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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

tn_jackreacher2For some reason it’s hard to make a movie series based on a book series about some dude who has different adventures. Except for James Bond, and Jack Ryan at one point. And it tends to be only screenwriters turned directors who know this sort of thing would be cool: Brian Helgeland did a Parker book (PAYBACK), Scott Frank did a Matthew Scudder (A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES), Christopher McQuarrie did a Jack Reacher (JACK REACHER). All of these are artful takes on pulpy material, slightly elevated genre fare that’s neither generic nor ashamed to take part in a one-liner or just-how-badass-is-he speech. The latter two are really more interesting for their characters and style than for the particular mysteries they get involved in, so naturally you’re left wanting them to have a whole series of movies.

So congratulations to Jack Reacher for eking out just enough box office to justify a sequel. It feels so natural, but I honestly didn’t think it would happen.

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK is another Jack Reacher adventure. And that’s about it. Tom Cruise returns as Reacher, the preposterously talented ex-military drifter who goes from town to town getting mixed up in conspiracies that force him to deliver a long series of ass kickings and/or handings. People always think they can beat him up or shoot him or spy on him, and every damn time they will be outsmarted and overpowered. He gets surrounded by a bunch of guys, he will do a bunch of moves, bones will be broken and consciousness will be lost. He gets tailed by some pros, they will inevitably take their eyes off him for like .0000021 seconds and wait a minute where the fuck did he go OH SHIT HOW DID JACK REACHER APPEAR RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME IS HE MICHAEL MYERS OR SOMETHING.

Even if you haven’t read the books you might have heard by now that author Lee Child (who approves of Cruise in the role and cameos as a TSA agent in this one) describes him as a big hulking guy, and the movies really seem like they’d make more sense that way. Or he should at least look unsavory so that people look at him suspiciously when he’s the stranger walking along the highway probly up to no good. In the movies you see him walking into town like John Rambo but you think “Oh no, did Tom Cruise’s motorcycle break down?”

To be honest I don’t see a strong distinction between Cruise’s hyper-skilled, ridiculously-knowledgeable, heavily-connected, trained-in-all-types-of-fighting-chasing-evading-investigating-etc., always-twenty-three-steps-ahead Jack Reacher and his also-has-those-exact-qualities Ethan Hunt. Both of them always get betrayed and framed for murders and have to go off the grid and try to use old friends from within the system but don’t know who they can trust and have to wear disguises and escape from captivity and make fake IDs and steal people’s guns and climb out windows and try not to get followed and make calls and meet up somewhere and come alone don’t be followed and all that. And I think Cruise is a very good actor and movie star, but usually not the type that creates distinct characters, like the way you could hear Stallone talk, or maybe even just see him stand there, and know if he was Rocky or Rambo. You could definitely jumble up dialogue from a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and a JACK REACHER and I wouldn’t know who was who.

So Ethan Hunt is the Tom Cruise with all the fancy equipment, and the one that climbs on tall things. Jack Reacher is the Tom Cruise who stays in motels and eats at diners and hitchhikes and rides the bus. He might wear a similar jacket to what Ethan Hunt would wear, but he would wear a plaid shirt, and Ethan Hunt would not, except as a disguise. Reacher I don’t think would wear sunglasses either. So that’s pretty different.

mp_jackreacher2NEVER GO BACK refers to Reacher going back to the base where he used to work. He decides he wants to meet Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, THE AVENGERS), who he never worked with but over the phone he tipped her off about a human trafficking ring (which makes for the type of cold open I like to see in a movie about legendary badassness) and she helped him in some unspecified way. When he gets there she’s just been locked up on espionage charges that he senses are bullshit. So he gets involved, even though she thought ahead and specifically left instructions for him to stay out of it. But you know how Reacher is.

Of course it turns out that she was getting too close to some illegal activity within the military and they’re trying to get her out of the picture. Something to do with some of her men who were killed in Afghanistan. The two end up on the run together while they try to figure out who and what is behind this. Not only that, but they end up having to protect a troubled teenager named Sam (Danika Yarosh, Heroes Reborn) who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter but is being treated as such by the people out to get him. While Reacher is a throwback to the type of loner badass characters we love, the appeal of this one is definitely the family dynamic between the three. Reacher sees qualities in Sam that remind him of himself, which either makes them related or people who should be friends. He obviously likes having her around, but doesn’t have the ability to say so. It’s obvious, but sweet.

