JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK
Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Aldis Hodge, Holt McCallany, Madalyn Horcher, Robert Knepper, Robert Catrini, Austin Hébert
MPAA Rating: (for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements)
Running Time: 1:58
Release Date: 10/21/16
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 20, 2016
What we know about Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) from his previous cinematic adventure is, well, not much. His primary characteristic is an ability to fight with brutal precision, maintaining a cool demeanor even when he's breaking his opponents' limbs. He's also a man of his word. In Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Reacher flings himself—and, in the process, a bad guy—off the roof of a building, just so he has a chance to keep a promise involving broken limbs. That's dedication. It's dedication to brutality, but it's still dedication, nonetheless.
That's what we know about this character. Everything else about him is a secret, which is probably good for him. It is definitely convenient for plots such as the one in the previous movie, as well as this one. There's no need to illuminate anything about the main character, because he exists to unravel the threads of the plot, and Reacher is cold and calculating enough not to let anything or anyone stand in his way of doing that.
We also know that he has a sizeable misanthropic streak, as one would expect from someone who plans to break someone's arms and legs, tells the person that, and then puts himself through a perilous fall to do it. The best a person can get from Reacher, it seems, is either skepticism, which he saves for people who want to help him (because he doesn't need help) or situations in which a whooping would draw more attention than he wants, or formality, which he uses for the select few in the military who still look up to him. Reacher is a loner. He's dedicated to that state of being, too.
This sequel sets out to challenge one of Reacher's established qualities. In case the bit about our hero promising to and, inevitably, setting out to break a villain's arms and legs hasn't sunk in yet, it's not Reacher's brutality that's challenged here.
Our first introduction to Reacher in this movie comes with him sitting in a roadside café, calm and disaffected as a group of men lie beaten and groaning in the parking lot outside. After turning the tables on a corrupt Sheriff ("If it were up to me," Reacher says to the guy, "I'd kill you"), the next beat has Reacher making friendly, almost flirtatious talk with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), the Military Police officer who has taken over his former post and helped with the arrest of the criminal lawman. Reacher even asks her out to dinner, when he finally gets around to hitchhiking to Washington, D.C.
When he does arrive at his old command post, Reacher discovers that Turner has been arrested on charges of espionage. Obviously, he's not going to let that stand, and just as obviously, there's a conspiracy in motion that has made Reacher and Turner targets for elimination.
It's the usual stuff, and the plot, about a military contractor involved in some shady dealings in Afghanistan, really feels rushed and secondary, with pieces of the mystery seeming to come out of nowhere. The plot is, of course, just the backdrop to put Reacher in situations in which he gets to show off his fighting skills in sometimes absurd ways. A prison break, in particular, seems to break all of the rules director Edward Zwick goes to great lengths to establish: All of those automated locks and doors, as well as security cameras and guards, mean nothing, because Reacher can punch his way out of the place. The primary difference between Reacher and your typical action hero is that he gets all of his one-liners out of the way before the fisticuffs begin.
The screenplay (adapted from Lee Child's book by Richard Wenk, Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz) introduces another challenger to Reacher's tough shell. She's Sam (Danika Yarosh), a 15-year-old whose mother filed a paternity suit with the Army against Reacher. Yes, Reacher might have a daughter, and yes, she, too, becomes the target of the relentless assassin (Patrick Heusinger) trying to clean up the loose ends of the conspiracy.
This puts Reacher in a fatherly mode of protection, a somewhat new quality for a man who seems only to protect or save others as a principled, not personal, concern. He keeps an emotional distance from the teenager, obviously, because that's his way with everyone. His concept of parental bonding is to prepare Sam for the wicked ways of the world. If there's a question about the character, it's whether Reacher's attitude is just a shell or the outward sign of something deeper. Let's just say that the movie splits the difference, giving us repeated pieces of evidence toward the latter option until the very end, when it suddenly suggests something else.
The relationships are superficial, because these women ultimately are present here to give Reacher motivations for his actions. Sam becomes a damsel in need of rescue, and in the end, Turner, who can handle herself in a fight and openly challenges Reacher's notions about the way he treats her on account of her sex, is just a potential romantic interest for the hero. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back attempts to find new layers to this character, but maybe they're simply not there.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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