Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Edward Zwick
Everyone liked the first movie, right? It had depth, a decent mystery to solve, some solid action scenes, and Tom Cruise was charming as all hell! Sure, he was the embodiment of the masculine ideal which comes with a certain amount of baggage (just ask James Bond) , but that film brought a lot to the table where so many others would just coast on its star power and wouldn’t even worry about telling a decent story. Now it’s time for them to pump out a sequel, and of course they couldn’t get the same writer/director to return this time (instead he’s just a producer) leaving it up to the director of The Last Samurai and Tom Cruise’s raw charisma to pick up the slack. Can they catch lightening in a bottle twice for this franchise, or are we domed to exponentially worse films until Tom Cruise gets tired of this series? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) heading toward Washington DC to meet up with a friend of his who’s his only real connection to his past life in the military, but when he arrives he finds out that Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) has been arrested for her e-mails or something (ha ha). Of course, Jack Reacher finds out pretty much immediately that this is all a setup but gets arrested by the military for killing Turner’s lawyer which he obviously didn’t do. I don’t know why the bad guys felt it necessary to do this, especially because he’s getting processed at the Military Prison at the same time the bad guys are sending hired goons to kill Major Turner in this co-ed prison. Jack Reacher kicks everyone’s ass, the two of them escape, and now they have to find out who it is that set the both of them up. Of course, it’s not quite that easy. You see, it turns out that in ALL this time that Jack’s been contacting Major Turner over the phone, she failed to mention that he’s had a paternity suit pending for the last fifteen years which means he might have a kid out there who probably hates his guts right now. The kid in question is Samantha Dayton (Danik Yarosh) and sure enough the bad guys know about her and start targeting her to get to Jack which means he has to drag her along until this mystery is solved. Can Jack and Turner figure out who’s responsible for their incarceration and what they’re so desperate to cover up? Is Jack really the father of this surly teenager who’s not in the mood to deal with any of this bullshit? Seriously, there’s like twenty of these Jack Reacher books. Was this the best story they could get out of them!?
You know, sometimes the movie studios make it a bit too easy for us, because they certainly should have NEVER GONE BACK to the Jack Reacher well if this is what they thought would cut it in 2016. In a year that has been THIS good for sequels, it’s depressing just how piss poor this movie turned out. Its story is not nearly as interesting, the bad guys made absolutely no sense, and it generally feels like a much cheaper and flashier affair when the first one was gritty and had some actual weight to it. It’s certainly watchable I guess, but why the hell should we settle for that when the first one was so good and sequels have been knocking it out of the park recently? Hell, even Tom Cruise’s other recent sequel to a surprisingly good movie, Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation, was a better sequel than this one is, and I wasn’t too crazy about that film either!
There are a lot of reasons why this movie is so much worse than the original (and just not a good film in general), but they can all be traced back two issues; the story increases the scope haphazardly, and the production doesn’t have enough muscle behind it. The last movie was about a bunch of gangsters doing… something bad (go see the movie) and framing someone else for it. Simple enough of a setup which left plenty of room for solid action, investigations, and character work; mostly on the part of Jack Reacher who was incredibly charming due in no small part to Tom Cruise’s performance. This film on the other hand is completely weighed down by its story which has so many moving parts in constant need of maintenance to the point that everything else suffers for it.
Now having an intricate story line that eschews character development in favor of being about something bigger isn’t necessarily a bad idea if the writing is up to snuff, but that is so far from the case here as it’s filled with inexplicable moments and motivations from pretty much everyone there. Why does Cobie Smulders want Tom Cruise’s help when it’s an obvious set up? Why did NO ONE go through her e-mails to find the crucial piece of evidence that would have cleared her, and why doesn’t she and Jack Reacher release the information once they find it? Do military prison interrogation rooms not have cameras to see when a suspect just beat the shit out of a military officer and took his damn uniform? How about the fact that they let two armed hired goons (who look EXACTLY like hired goons) just waltz into a prison cell so they can murder someone!? The military police in this movie is startlingly incompetent at every level for no other reason than to keep this dumbass plot train from going off the rails, and it’s kinda insulting to them as well as the audience who are expected to buy any of this. That’s just the beginning though as the bad guys in this are even dumber. I’ll try not to spoil it, but I would LOVE to be in the meeting where the CEO of Evil Corp (or whatever they were called) was going over the cost benefit analyses for committing murder and treason to make a few bucks. At least with the last movie, the bad guys were an ACTUAL crime organization, and sure we can snark about how Halliburton and its ilk are criminals too, but they are public facing companies with a lot of moving parts and taxes to file and shit that would make this kind of criminal enterprise not only infeasible to pull off but impossible to cover up.
What makes all this worse is that the movie just isn’t as well shot or paced as the original film and every step our heroes take feels perfunctory. I mean seriously, how many hired goons does this company have to throw at Jack Reacher? There are like five scenes in here where he has to stop what he’s doing, fight a bunch of dudes who don’t know what they hell they’re up against, and then go about his merry way as if nothing happened. There’s no significance or importance to pretty much every action scene in here and they just feel like distractions. It’s not even like the action is all that good because no one REALLY poses a threat to this guy, either in skill or in numbers, and it’s all shot too close up for it to feel like it has weight or exists outside of this sound stage. Hell, the movie in general is shot too close and almost entirely in cramped locations. Prison cells, an office, a kitchen, a bunch of motels, and even when there IS an action scene that takes place in a larger environment, we’re constantly cutting between the relevant parties chasing after one another and never get a strong sense of location or scope for the action. Hell, for all I know it all takes place on a single block and everyone is just running past each other!
So the story sucks, and the action sucks. Are the heroes any good? Well… they’re probably the BEST part of this, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement. Maybe my memories of the first movie are somewhat rose tinted, and maybe the fact that the action and story were better made me overestimate Tom Cruise’s acting, but I found him way more compelling in that film than he is here. He’s just kinda whiny about everything and comes off as an asshole rather than smarmy. Cobie Smolders is just… there, and that’s about it. She holds her own against Jack Reacher and does well in the action scenes, but she’s not interesting in the least and feels like she was cut and pasted from NCIS or something. Frankly, the one character that everyone seems to dislike, namely Danika Yarosh as Jack Reacher’s maybe daughter, is the one I ended up liking a lot. Sure, she’s an idiot at times and puts herself in danger, but I understood the situation she was in and how absolutely ridiculous it was. There’s just not enough there from any of our leads (or any of our villains for that matter) to carry this movie and it’s particularly disappointing considering how much Tom Cruise carried the last film that he couldn’t hold this one together.
This movie is a complete disappointment and there is no two ways about it. There’s really no reason this had to be bad though is what kills me as the first movie got it right and it was based on one of the novels as well, so unless the book this one is based off of is utter crap (in which case, why wouldn’t they choose a DIFFERENT book?) I can only figure that the change in writer/director is the main culprit here. Whatever the reason is that this movie sucks, there’s no reason to go out and see it at the theater, and there’s really no reason to see it once it hits home release either. We expect much more from you, Mr. Cruise! IF you’re gonna hog all the youth in Hollywood, you better at least give us good movies!
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