And Smulders holds her own. She’s not G.I. JANE tough but you can tell she’s been working on her biceps, she looks like she’s hitting hard and she’s convincing when barking orders. Like Reacher she has a knack for improvised weapons, whether that’s finding a meat pulverizer in a kitchen or kicking out a piece of wood from a stair rail to use as a club. Reacher finds a good use for a salt shaker.

There are several enjoyable skirmishes, including one done in secret on a crowded plane, hopefully in homage to COMMANDO.

The downside is that new director Ed Zwick (who worked with Cruise on the more accomplished THE LAST SAMURAI) is in generic, disposable thriller mode when it comes to filmatism. The fights and chases are all competent but indistinct. He gets a few good hits in, but never a knockout punch like that intense sniper scene in the first one. Without the artful precision of McQuarrie’s action direction or his refreshingly old school lack of sentimentality, this could be any lesser Liam Neeson or Jason Statham movie, the ones that you don’t regret seeing but don’t remember either.

Think about this: JACK REACHER had the brilliant stroke of casting Werner Herzog as the creepy villain. Who does the sequel cast? Lars Von Trier? Paul Verhoeven? No, Robert Knepper, same guy as HARD TARGET 2. I mean, I like him, I’m just saying it’s not as special. The primary adversary is a hired assassin credited as “The Hunter,” played by Patrick Heusinger (BLACK SWAN, FRANCES HA). He’s capable, but it’s hardly a star-making performance either. Or a “one you bring up to prove he’s not as bad as everybody says” as Jai Courtney’s was.

I have to agree with the general consensus that this is not as good as the first one. At the same time, I have to admit that as a man of a certain age, possessing a certain type of masculinity, there is a growing part of me that devours stories like this for fuel. It is the part of me that goes to matinees of almost every action movie starring Neeson, Statham, Stallone or Schwarzenegger. The part that watched Justified every week not only for its great extrapolation of Elmore Leonard themes, but as a generic male ritual, like how I imagine some people watched Walker Texas, Ranger. (I took to calling it Men’s Abbey.) I’m talking about the part of me that wasn’t mad it paid money to see THE MECHANIC: RESURRECTION, that has enjoyed a bunch of those Tom Selleck Jesse Stone movies, that is in legitimate danger of finding out about Longmire.

So I can’t be too mad about this, but I wish they did it better. You’re not gonna give us as authentic of a tough guy as the DTV and VOD movies, so you better give us something they can’t offer.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016 at 9:37 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

48 Responses to “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”

  1. I agree with your assessment Vern (saw it yesterday). It’s too bad that McQuarrie or someone equally awesome wasn’t able to do it, but there were enough good bits and pieces for the connaisseur.

    Paul Verhoeven as the lead baddie is something that has to happen though. Get to it, Hollywood!

  2. I find it quite possible to like both movies for different reasons. I enjoyed the emotionally cold, and the procedural plot of the first ( with occasional dry humour) ,as much as I enjoyed this one, which in all honestly I find slightly more engaging as it focus more on character relationships than on chain of evidence. It lacks specifically memorable scenes though and the plot is almost complelely forgettable, I think the two movies balance it out nicely together.

  3. I really want this to be an ongoing series. I hear it underperformed in the U.S., so here’s hoping that China contracts Jack Reacher fever. (I’ve been too busy to head out to the theaters recently, so I guess I’m part of the problem.) Also, if you’re into modern day Westerns, then Longmire is worth a watch.

  4. On more thing, I wouldn’t mind seeing David Lynch as the villain in the hypothetical third film. He’s already shown a penchant for acting. He can even resurrect the hard of hearing act from Twin Peaks if he likes. I don’t know if I’ve seen that gimmick used for an action movie villain yet.

  5. I just started reading the first LONGMIRE book. I’m 100 pages in and so far I’ve been privy to every meal the character’s eaten, a few showers, a morning jog, a first date, and several discussions with his secretary about appointments. Does he ever get around to, like, solving crimes or…?

  6. I enjoyed it, but it was kinda lacking something the first one had. I will say, as someone who’s read the entire Reacher series, that Cruise may not LOOK the part, but he does a good job of playing the character right.

  7. What, the lead character in LONGMIRE has a secretary? That doesn´t sound very bad ass

  8. What I meant is, if he is a Western-hero archetype drifter like Reacher, why does he need someone to schedule his own drifting. That does not sound like someone who is independant from society.

