By Joe Hammerschmidt
Four years ago, Tom Cruise delighted audiences and critics with his portrayal of Lee Child’s legendary literary character Jack Reacher. As the book series has grown in popularity, so too has that 2012 film, which made a sequel all the more inevitable. The question is, was it necessary? Unless you’re really, really into the books and/or the previous feature, no it was not. But we got it, and Cruise saved the ship, just barely. Reacher, once a decorated Army major, now freelance PI and drifter, continues his unique crusade for justice, assumedly not taking much of a break in the four-year span. After a long wait, his chance meeting with old boss Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) comes with a price: she is accused of treason, and he is pulled back into active duty. With the surprise enlistment of young, plucky Samantha (Danika Yarosh), the trio work to prove Turner’s innocence and uncover a massive government cover-up none of them may ever see coming.
Aside from viewing parts of Glory in 8th grade, this was my first time viewing a film helmed by Edward Zwick, also co-writer with frequent collaborators Richard Wenk and Marshall Herskovitz. Knowing the credits bearing his name, it does seem like a large tragedy. Seeing his style stack up against Christopher MacQuarrie, however, the results were almost jarring; less of a sequel, far more of a singular standalone film with only one returning character. Whereas the first Reacher was a straightforward action adventure, this is more a feel-bringing action drama; the difference between the two is hard to ignore. Bad guys are unremarkable, scenery fails to draw attention, and the very idea of Reacher having a daughter he never knew about (Samantha) was enough to push this effort into the territory of “absolute ridiculousness”.
Yet somehow, Cruise maintains his natural charm and now-natural Dad-like quality to the Reacher character, slightly more so then in the original. Zwick easily extracted that side of the actor as much as I’ll assume he did in “The Last Samurai.” A friend had told me before going into the screening this could easily have been “Tom Cruise AS Tom Cruise, yet again.” Luckily, I could prove him half-wrong. When at work, Reacher’s still quiet and oftentimes emotionless. Otherwise, he cares a little more knowing he has close friends he’s required to protect. His pairing with Smulders should have ran its course sooner, but Zwick maintained a strict balance behind it, not allowing the flow to grow tree-sappy.
The casting saves the overall effort from falling into meaningless drivel, a pit where most action movies die on the fall of discerning audiences. They should not fear, a hero they respect has returned onto the screen, and his trials still speak to all action fans in the form of a winner. Yet with me, it’s a near-loss that it still couldn’t cross over enough of the fun in its predecessor. End of the day, “Never Go Back” is sub-standard; Cruise delivers yet again, as we await something bigger, perhaps big enough to either not go back to Reacher, or up the game even more next time. (C+)
“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is rated PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements), and is currently playing at most area theaters. 118 minutes.