If the first movie back in 2012 went to some lengths to establish the character and mythology of Jack Reacher, this follow-up seems happy to just spend its time reminding us how much of an obstinate cuss Reacher can be.
Part unstoppable force, part immovable object – depending on which suits his purpose at the time – Reacher once again shows why bad guys in thriller fiction should just start digging their own graves whenever he starts sniffing around their business.
Author Lee Child’s hulking military policeman turned drifter, a modern-day version of the Western’s wandering stranger, is the star of 20 books (the 21st will be out next month) and several short stories – and also that abovementioned first film, which enraged fans by casting Tom Cruise in it.
Whatever the reaction to the casting – Child said Cruise captured Reacher’s relentlessness nicely, while fans decried the vast difference between actor and character’s physical stature – moviegoers generally agreed that Jack Reacher was a well done (mass) murder-mystery/thriller under the guiding hand of writer-director Christopher McQuarrie.
Never Go Back sees the directing reins handed to Edward Zwick (who directed Cruise in The Last Samurai) and the story has Reacher looking into an obviously fake espionage charge levelled at Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), his successor in the 110th MP unit. He then discovers an unexpected wrinkle that makes this case personal.
Reacher devotees may find another bone to pick here: the whole reason Reacher revisits his former unit is actually the culmination of a plot thread that ran through several earlier books.
So cramming all that motivation into a five-minute sequence at the start of this movie makes Reacher look a bit impulsive, even to the point of throwing his own rules out the window.
Moving past that, I found Never Go Back to be a gripping yarn that should please action fans, even if some of the best bits from the book are missing (examples: Reacher talking trash to two opponents about fighting them with his hands behind his back, or demonstrating why he considers West Virginia to be one big ATM).
Thanks to Zwick, who has a knack for getting audiences invested in sparsely written and overly familiar situations, there is some of that elusive “emotional content” to the action scenes – nowhere more apparent than in Reacher’s final square-off against a nasty, murderous minion (Patrick Heusinger).
The character flourishes that McQuarrie worked so well into the first film, though, are seldom on display here. The characters could do with a bit more pep – the villains are one-dimensional nonentities and the “good” supporting characters fare slightly better – and the film clearly needs a colourful sort like Robert Duvall’s gun range owner from the previous outing to take the mickey out of Reacher a bit more often.
Part of the Reacher books’ appeal is that the reader gets to see things from the bad guys’ perspective so that when the inevitable takedown happens, you have a sense of what it is Reacher is taking away from them. Here, there’s no such insight; when one baddie snarls “Do you know who I am?”, I was tempted to respond “Not a clue, sorry.”
Never Go Back is exciting action cinema that ticks most of the right boxes. However, aside from its central character, few others come sufficiently to life to matter, and to elevate it to the thriller stratosphere.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Aldis Hodge, Holt McAllany, Robert Knepper