    “Mr Longmire, you are scheduled to walk into Denver next week as there is a cattle problem that needs a violent resolution. And the week after that, they are expecting you to clean up some union corruption in Detroi. I have made the reservations for the hotels you´ll be living in so you don´t have to worry about that”

    As you can tell, I hAve no prior knowledge of LONGMIRE.

  9. He’s a sheriff in a small town in modern-day Wyoming. The secretary will be like, “Hey, a secondary character who’s been off-page doing all the actual detective work called with some exposition,” which he will then listen to secondhand before going out for breakfast or something. So far it’s as exciting as it sounds

  10. I don’t want to sound too down on the book because I’m sure it gets better but good christ is it taking its sweet time getting there. I can see why it became a TV show.

  11. It sounds like there is a lot of filler.

  12. As for REACHER 2, I liked it. Zwick directs action like a guy who’s been coasting on Oscar-bait subject matter his while career and now realizes he has no clue how to inject any energy into standard genre material (his decision to show like 30 frames of black-and-white flashbacks to indicate Reacher’s thought process is the epitome of a directorial shoulder shrug) but the story and characters are strong enough that it doesn’t matter that much. And Zwick at least gets the job done when it counts, such as the action climax when Reacher fulfills to the letter a badass promise he made earlier in the picture, unlike MacQuarrie who never showed Reacher drinking anyone’s blood out of a boot.

    Unsurprisingly, Special Agent Robin Scherbatsky steals the show with a pleasantly no-nonsense performance. The shot of Cruise, cinema’s premiere solo sprinter, seen for the first time running side-by-side with a co-star who can more than keep up with him, tells us everything we need to know about her character and her dynamic with Reacher. That dynamic gets a little muddy with the inclusion of the daughter character but the little makeshift family unit they make is cute. I liked that it was one area where Reacher had no fucking clue what he was talking about.

    Not bad, but they’re gonna have to do better next time if they want to win over any doubters. I say get the RED HILL guy to direct and John Carpenter to play an evil cult leader or something.

  13. I re-read the book before seeing JACK REACHER 2: NO RETREAT, NEVER SURRENDER and I remember thinking to myself in the book that the only good stuff was the weird stuff with a hillbilly clan. The plot is one of the most boring and non-consequential to almost anything in the series , with hardly any villains to speak of and yet we have a movie that understands what may actually work if someone cleaned up the plot and actually made us care for what is going on.

    The stuff with the daughter in the book is barely there and I get the feeling that Lee Child changed his mind during the last hundred pages, because it seemed to lead to a more mellow place and then said to himself “Oh no…” and we end up with a thriller with no climactic confrontation to speak of and a resolution to a potential father/daughter relationship that never really got anywhere. The film actually deals with this pretty good.

    I actually liked the book the first time I read it, but now that I re-read it and saw the film I changed my mind.

  14. Oh, one great moment in the book is when the villains learn of how Reacher incapacitated the henchmen without alerting anyone on a commercial airline. To which one of them repsonds ” Is that even possible?” and the other says “Apparently it is”. I thought it was a humurous acknowledgent of how silly it was.

  15. I feel like Child plots these moments by badgering experts about whatever he has planned until they sigh and say “Well, I suppose it’s not IMPOSSIBLE…”

  16. I read REACHER SAID NOTHING which is basically an extended interview between a literary scholar and Lee Child troughout his process of writing MAKE ME. Child makes no outlines or any kind of treatment to where the story goes apparantly. According to this he works more intuitively, whcih can explain a lot.

  17. I agree with the consensus – this was fine; it was good. It wasn’t as good as the first one. Cruise still embodies Reacher perfectly without embodying him physically.

    One thing that I wish was handled a little better was the scene where she accuses him of treating her like she should be the one taking care of the girl and he should be the one fixing the problem because she was a woman. Reacher doesn’t have a misogynistic bone in his body. He never treats women like they can’t do something. He was acting the way he was for 2 reasons. One, he wanted her to take care of the girl because he didn’t want to do it. Two, he wanted to fix the problem because he wanted to do it. Once he gets the bit in his teeth, he’s not letting go. If he feels personally offended by someone, even if that offense was not toward him, you would have to pry that revenge out of his dead, cold hand. I wish this had been demonstrated better in the movie. I’m not sure if someone hadn’t read the books if they would’ve gotten that.

