In 2012, Writer-Director Christopher McQuarrie brought Author Lee Child’s creation, Jack Reacher, to movie audiences. The first film, Jack Reacher, was a solid action movie that hearkened back to the films of the 80s and 90s. Now, Director Ed Zwick takes over for the sequel, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Does Reacher’s second adventure equal or surpass the original?
The film begins with Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) in trouble again, but he gets bailed out by Major Turner (Cobie Smulders), who now has Reacher’s old job in the U.S. Army. When Reacher shows up to finally meet Turner in person, he finds out from Col. Morgan (Holt McCallany) that she’s been arrested for espionage. Reacher meets with Turner’s lawyer, Col. Moorcroft (Robert Catrini), who informs him that Turner has explicitly asked that Reacher not be involved. When Reacher asks why, Moorcroft surmises that it might be a character issue, being that Reacher is a deadbeat father. One problem: Reacher doesn’t have any children. Moorcroft reveals that a woman has filed a paternity suit with the Army, claiming Reacher is the father of her daughter, Samantha (Danika Yarosh). Reacher says he’s never met the mother, but he seeks Samantha out so see for himself. He finds that he is being followed by members of a private security firm and after he confronts them, Moorcroft turns up dead. Reacher is arrested for the murder by the military police on Morgan’s orders. When Reacher is taken to the same prison Turner is being held in, he stages a breakout and learns that Turner’s operatives were murdered in Afghanistan. When she started investigating, that’s when she was arrested. Now, Reacher and Turner have to clear their names and Reacher also has to protect Samantha, whom he has inadvertently involved thanks to his unwanted security tail. Can Reacher and Turner exonerate themselves while staying a step ahead of the assassin (Patrick Heusinger) gunning for them?
While Never Go Back has some nice action sequences here and there, it is a far inferior movie to the original Jack Reacher. A major part of this is the addition of Samantha to the proceedings. When Reacher first hears of the girl, he immediately states that he’s never heard of her mother before. Then he spends the rest of the film wondering if it might be true, conveniently forgetting that he’s already told the audience that he never met the girl’s mother. Samantha essentially becomes a plot device to soften Reacher up and give him a liability when he goes on the run. What the filmmakers fail to realize—the screenplay was written by Zwick, Richard Wenk, and Marshall Herskovitz—is that they already had all of that and more in Turner’s character. The only major difference being, Turner is actually an equal to Reacher. So instead of focusing on Reacher’s burgeoning relationship and conflict with Turner, Samantha is shoehorned into this film like a crutch and the film would have been so much better off without her. I would have much preferred more scenes and sparring between Reacher and Turner. The possible-daughter subplot does generate some emotion, but ultimately it’s unnecessary when more development of the Reacher-Turner relationship could have been so much more rewarding.
The villains are led by Robert Knepper as the head of the security company, but he doesn’t do much to establish himself as a worthwhile villain. There also aren’t many plot twists in this thing—it’s a relatively straight-ahead story. It would have been nice if they’d thrown in some characters of questionable allegiance, but nope. The good guys are exceedingly good and the bad guys are undeniably bad with no in-between.
It’s a shame that the film is so poorly written, because Cruise is great in the role of Reacher. I wouldn’t mind seeing him again, but they really need a better story. Smulders was really good too, but I just wish they had given her more to do. Heusinger is fine as the hitman, but his motivation—aside from money—is a little hazy. He reminded me a little bit of Vincent Cassel’s character in Ocean’s Twelve—he couldn’t stand not being “the best.” It’s weak. Yarosh is suitably annoying as the teen sidekick, but it’s clear that she’s just written that way. The rest of the supporting cast is just fine—Aldis Hodge is decent in a key role—but no one matches the level of the cast in the first film—David Oyelowo, Robert Duvall, Rosemund Pike, Richard Jenkins, and Werner Herzog as the baddie. It was like the last installment was a film and this one was made for TV, when it probably should have been the other way around since this is a sequel.
Overall, while Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a perfectly fine action film, it is definitely a step down from the original. It’s telling that the first film had one writer in Christopher McQuarrie and this one has three, equaling an inferior product. The only reason I hope the film makes enough money to warrant another one is because I’d like to see Cruise take another crack at the character. Maybe they can even lure McQuarrie back, but unfortunately, I’m not sure they’ll get the opportunity.