Tom Cruise returns as the titular Jack Reacher in: Jack Reacher: God We Wish the First Movie Had Been a Huge Success so We Wouldn’t Have to Tack on Jack Reacher to the Title of the Sequel and Therein Make it Awful. Lee reviewed it!
There’s an art to mass consumption that can too easily be discarded by critics of the moment. In the grander scheme of things, derivation and iteration seem like negative terms, but the actual craft involved in delivering a serviceable sequel that also functions as a stand-alone narrative requires a decent understanding of filmmaking and a greater understanding of which audience you are catering for.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back does not intend to win Oscars, or even conquer the box office. It simply desires to be flavour of the week on release, and make a solid Father Day’s present when mass distributed. To do so, it needs to be snappy, well-paced, filled to the brim with action, contain at least one memorable set-piece and establish a story that appears deep on the surface, even if it’s hollow beneath the skin. Obvious marks down for lack of creativity or boundary-pushing aside, what’s important to know about Never Go Back is that it accomplishes nearly exactly what it sets out to do, even if there’s little to nothing admirable in that feat.
We’ve got hard-hitting action: bullets that connect, punches that land, bones that break – nothing to be squeamish over, but the direction does a good job painting the impression of a capable rogue threatening beyond his body’s stature, similarly to Jason Bourne or James Bond, and ensures we get some connectivity with our action set-pieces.
We’ve got fun characters: one-dimensional as most of the cast are, they fit their moulds pretty neatly and leave a comfortable impression on the narrative. You may never learn their names, but the bad guys are memorably bad, the good guys are understandably good and we’re given just enough to know who to side with in each scenario.
The story itself even presents us with a fun romp, even if it falls flat by the end in favour of a built-up rivalry match-up that really doesn’t feel earned or necessary. The military conspiracy backdrop makes for a great excuse for an adventure, and gives the audience plenty of excuses to get invested early on. Military prisons, black sedan car lots, household assassinations; there’s a fun on-the-run atmosphere that only really falters towards the end of the second act as we follow up some druggy in New Orleans before getting right back in the saddle with a colourful and exciting Dia de los Muertos set-piece that both comes entirely out of nowhere and really brings the finale to life.
With our middle-of-the-road action films, all we really need ask for is some cool visuals along the way and a supportable lead, and really, Tom Cruise does a fine job as Jack Reacher. A hypocrite and a loner, those who commit to trying to understand his character may reach a dead-end in this movie, but there is something intriguing in a character that seems cool on the surface, but happens to be genuinely alone and uncertain underneath. The film doesn’t dance around it; a relationship with this man would be harmful for everyone involved, and there’s something noble and modern in debunking, to a small degree, that macho man image we’ve all come to expect. Even Bourne was a softee deep-down; this guy’s just not a people-person.
That said, for all the good work Cobie Smulders brings to her bad-ass military character, the story opts to do almost nothing with her, which is genuinely upsetting after a strong introduction. And there is a teenage tag-along for the picture, and she is never endearing, always over-reacting and channelling Edward Furlong like it’s 1991 all over again. It makes for a terrible ‘the father all men want to be’ story and only elicits moans of exhaustion from every stupid, poorly-explained decision the character makes to inject contrived drama into the movie.
Yet these road-bumps never fully distract from the main feature; this is a damn decent popcorn flick that places technical precision and, yes, formula-following necessity above aspiration or imagination, but there’s no shame to be had with that. Some films are just made to be OK, to be enjoyed for the inherent value they offer, and so long as they can consistently offer that value and pace themselves evenly, a predictable action romp can still make for a fun one.
Tempered recommendation proffered; make of it what you will.