  18. I think it works, because it alludes to what you are saying, rather than stating it in an obvious line.

  19. Maggie: Also, Turner has demonstrably proven to be better at interacting with the girl than Reacher himself. If Turner had been a dude who was good with kids, Reacher would have tapped him for the babysitting gig, too. I got that but I don’t think Turner did, but that’s okay. People don’t always understand each other, especially when one of those people is someone with as little interest in being understood as Reacher.

    But you’re right, he also just didn’t want to sit there when there were asses out there that needed kicking. Which is fine when he’s lone wolf, but when he’s working with someone who’s just as capable of kicking those asses than he is, and in fact has more of a reason to be the primary kicker of those asses, he kind of needs to get over himself. I have not read this book, but one of the things I liked about the movie was that it showed more of Reacher’s flaws than usual.

  20. Speaking of flaws, how about when Reacher comes back after pummeling those dudes and Turner showing Samantha some ropes on how to defend herself. Samantha goes ” Look at this” all proud and shit and Reacher goes “If that is all you got you´d be dead”. Wow. What an asshole!

  21. I think he’s trying out some tough love but he sucks at it.

  22. The more we talk about it the more I like this movie. It is clearly more enjoyable than the book and is really strong in the characters more than the plot department, which is highly unusual for actionmovies,

  23. … and still has a higher ratio of asskicking than the first one.

  24. I too have been eyeing Longmire quite heavily

  25. Haven’t seen this yet but will out myself as a Tom Selleck is Jesse Stone fan.

  26. Those are Robert B. Parker joints, right? Is Jesse Stone less of a smug, uncool Dad Joke-making prick than Parker’s most famous creation, Spenser?

  27. Good review. It left me feeling exactly the same. I’m not in love with it like I am the books, I’m not pissed at a wasted opportunity, or even left numb by it. It’s simply a solid three star movie. And that’s not a bad thing.

    ‘He gets tailed by some pros, they will inevitably take their eyes off him for like .0000021 seconds and wait a minute where the fuck did he go OH SHIT HOW DID JACK REACHER APPEAR RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME IS HE MICHAEL MYERS OR SOMETHING.’ Reacher feels more like a monster the more I read. He’s clearly dangerous, has some control, but does look for people to go apeshit on. Not dissimilar to Chopper targeting drug dealers and claiming he was cleansing the world of scum.

  28. I am kind of curious on one thing. When the first film came along and I saw it, I had no idea of the books. Now four years later. I´ve read all the books and have built up all this internal knowledge of the character , how much that influenced my viewing of this new film.

  29. I’ve seen 3 seasons of Longmire. It’s got a rambling pace which I like, that suits Robert Taylor’s laconic Sheriff. Lou Diamond Phillips is solid. The blonde deputy is hot. I’d like to meet her someday.

    REACHER 2 was okay. I saw it last weekend on a Sunday matinee. The cinema was half full, and it was mostly middle age guys like me, and some ladies.

    Story wise, this was basically Zwick’s own COURAGE UNDER FIRE with Cruise in the Denzel role. Military cover-up, find the truth etc. Generic stuff with a few nice touches. Excellent badass opening scene in the diner, the after-the-fact display of Reacher’s prowess. I’ve been picturing that unseen diner fight in my head all week. It’s brutal. Eye-gouging with dessert spoons. Dinner plates smashing over heads. Balls getting kicked in.

    The kitchen fight did not measure up to the bathroom fight in part 1.

    Cruise was great as usual. He’s ageing, but retains his emotional intensity. Weirdly, he reminded me of Stallone in some scenes. His beefed up physique, and his age has slowed him down a bit, there’s a weariness there.

  30. I liked that Reacher got his ass kicked on occasions, as in the kitchen scene. It made the whole film feel in a different light in my opinion. Reacher was no longer this perfect machine. he could get hurt. There was a genuine threat somewhere. I liked that.

  31. Majestyk: I’ve read the Jesse Stone books up to the point of Parker’s death. I liked them. I would say, yes, he’s less smug than Spenser, which I think I stopped reading before he was done writing them, but I don’t know how many I missed. Stone is more world weary – he’s a recovering drunk and has a terrible ex-wife he can’t get over. I liked the result of him working through all of that.

    I know that they changed a lot after Parker died and another guy took over writing them. From the sound of it, I wouldn’t like those changes, so I didn’t read any of them. But, the guy that took over writing them is the guy that’s done the movies with Selleck, which I have never seen, and he changed the books to more closely match what he was doing with the movies. Do with that what you will.

