Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) travels to Washington, D.C. to meet with Major Turner (Cobie Smulders) and lands in the middle of a conspiracy involving Afghanistan, the government and a young girl who just may be his daughter. On the run as a fugitive with Major Turner, he has to protect this girl and bring down the people out to kill him.
Tom Cruise IS The Littlest Hobo. You may very well need your (grand)parents to decode that reference, but suffice to say that the similarities between a wandering German Shepherd dog from a 1979 – 1985 kids tv series and Jack Reacher are too numerous to list. Tom Cruise is also Tom Cruise, here again playing the sort of identikit action star that was once thought to have vanished in the late ’90’s. The first Jack Reacher film from 2012 was a serviceable, lean, 70’s inspired action flick that did enough business to justify a sequel. And Cruise – who has only ever done follow-up films to his Mission: Impossible franchise until now – clearly thinks this character has legs enough to see him into his late middle age. Well, maybe, maybe not.
Starting off at the end of his previous adventure – how very Indiana Jones – a clunky plot has Reacher head off to Washington to hook-up with Major Turner, now doing his old job at his old desk in the army. Once there he discovers she has been arrested and is charged with espionage. What follows could have been put together by an automated screenplay program; there’s a shadowy private military outfit, the smuggling of arms or something else from Afghanistan, fist fights in enclosed spaces and the requisite car chases, gun fights. Add in a splash of Jason Bourne’ish parkour and big chunk of Shane Black in the form of a sparky, gobby young girl (who may/may not be his daughter in a very poorly written subplot) and a denouement in a holiday season and you’ve got something lean, mean, completely serviceable but essentially rather dull. Much like Jack Reacher himself really.
A far better title would have been “Tom Cruise: Exactly What You Expect” as, from the opening minutes, this could only be a Cruise film. His character name is mentioned so many times it becomes annoying, there are no other major stars to deflect from his personal star wattage on display and there’s plenty of that weird head tilting/nodding affectation he’s always had but which he seems to be channelling Tourette-style these days. But as it’s a Tom Cruise film you also get total commitment to scenes, especially those involving running, fighting or running and fighting. And sitting down to exactly what you expect is, always has been, comforting and secure, in just the same way that going to your favourite takeout week in, week out and ordering the same dishes each time is. There are no surprises here, just Cruise playing Cruise. And that’s both a recommendation and a criticism at the same time.
Cruise’s face barely moves, whether he’s talking, running, shooting or fighting. We’ll make no comment on that but it does serve the character rather well. Reacher is a loner, a drifter, with no ties and no patience for injustice or bullies. But that also leaves no quarter for any quips nor any humour from the man who’s in virtually every scene. There are a couple of laughs, but for the most part, this is a deadly serious, very frowny picture with little levity. Well, apart from physics-defying fights and Reacher being seemingly indestructible that is.
Cruise has never played a superhero but as both Jack Reacher and Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible franchise, he basically is one. ‘Mission has always been fantasy but the Reacher universe is more grounded in reality, which is why seeing Cruise throw men twice his weight through walls and survive what should be fatal skirmishes jars so much. The first Reacher film wasn’t so bombastic with the action scenes, but that was also rated R/15, whereas Never Go Back is a PG-13/12A. Which brings us to the ending.
It’s not really giving anything away to say that Reacher and the no.1 bad guy have a final showdown in the closing minutes; this is what you expect, this is what you get. It gets some marks for being set in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and taking place on rooftops, which rings some changes, but for a film with this rating, it is also utterly, violently brutal; perhaps too brutal for this rating if we’re honest. It also showcases Reacher’s nastier side, that of being out for vengeance alone and being thoroughly excited at the prospect of breaking arms, legs and necks. If we’d have had more of that, more shading and contrast with Reacher and the sometimes horrifically violent life he’s chosen to live, it would have made for a better film. But that would also have pushed the rating to a 15, with the resultant reduction in box office receipts, and Cruise clearly wants this to be his franchise #2.
Will we get to see Jack Reacher 3? That all depends on you dear viewer, and how many of you go see this one. But there’s clearly a voice that keeps on calling Reacher. Down the road, that’s where he’ll always be and every stop he makes, he’ll make a new friend. But Reacher can’t stay for long; just turn around and he’s gone again.