The Jack Reacher series by Lee Child is set around the idea of a “knight errant” who travels around righting wrongs somewhat randomly, but always for the right reasons. Creators of stories about Japanese Ronin, Western drifters, and more have used this archetype to good effect for centuries.
I enjoyed the first movie in what now looks to be a franchise, Jack Reacher, so was definitely up for seeing the sequel, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Of course, the questions with any sequel are these: was the movie any good and do you need to have seen the first movie to know what’s going on?
The answers are yes and no.
The movie stands completely alone – you don’t need to have seen Jack Reacher or even have read any of the books to know what’s going on. A note about that, though. The hubs hadn’t seen the first movie, where Reacher’s knight errant lifestyle was explained. Possibly the scene in this movie that explains why Reacher is, as the hubs saw it, the Super Hobo, is on the cutting room floor, but the movie assumes that you, the audience, know that Reacher’s living this lifestyle by choice, not to mention how he manages it. If you don’t, or if you’re going with someone who has no exposure to Reacher in any form, do them a favor and explain that prior to the movie’s start.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, starts you in the aftermath of action, where we find Reacher (Tom Cruise) having just dispatched a group of bad guys. He’s backed up by a special division of the Army’s military police under the leadership of Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, apparently getting typecast in movies as the No-Nonsense Military Chick, but handling it well), and we see their long-distance relationship growing.
Reacher arrives in D.C. to take Turner to an impromptu dinner only to discover that she’s been relieved of command and is in military prison for espionage. Reacher, of course, knows that more’s going on, and he starts to investigate. Along the way, he discovers not only that things aren’t what they seem but also that he might have a daughter he never knew about, fifteen-year-old Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh).
Yes, there’s a conspiracy, and of course the bad guys do their best to frame Reacher as well as Turner, while also trying to get their mitts on Sam. Reacher, Turner, and Sam have to figure out what’s going on while saving the day and their own lives from the Hunter (Patrick Heusinger) – seriously, he has no name, that’s how he’s listed in the credits. The Hunter is also ex-military, just like Reacher – who had Turner’s job back in the day – and the movie’s title comes from the fact that ex-military feel that they can’t go back, because the civilian world is so alien to what they’re used to.
The script moves along at a brisk pace and the movie is quite enjoyable. One of the positives of this series is that Reacher isn’t superhuman. He’s really skilled and smart, but he gets hurt and the hurt lasts for more than thirty seconds.
There aren’t a lot of “surprises” in any action-thriller, because the formula is pretty well set – one person or a small group must race against time over a few short hours or a couple of days to save the world from madmen. This movie follows that formula and it works. Is this the most intricate plot you’ll see all year? No, it’s not. The first movie, Jack Reacher, was far more twisty in its plotting.
However, that doesn’t mean that this movie isn’t worth seeing. The mere fact that the stunts and action scenes aren’t shot using handheld cameras is enough reason to go. The acting is topnotch – Cruise doesn’t get his due as an actor (ever) because he’s handsome, successful, and still labeled as crazy for having the nerve to be exuberant for a few minutes on television, and Smulders may indeed be becoming typecast, but she does excellent work as a woman in the military who’s both by-the-book and also able to mix it up and fight as she has to. The villains are suitably creepy, the supporting characters all three-dimensional, even with limited screen time, and while I haven’t seen such a sanitized version of New Orleans in a long time, the sets and cinematography make you feel that you’re there.
The teenager is exactly what the script demands – smart enough to survive, but stupid enough to do things that endanger the team because, well, that’s her role. Reacher and Turner both have issues and positives with Sam as well that feel natural, and their main area of disagreement tends to center on her, or on Reacher treating Turner as something to protect versus an equal. However, the relationship between Sam and Reacher – who is sure he doesn’t remember the woman who he’s told is her mother, but does see a lot of himself in Sam – is well done and earns its emotions honestly.
Refreshingly, Turner is more attracted to Reacher before she’s seen him in action. They may end up having a relationship, or at least as much of one as Reacher’s nomadic lifestyle can handle, but it won’t be now, and that fits everything that goes on in the movie.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a competently done, well-acted, enjoyable action movie. It’s entertaining without being showy, fun without trying to be overly meaningful, and as a sequel, a movie that holds its own against its predecessor.
Rating: 4 Stars
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) returns with his particular brand of justice in the highly anticipated action packed sequel JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK. The film follows Reacher as he races to uncover the truth about active duty soldiers, once under his command, who are being killed. Based upon JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK, author Lee Child’s 18th novel in the best-selling Jack Reacher series, that has seen 100 million books sold worldwide.
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh
Director: Edward Zwick