An absolutely passable, if somewhat formulaic, action sequel to a much stronger original.
Back in 2012, Tom Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie produced one of the most delightfully pulpy and entertaining thrillers in Jack Reacher. Based on the series of novels by Lee Child (and given his blessing), they shrewdly put together a film that was fun, violent and a love letter to the 90’s action film. Whilst not setting the box-office alight, it had its admirers. Fast-forward to 2016, with a new director in Edward Zwick and a trio of new writers, Tom Cruise was stepping back into the shoes of the ex-military drifter.
Based on Child’s Never Go Back entry, Reacher is on the run to uncover the truth about a government conspiracy that threatens to frame him and ally Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) for espionage and murder. Unlike the first film which cleverly deviated from a typical murder mystery to something much more thrilling, this installment, slightly disappointingly, plays pretty generically. When the first film pulled the rug from underneath us, revealing that the killer had hidden his target in a mass shooting, it came not only as a narrative shock but a breath of fresh air. I, for one, was completely thrown off by the twist and it further enhanced my enjoyment for a film which had already impressed me. This film actually opens with a great re-introduction to Reacher where he seems to have taken out several goons and he’s sipping a coffee inside the café calmly. When the Sheriff arrests him, Reacher warns that in the next 90 seconds, the phone will ring and he will be wearing the cuffs. Whilst that scene brilliantly sets the tone for Reacher’s character, the film itself doesn’t carry on in the same vain as its opening scene.
Whilst this sequel does include its own twists and turns, it never quite threatens to exceed your expectations. It’s harsh to assume it to be the screenwriters’ entire fault considering that they were working to adapt an existing source material. It is a shame, however, that they haven’t been able to maintain that surprising freshness and ingenuity. Zwick, on dual duty as writer and director (like McQuarrie in the original) along with Marshall Herskovitz and Richard Wenk, don’t show enough ambition between them to elevate the material. Considering the fact that when you look at Wenk’s previous work in particular, which includes The Expendables 1&2, The Equalizer and The Mechanic, it’s fair to say that it doesn’t come at much a surprise.
Having previously helmed the fantastic, sweeping period epic The Last Samurai which also included Tom Cruise as the main protagonist, Zwick showcased his skills at shooting large scale action, as well as the ability to capture the quieter and more intimate scenes. It’s a shame that, just like the writing, the direction doesn’t really stretch to even match the first. There were sequences that McQuarrie shot where you’d genuinely think ‘wow, that was fantastic’. The car chase scene, in which Cruise did nearly all the stunt driving, was brilliantly realistic and gleefully thrilling. The opening sequence, which was shot through the sniper lens, was unbearably tense and spine tingling. Bar maybe the final 10 minutes or so where the action has the backdrop of a Halloween street carnival in New Orleans, everything here is shot pretty workmanlike. None of the sequences in Never Go Back standout as particularly exciting or interesting.
Despite proving himself as a capable director, Zwick shoots everything in what can only accurately be described as a ‘nuts and bolts’ fashion. The action is shot in the typically fast moving, heavily edited and littered with quick cuts manner. The scenes where the characters share dialogue is primarily shot with tight close-ups of their faces and never really does anything interesting. In fact, what prevents the action from slipping into complete mediocrity is the consistently strong score from Henry Jackman, who recently has failed to disappoint. It only comes as a shame considering that he has such respected works such as Blood Diamond, Glory and the aforementioned The Last Samurai under his belt, we know that he’s much better than what we are witnessing.
There was uproar when it was originally announced that Tom Cruise, the 5’7″ action star, was to portray the character Lee Child had described as 6’5″ with a monstrous build. To almost everyone’s delight, despite the difference in appearance, Cruise confidently captured the essence of the stoic and mysterious drifter with a skill for violence and a man sharp of mind. Returning, nothing that Cruise had previously done so well in the original has faded and he continues to subvert expectations and continues in undeniably charismatic fashion. The original had many brilliant actors bursting from the seams, including Richard Jenkins, Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo and the terrifying Werner Herzog. Whilst none of them returned, Cobie Smulder’s does rather well in filling in the shoes of someone who sees themselves as Reacher’s equal. The chemistry, whilst different than the one with Pike, is believable and works out well. The introduction, also, of Danika Yarosh as a teenager who could be Reacher’s daughter, is also a fine addition.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016), directed by Edward Zwick is distributed by Paramount Pictures. Certificate 12A.