and bad guys realise a claim has been made regarding Reacher’s past… and that he may have a daughter (Danika Yarosh) he’s never met. Now she’s a target as well…
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is not the most original film you’ll see this year. In true franchise-format, it presents a familiar, tried-and-tested format that knows its strengths and weaknesses and plays them out accordingly. There’s nothing new here, simply a formula that is presented well enough to entertain, but largely ignoring its own poster advise and defintiely ‘going back‘ to what it does best. In many ways Jack Reacher: Never Go Back strictly follows a template set down decades ago, with the lone wolf, solitary action hero reluctantly having to work as a team-up and also face the prospect of those changes being permanent with the possibility of ‘family’. From several Schwarzenegger movies to the likes of Leon, we’ve often see that double-whammy of action vs. personal angst involving father/daughter relationships – and those work well enough if the casting, scripting and pacing come together.
In that regard – and while Cruise often remains the target of off-screen speculation about his religious beliefs and marriages – there’s been very little time over the last thirty years when he hasn’t delivered on screen. While some films have been better than others, he’s arguably one of the most consistent deliverers of entertainment Hollywood has had – a strong actor able to carry a film but also to be heavily involved in their assembly and production. It’s a brave or stupid person who undervalues those qualities. Jack Reacher is the action hero personification of those – the single-minded strategist transferred into physical form. It would have been easy to package such in a big Arnie or Sly proportions, to give Gerard Butler or Jason Statham a subtlety-free project. Indeed, the novels by Lee Child hardly describe someone of Cruise’s look, size and shape in their pages. But the actor does bring that all-important ‘presence’ to his scenes. His Reacher embodies the ‘I’d really advise you not pushing me’ confidence that needs to be more than physical frame. No-one in their right mind messes with a juggernaut, which takes some of the drama out of such proceedings and often makes them little more than script-approved showreels… but you can imagine some hard-nose thugs initially taking their chances with Cruise’s Reacher even if costs them in the end.
Cobie Smulders (How I Met your Mother, The Avengers) is good as the military high-ranker framed by some of her corrupt colleagues and having to walk that fine line between accepting Reacher’s help and showing she’s more than capable of fighting most of her own battles. If still strictly a supporting role to the hero of the title, at least Smulders delivers something more than what could have been a damsel-in-distress role in lesser hands. Elsewhere, a string of interchangeable bad-guys plot and balance terminating with extreme prejudice/being exterminated with such – Patrick Heusinger is the main, if never named, assassin determined to make Reacher pay and the likes of Robert Knepper once again earns his pay-check by once again turning up and sneering into camera (at which he’s perfectly fine, but it’s about time someone gave him something more to do). Danika Yarosh (probably best known so far for Heroes: Reborn) acquits herself well with a role that could have just been described as ‘spunky, snarky teenager’ and at least makes the character likable even when sued as a device to keep the plot going.
The fight choreography on show here is impressive. There’s the expected explosions, gunfire and chases among the New Orleans parades (shades of Bond) and clearly the stuntmen have earned their pay, but the hand-to-hand conflicts show that Cruise likes to be in the mix of things and has trained for the role. The same goes for Smulders, now firmly in the running for having genuine action credentials to match one of the best name in Hollywood (Seriously, someone has to cast Benedict Cumberbatch and Cobie Smulders together in a movie… just because).
Director Ed Zwick (who worked with Cruise on The Last Samurai) delivers a competent if not remarkable film. Running at a smidge under two hours, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is fine, basic action entertainment and doesn’t overstay its welcome… it never really tries to be anything more than a nostalgic throwback to the past and setting its sights as such, it’s Reacher doesn’t exceed its grasp. And it probably acts as a placeholder for yet more franchise action (when Cruise isn’t working on the likes of the more OTT Mission Impossible movies).
Jack Reacher: Never Go back is released by Paramount and is out now…