Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, 2016.
Directed by Edward Zwick.
Starring Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Robert Catrini and Madalyn Horcher.
Jack Reacher goes on the run to clear his name, and in the process discovers a secret from his past.
The first Jack Reacher film may not have set the box-office alight the same way Tom Cruise’s other franchise does, but it did well enough on home entertainment platforms for this sequel to get green-lit. Cruise returns as ex-army tough guy Reacher, and this time the director’s chair is filled by Edward Zwick, reuniting with Cruise for the first time since The Last Samurai. This film is based on the 18th book in Lee Child’s successful series, and it involves Reacher coming to the aid of Major Turner (Cobie Smulders) who’s been charged with espionage and thrown in jail. When he’s accused of murder himself he breaks her out and they go on the run to clear their names. There’s a conspiracy for them to unravel involving government weapons smuggling, a hit-man on their tail (played effectively if rather blandly by Patrick Heusinger), and the added complication of a girl who’s in danger because she may or may not be Reacher’s daughter.
The supporting characters in the film are rather forgettable, but the main cast at least do a decent job – Samantha (Reacher’s possible daughter, played by Danika Yarosh) goes from being petulant at first to sympathetic by the end, Cobie Smulders builds on her work as Maria Hill in the Marvel films by bringing depth and action chops to her character here, and Cruise is solid as ever (although it’s hard to tell whether his grizzled, weary expression is genuine acting or the result of an guy in his mid-50s starting to realise that making action movies is harder than it used to be). You get the feeling the daughter subplot was added to balance out the main story, which is somehow both predictable and hard to follow. Having the three of them on the run for most of the film does give each of them a chance to explore their characters (Reacher questions his lone-wolf lifestyle, Turner fights against sexism), but it also means there are long periods of quiet between the action sequences – I went to a late night screening and admittedly nearly dozed off a couple of times.
When the action scenes arrive however, they’re rather good – the prison break-out is incredibly enjoyable, there’s a five-against-one fight to rival the street brawl from the first film, and a final chase sequence that’s exciting enough to make you overlook the fact that it’s only set in New Orleans during a parade to make it more visually interesting. What I personally found so enjoyable about the first Reacher film was that it was refreshingly lo-fi – a thriller with a decent central mystery that was basically about a guy using his wits and his fists to get things done (much like how the Bourne franchise started out before it devolved into the boring, repetitive, technology-based mess it is now). But with this more grounded approach comes a responsibility to be a bit more realistic, and there are more than a few moments that stretch believability to breaking point – endless punch-ups that recall the climax of Mission: Impossible 2, Reacher being described as “in his 40s”(!?), consequence-free killings, Reacher beating up a guy on a plane with no one noticing, and him being able to board the plane in the first place with a stolen ID that looks nothing like him (apparently all you have to do is shrug at the cameoing-author TSA agent to get away with it).
If you can overlook the unremarkable plot and occasional cheesiness there’s enough here to keep fans of Cruise and old-school thrillers entertained for two hours. It’s a decent-if-disposable film, but it doesn’t bode well for the future of the franchise if this was the most interesting and exciting story they had to chose from out of twenty novels. As much as I admire the back-to-basics nature of the character and the films, they need more compelling and original stories if they’re going to continue. A touch of humour and a bit of a ‘wow’ factor wouldn’t go amiss either (something which, for all their faults, the Mission: Impossible films continue to deliver).
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★