You play a dangerous game when you commit to a title like Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (whether it’s the title of the book, or not), but when you also trade writer/director Christopher McQuarrie for Edward Zwick, Richard Wenk, and Marshall Herskovitz, you probably aren’t bothered by dangerous games.
The release serves as a good opportunity to recommend the first film, which is a slick, fun, actioner that pulls off its unusual style and character surprisingly well.
This one seems to take just about everything that worked well in the first and go the opposite direction. It’s preachy and maudlin, drags out fight scenes nonsensically, and can’t seem to stomach its own approach to… I’m going to say feminism, but I don’t want to be held accountable for that.
Tom Cruise is again the titular Reacher, and after helping out a Major Turner (Cobie Smulders), who holds his old post in charge of a unit of Military Police, he aims to meet the person he’s only known over the phone. He arrives to learn that she’s been arrested, and it isn’t hard for him to smell a rat.
The military naturally isn’t interested in a lot of outside interference, especially from an ex-Officer turned drifter. Worse, there’s obviously someone on the inside working with those who are actually responsible for the deaths of Major Turner’s soldiers, so neither of them have room to trust anyone.
Of course, that’s not enough of a chore for someone like Reacher, so an unknown daughter is thrown into the mix when we discover that an old fling reported to the military that Reacher was the father of her daughter. Thus, Reacher goes to find this mystery teenager, who naturally is turned into a pawn when the bad guys learn they can use her against Reacher.
The outline could easily be made into something that would work well as a continuation of Reacher’s story (perhaps plus or minus the daughter), but this movie is a wild shift from the original and has delusions of grandeur.
It isn’t that something within the genre can’t include deeper themes, and touch on more interesting subjects, but when an action film just stands there saying it at you, it isn’t confident in what it is, or thinks it is something else. Some of the “feminism” here is odd posturing that simply detracts from everything else going on. I’m all for women being equals, and saying so whenever you want to fit it in, but if you can’t kick my ass, then I’m the hero going after the bad guys, and whether you’re a man or woman doesn’t make a lot of difference.
Sadly, Cruise and Smulders are actually quite good, and most every scene that gives them an opportunity to work together ends up a win. Cruise has the character, and that occasionally shines through, but the film is aiming at so much comedic interplay and melodrama that it feels like the setup for Reacher’s move to television sit-com. Reacher as Dad is good for a few laughs, and the clash between Reacher and a female officer, while on the run, gives you a bit of distraction, but it’s all done without even the attention necessary to be a bad try. It’s just a non-try.
Adding insult to injury, the forces that be have a lead henchman, ridiculously credited as The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger), who is expected to carry the weight of “soldiers gone wrong,” or something, while also being a complete psychopath. The plot is put together in such a way that he has to actually be a bit of a loony, or things would end quicker, so that’s what we get. If that doesn’t make a lot of sense, well… hey, look at that cool fight scene.
There’s enough fun that fans of the first may not be completely disappointed, but this one is so stuffed with grandiose ambition that it becomes difficult to get all the way through, and the result is about as weighty as a toast sandwich.