Well, that sequel sure was a reach…ehhhh?!?!?! Sorry. If I’m wading through the waters of cinematic mediocrity for you – the reader – you’re dealing with my atrocious sense of punnery.
On a serious note, Jack Reacher stands as one 2012’s most enjoyable action pictures. Cruise worked his underdog charms with deadly, lumberjack-plaid coolness, taking down Werner Herzog’s band of murderous misfits with ease. It was fun, ballsy and loaded with action – basically the opposite of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.
This time around, Reacher is paired with a love-interest sidekick played by Cobie Smulders, who reveals herself to be the high-ranking Major employing his renegade missions. Reacher hitchhikes across the country after being smitten by a voice on a phone, only to find out she’s been arrested and set up by her own crooked government. This is the first, silly handcuff.
Along with Smulders’ Major Susan Turner, Reacher also has to babysit a young girl who might or might not be his daughter, but either way, she finds herself hunted by mercenaries hot on Reacher’s trail. Samantha (Danika Yarosh) is 15, hates abiding by rules and loves using cellphones that can be tracked. This is handcuff number two that’s slapped on the titular Jack Reacher, forcing Cruise to abandon the very lone wolf persona that audiences first fell in love with. This time around, he’s a conflicted special agent who joins an unlikely team, to more generic, thoughtless and forgettable results.
Here’s your synopsis – Jack Reacher gets a phone-boner, runs to DC, tries to play white knight, and almost gets an innocent girl killed along the way. He’s a bit more of a serious Reacher, one who spends most of his time sprinting away from bad guys in multiple locations. You’ll see Jack sprint across DC parks, down New Orleans streets – heck, you might even see him sprint across rooftops! Sometimes he’s sprinting alongside Major Turner – who keeps up every step of the way (go women!) – and sometimes Samantha is sprinting with them (sometimes alone). So, where Jack Reacher was about standing your ground, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back runs away from danger a good 80% of the time it’s presented.
Christopher McQuarrie handled both writing and directing duties on Cruise’s first Lee Child adaptation, but hands the reigns to Edward Zwick for this 2016 sequel. Both Richard Wenk and Marshall Herskovitz aid in scripting Jack’s latest reach-around, who display absolutely zero understanding about what made the character such a charismatic badass.
Action sequences are short, dialogue beats awkward fathering to death and Cruise’s most difficult task as Jack Reacher is making eye contact when having serious conversations. I get that this Reacher is supposed to be the stripped-down, emotionally vulnerable action hero, and I get that we’re supposed to dig the family dynamic. None of it works though, and we’re left with just another generic military hardass fighting against homegrown espionage. A forgotten 90s genre relic that was forgotten for a reason.
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For some stretches, both Smulders and Cruise play out their wild goose chase with a bit of excitable tension. Not much, but enough to remind of better Jack Reacher memories. Smulders’ character spent all her life fighting against gender-bashing colleagues, and now she finds herself taking orders from an ex-military legend. This doesn’t sit well, making for playful survivalist banter between two more-than-capable warriors. Their crush-connection is horribly rushed and will make your eyes roll for days, but not all vitality is lost. Just like how Danika Yarosh is safely watchable as a klepto foster punk when she’s not falling into the conventions of stupid kids who compromise their savior’s cover every chance they get.
Zwick tries to do his own thing with the Jack Reacher franchise, yet he sacrifices Reacher’s most endearing qualities to do so. Cruise seems wasted here, easily replaced by a current day Jean Claude Van Damme or Nicholas Cage. An actual character – a military captain – wants surveillance put on Reacher, and utters the line “I want to know how he takes his eggs” without a lick of irony (smacks of Action Dialogue 101).
You get the obligatory Tom Cruise shirtless work-ins, a characterless, evil rival merc who’s just so f*$&ing evil it hurts, lots of black trench coats and an absolutely lurching pace that’s almost like trying to swallow cinnamon for two hours. Only a few momentary releases of pent-up aggression make Reacher’s second go-around face-punchy and palatable, but generic doesn’t even begin to describe Zwick’s routine ride down a fight-fueled path.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back should have been released in a different year, with a different cast and under a different name. Compared to Christopher McQuarrie’s unexpected franchise kickstarter, Edward Zwick finds himself with a nasty case of non-essential sequelitus. Tom Cruise is as muscly and bland as heroes come, restrained by the burden of two dead-weight companion pawns. Jack Reacher is a man who thrives on working alone, and this dull tale of backstabbing militant leeches proves that fact tenfold. This is the movie we all feared Jack Reacher would be, so let’s at least be thankful for what we’ve already indulged in? After this, it’d be pretty hard to make a case for the farthest reach yet (unless the box office decides otherwise).
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the movie we all feared 2012's Jack Reacher might be.