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The appeal of Tom Cruise‘s titular character in the first Jack Reacher is his obligation to always be rightful. He saw a few injustices, rectified them by any means, kept to his word, and most importantly, kicked serious ass. There was no extra frustrating baggage involved with his motives like there is in Jack Reacher Never Go Back.
Christopher McQuarrie directed the first installment in the Reacher series, but couldn’t participate in (or was smart enough to stay away from) the sequel. Cruise, also acting as producer, aided in selecting director Edward Zwick, who worked with Cruise previously on the fantastic and vastly misunderstood The Last Samurai. Considering the home runs we’ve recently seen from Cruise, I anticipated a repeat of this success in Jack Reacher Never Go Back to be mostly disappointed.
At least when Cruise is in a relatively bad movie, he puts in a solid performance regardless. Here, he’s more forgettable than he’s been in a while. It really starts with how they compromise the Reacher character in the first 10 minutes. It’s established immediately that Reacher remains a drifter, occasionally working for his old army unit, ran by Major Susan Turner (played by Cobie Smulders). Something compels the creators of the movie to open the film after Reacher already beats everyone down, leading to the scene we see in the trailer where a cop is arrested in a diner. Those of us that appreciated the first film, appreciated it for its action, and already the second film inexplicably took it away from us in its first scene.
Reacher builds a friendly, somewhat-flirty, telephonic relationship with Turner, and decides to pay her a visit in Washington D.C. When he arrives to see her (and finishes reminding everyone at the government building that he’s not a major but an ex-major) he discovers Turner has been arrested under the suspicion of espionage. Compelled to do right by his new friend, and detecting something is afoot, he aims to break her out of military prison and find out who’s conspiring against Major Turner.
That’s the general spoiler-free plot, but you’ll de-invest in the movie once they throw this unnecessary emotional wrench in Reacher’s backstory in the first ten minutes. In an attempt to avoid specific spoilers, I’ll only say this “wrench” involves a person, and the person they cast to personify this “wrench” lacks personality and general major studio motion picture acting ability. That might sound like a mean sentiment, but you deserve honesty.
My complaints about Jack Reacher Never Go Back, however, extend beyond an awful co-star. Smulders as Turner felt underutilized, and lacked chemistry with Cruise. Director Zwick didn’t feel like taking any tangible risks cinematically. The score is paint-by-numbers. They hit pause on delivering the audience any action until about 30 minutes into the movie, after we plow through painfully bland dialogue and even more reminders of how Reacher is now an ex-major. Once the action does start, it’s rather sluggish and not captured effectively to where the moviegoers can comprehend every movement. Then it continues to be sluggish throughout, even in the final fight where Reacher is battling someone who’s supposed to be his equal (portrayed by Patrick Heusinger) yet it never comes across believably.
A minuscule detail I noticed as well was the uneven re-shoots plugged into the movie. The person I saw Jack Reacher Never Go Back with never caught it, but Cruise’s hair changes length so frequently, I was almost convinced this movie became a sci-fi flick with alternating realities (think Coherence but a bigger budget and far worse in quality). To me, it was abundantly clear that the film lacked the famous fist fights from the first entry, so the studio likely passed a note to the film-making team to shoehorn in a random fight scene, which they surely did. In a sequence where I detected Cruise’s awkward wig (and if it’s not a wig, I apologize to Mr. Cruise and the Church of Scientology for insulting those luscious locks), Reacher combats five other men in a scene fans of the first film will clamor for, but like the other action sequences here, the fighting felt slow-paced.
The things I enjoyed in Jack Reacher Never Go Back are minimalist minutiae. I liked that they legitimately filmed in New Orleans and re-created the life of that city at certain points. Robert Knepper has a role in the film with a great ridiculous line reminiscent of 90s action flicks (and I’ll let you guess whether Knepper plays a villain or a hero because he only plays one type). As a long-time fan of the TV series Leverage, I appreciated Aldis Hodge‘s presence as a military official named Espin, even if he was underused for Reacher’s plodding personal story. Rarely, one of Reacher’s lines would be memorably badass. The very, very end of the final fight is gratifyingly brutal. As I intimated already, these are the smallest of items I had to scramble my brain for since overall, the film underwhelms, especially considering the anticlimactic ending.
I’m not compelled to waste more words on Jack Reacher Never Go Back, so please just watch (or re-watch) the original. It’s a straightforward action movie with a regular guy (who’s an ex-major; that’s super important to remember) who felt obligated to fight for the wronged and kick ass so effortlessly that it’s baffling. In the first entry, we receive a fantastic build-up to a finale where you doubt whether Reacher will even come out of it alive. In Jack Reacher Never Go Back, you get none of these things. Seriously, heed the warning the sequel’s subtitle gives you and Never Go Back.