Editor’s Notes: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is out in wide theatrical release today October 21st.
It’s become increasingly clear that movie studios never learn, either purposely, hoping for a different outcome or result, or stubbornly, refusing to acknowledge real-world facts. Simply put, not every semi-successful, mostly forgotten wannabe franchise starter deserves a sequel. Four years ago, Jack Reacher was that wannabe franchise starter and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is that undeserved, unwanted sequel – unwanted by everyone except star Tom Cruise who shepherded both entries through production – and the result, a sub-par, underwhelming, ultimately disposable adaptation of Lee Child’s 18th novel in the long-running series, will likely end the franchise before they market a loose “trilogy” to consumers who still buy hard, non-digital media (e.g., DVDs, Blu-Rays, audiobooks). If the next Mission: Impossible entry once again scores big commercially, however, it might be déjà vu all over again in three or four years.
Four years ago, Jack Reacher was that wannabe franchise starter and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is that undeserved, unwanted sequel. . .
Despite 20 novels released over two decades, Jack Reacher is no James Bond. He’s no Jason Bourne. He’s no Ethan Hunt either. He’s a man of few words and even fewer possessions. When he’s arrested in the first scene of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, the sheriff and deputy who arrest him are surprised at his meager belongings (cash, a tooth brush, the clothes on his back). Somehow, Reacher manages to move from town to town, mostly via hitchhiking, and find odd jobs to keep him in a clean set of clothes and reasonably well fed. His movements, however, aren’t quite as random as they seem: A D.C.-based senior MP (military police) officer, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), keeps him informed of various wrongs that need to be righted outside typically legal means. They’re relationship, however, is all but ready to move to the next level: Dinner and a movie, maybe even a casual, brief fling for a perpetually on-the-move drifter like Reacher.
Reacher intentionally chooses isolation over connection, doing good for strangers, but sacrificing personal fulfillment, the kind of fulfillment that comes with settling down, getting married and having kids gives the average man or woman. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back flips the script on Reacher’s self-imposed isolation, essentially giving him a starter family of his own through his relationship with Turner – relieved of duty after being charged with treason (i.e., stealing state secrets) – and the unexpected arrival of a fifteen-year-old girl, Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh), who may or may not be the daughter he never knew he had or wanted. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back turned Reacher into a reluctant romantic partner and even more reluctant dad, but that’s all background to Reacher’s real purpose in and out of the film: To take down yet another conspiracy/cabal and a seemingly endless supply of henchmen led by an ex-military-soldier-turned-mercenary for a super-evil (as opposed to regular evil) defense contractor, Para-Source, led by an ex-general, Harkness (Robert Knepper).
. . . sub-banal, cringe-inducing dialogue leaves moviegoers with one or two reasons to see Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and they all revolve around Cruise.
As a novel, Never Go Back might be of recent vintage (2013), but it feels like it was written and published a decade ago, three years into the Iraq War and occupation, not more than a decade later. The defense contractor engaging in nefarious, profit-generating activities like smuggling weapons and selling them on the black market and killing anyone who asks too many questions – or in the case of Turner and Reacher, framing them for espionage and murder, respectively – feels incredibly dated and clichéd (it’s both). Add to that stock situations involving Reacher’s awkward, clumsy attempts at relationship building with Turner and Sam, sub-banal, cringe-inducing dialogue, and plot twists and turns that are neither (because they’re incredibly predictable) and that leaves moviegoers with one or two reasons to see Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and they all revolve around Cruise.
Cruise might be hitting his mid-50s, but he’s still remarkably fit (per his standard contract, he strips to the waist in one scene). He’s just as passionately devoted to his craft as an actor as he was a decade or two ago. Cruise will be never accused of sleepwalking through a role, regardless of the quality – or lack thereof – of the material at hand. He can still move with the grace, dexterity, and physicality of a man two decades younger, especially when he’s in run mode (no Cruise film is complete without one or more scenes involving Cruise running) or in fight mode. The ground-level fights are suitably brutal, shot with a no-frills, just the action finesse by director Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai, Glory). Turner even gets to join in on the vigilante-style fun, dispatching one foe with an impressive combination of skill, speed, and controlled anger. Outside of the obligatory action scenes, though, and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back increasingly sags under the weight of the clichés Zwick’s adaptation – co-written with Richard Wenk and Marshall Herskovits – relies on repeatedly to keep moviegoers engaged between action scenes. But just because Zwick seems content with TV-level dialogue and character-building scenes doesn’t mean moviegoers should. They (we) shouldn’t.
Four years ago, Jack Reacher was that wannabe franchise starter and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is that undeserved, unwanted sequel – unwanted by everyone except star Tom Cruise who shepherded both entries through production – and the result, a sub-par, underwhelming, ultimately disposable adaptation of Lee Child’s 18th novel in the long-running series