Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)
I thoroughly enjoyed the first Jack Reacher upon its release in 2012. It was a stylishly made, well written, character driven thriller with solid performances and great action sequences. I think a lot of the movies success came down to director Christopher McQuarrie who patently had a good grasp of the source material and how the genre works best. Therefore, when I noticed that he was conspicuously absent from the recent sequel Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, I was curious as to who would fill his shoes. Edward Zwick, an experienced film maker who has worked with Tom Cruise before, directs this time round. All the elements that were present in the first movie are here again. The cast is robust and the narrative concise. Reacher is still an engaging protagonist. Yet for some reason that I can’t exactly put my finger on, the pieces just don’t seem to fit together.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back starts with a vignette which establishes the character’s credentials as an ex- Military Police Officer who now lives off the grid. Despite his drifter lifestyle Reacher still has links to the US Army and over time develops a bond with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). While making an impromptu visit to Washington, he discovers the Major has been relieved of command pending a court martial for murder and espionage. As Reacher investigates, he finds himself up against rogue military contractor Parasource and an assassin who is more than his match. Matters are further complicated when Reacher learns that he may have a daughter (Danika Yarosh) and that her life may be in danger from Parasource.
Neither the plot or performances seem to be the problem with Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. The overall production despite a budget of $60 million, seems a little underwhelming. Edward Zwick doesn’t stamp any particular tone or feeling on the proceedings. Washington and New Orleans are usually interesting and charismatic settings for a motion picture, yet precious little is done with them on this occasion. Director of photography Oliver Wood has shot several action movies over the years (Die Hard 2, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum) and can usually utilise locations well. In this instance, the character of the surrounding is conspicuously absent from many scenes. The cinematography is somewhat stark and the production spends too much time in warehouses and government buildings.
Another aspect of the film that seems off, is the editing. Billy Weber is an editor of note and has worked well with such directors as Terence Malick. He certainly has constructed some robust action scenes in previous movies such as The Warriors, 48 Hrs and Extreme Prejudice. Yet here the fights sequences seem poorly constructed often obscuring what is actually happening. Beyond these set pieces the whole movie has a somewhat stilted and awkward feel to it. At times the production has a distinct television feel to it and I wonder if there were time constraints when filming or whether much of the work was delegated to understudies and journeymen crew members.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back lacks the polish of its predecessor. The ingredients are all present yet the end product is not of the quality one was expecting. The film also contains some unnecessary genre tropes that a director of Zwick’s standing shouldn’t need to use. “Red shirt” henchmen wear sunglasses for example. The main villain played by Patrick Heusinger sports black leather driving gloves to denote his evil status. Again, it smacks of someone else with less experienced, involvement. However, in all fairness the film is not a total disaster. Cruise manages to do most of the heavy lifting and still turns in a watchable performance. The plot is acceptable and the film works well as evening-in entertainment. However, if I had paid to see this at the cinema I would have been deeply disappointed.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back made a profit at the box office but nowhere near as much as the first movie. The critics were also split on the films virtues. Therefore, the future of Jack Reacher’s cinematic adventures remains in question. However, if a third movie is commissioned I’m sure Tom Cruise could carry it off, being a good shape for a man in his mid-fifties. The alternative is that the franchise sits on the back burner, while the suits ponder which direction it should take. Then like Alex Cross, there could well be a reboot rather than a continuation. It’s a shame because Lee Child’s books lend themselves well to film, yet after a great start their cinematic adaptations seems to have stumbled somewhat. Perhaps a TV show on cable would be a more suitable medium.