Movie Review : Jack Reacher - Never Go Back (2016)
Jack Reacher is the well-known protagonist of Lee Child's crime thrillers. They are competently written and plotted novels where Reacher solves a random crime or conspiracy and spends hundred of pages behaving like the hormonal fantasy of a twelve-year old l boy trying to impress his crush. Child's dedicated readership love him because he's badass and takes care of business, I love him because he's fucking goofy. So, I thought it was the greatest idea in the world to cast Tom Cruise as Reacher for the first movie adaptation in 2012 because Cruise is plenty goofy himself. Could Hollywood make this schitck last in a business where dime-store badasses are overpopulated? Jack Reacher : Never Go Back answers this question for us.
And it's a clear no.
Anyone who has seen the trailer for Jack Reacher : Never Go Back has seen its first scene. Reacher (Tom Cruise) is sitting inside a diner after kicking random and nameless thugs' asses and gets arrested by a local sheriff, who gets arrested sixty seconds later because Reacher figured out before the movie started that this asshole was trafficking illegal immigrants on military land *. The army major he flagged the rogue sheriff to (Cobie Smulders) is subsequently indicted for treason in an unrelated matter and that pisses Reacher off because he was planning to have dinner (and presumably sex) with her in order to thank her for her cooperation in the case. Of course, there's an intricate conspiracy behind these accusations targeting a woman Reacher barely even knows and he's going to kick ass, break kneecaps, take names and get to the bottom of this, because he's fucking Jack Reacher after all.
The problem with Jack Reacher : Never Go Back is that it's hollow. I mean, the antagonists are a private military contractor. The ideological conflict between conventional patriotism and mercenary pursuits sound interesting on paper, but nothing in this movie identifies the U.S military as patriots and nothing identifies the contractor Parasource as anything different than organized crime. The conflict is only theoretical. It doesn't exist in the movie. This is why it feels so derivative and padded with so many bloated action action scenes where Reacher either fights or murder underdeveloped characters. Stakes are artificially inflated using a character that may or may not be our protagonist's daughters, but otherwise Jack Reacher : Never Go Back is just very intricate and overdramatized quest to make good on a promised date. Nothing else about this movie is interesting or vaguely different.
So, let's talk about Jack Reacher's self-conscious badassery for a moment. Because it's been toned down from the novels and even slightly toned down from the trailer. Instead of asking Col. Morgan (Holt McCallany) if he wanted to have his arm ripped off and get beaten to death with it, he warns him about the discomfort of having his tendons severed before the shoulder pops. Reacher's attitude is childish and counterintuitive to good storytelling, but it makes him who he is and it is sorely lacking in a movie that has no identity of its own. The first Jack Reacher adaptation understood this and went ham with scenes of Tom Cruise randomly whipping jabronis for sport and perhaps also compensation for an atrophied genitalia. It didn't take Reacher seriously at all, while this movie takes him a little TOO seriously and strips him of his goofy braggadocio.
The difference between Jack Reacher and Jack Reacher : Never Go Back is essentially simple. The format was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, better known for writing cult classics such as The Usual Suspects and The Way of the Gun, and the latter was co-written and directed by Edward Zwick, who doesn't have half the track record of McQuarrie but probably did what he was told. The sequel suffers from it and never develops an identity of its own. It's just another military thriller where private contractors are depicted as the ultimate evil threatening the integrity of the country. I have no doubt that they are, but that point's been made a thousand times already. I don't want to be a bird of bad omen, but this smells like the ending of Jack Reacher's theater run. Unfortunately (or not).
* That's a special kind of stupid, using your authority to commit crimes on a land where you have no authority whatsoever, but criminals in Jack Reacher novels are either super evil or super dumb. And they can't be both.