    I like Longmire the show. I haven’t read the books and it sounds like I’m not missing much there. Robert Taylor is excellent in the role.

  32. Stone sounds cooler than Spenser, who was so busy trying to show off how awesome and tough and funny he was and how smart and sexy and real-womany his perfect girlfriend was and how super badass his black best friend was (Do you have a black best friend? Spenser does. Whatever, it’s not big deal.) that he was totally insufferable. Parker is a legend in the detective fiction field so I gave him several chances before I had to call it a day.

    As for the LONGMIRE book, I feel bad about reviewing a novel I haven’t finished. Plenty of books I thought I hated ended up turning it all around in the last hundred pages. There’s nothing wrong with what I’ve read so far. It’s well written and I have no doubt that these seemingly inconsequential scenes are peppered with details that will make sense later. But so far the book does not engage me. I can see how the world would have some appeal but this particular story hasn’t grabbed me yet.

  33. The JESSE STONE movies are pretty formulaic, and somewhat slow-moving. Further, they definitely feel like TV movie-of-the-week stuff. However, there is something I find comforting about Tom Selleck’s laconic, world-weary, recovering drunk shtick. And I like the score and overall atmosphere. It’s certainly more in the vein of throwback network TV movie procedural comfort food as opposed to something more edgy and cinematic like, say, TRUE DETECTIVE. I think the first of the movies is STONE COLD. I’d give it 20-45 minutes and see if you want to watch more. Or not. :)

  34. Now, see, I don’t see reacher–at least McQuarrie part 1 Reacher–as being like Ethan Hunt. They may be equally matched in terms of overall master-of-all-trades badassery, but their dispositions are quite different. Part 1 Reacher is a bit surly, kind of a shit-talker. He’s big on putting people in their places, telegraphing to them what he’s going to do to them, then doing it. He’s got a harder, anti-authoritarian edge. There’s a sense of doing things out of pure categorical imperative, duty. He seems kind of burdened, like there’s this perpetual low undercurrent of exasperation with everyone. He is not showy at all in his moves or fighting style. He’s ruthlessly efficient. At the same time, he does like mind-fucking people with his pithy little taunts or retorts. He doesn’t run a ton. He’s pretty much all close combat and investigation. He’s got tons more personality, a lot more of a dark edge, he doesn’t generally seem like he’s having fun or showing off in how he handles his business. Ethan Hunt is smiley, seems like kind of an adrenaline junkee, and it’s frankly not really clear what is motivating. He’s kind of a light-are-on-but-nobody’s-home Stepford character. He’s pretty much Tom Cruise’s public persona in a James Bond plot. Jack Reacher is like my man-crush guy. Ethan Hunt is just…a non-entity. A cinematic Ken doll.

  35. I haven’t read the JESSE STONE books, but I’ve seen all the movies with Selleck. And I like them a lot.
    I see that you all call him a recovering alcoholic – can we really say that when he drinks almost a bottle of whisky each night?

  36. If you mean by recovering alcoholic, that he recovers all the alcohol he missed out on during the day.

  37. If they get to do a third, then please let it be Bad Luck & Trouble. I want to see some elder (but not that old) badasses as Reacher’s ex Military Police team.

    But the ideal I think would be to re-cast Reacher as 35 (his age in Killing Floor I believe), Joe Maganiello would be an amazing choice, and do a series of HBO style TV movies. Most of Reacher’s stories would not really cost that much as they tend to not be too overblown in the action department. Or make it as a series, where each book is two episodes, so you could do 5 books a series, similar to what HBO and BBC are doing with the Cormoran Strike books.

    In fact, I’d love to see a story where Reacher and Strike team up to solve something, but it would only happen as fanfic unless Childs and Rowling worked together on it, which would never happen.

  38. I´ve thought in similar ways myself. But the way this film turned out, I am good with just singular films.

  39. I get that. But Cruise is too old for many more. His age is more of an issue than his stature ever was for me.

  40. Reacher is two years older than Cruise, and Cruise looks ten years younger than he really is. I don’t think age is an issue in the slightest.

  41. Couldn’t disagree with you more. Reacher started out at 35, and has aged with the release of the books. Cruise is fine for stories where Reacher is late 40s onwards, but there’s no way he could pass for a 35 year-old. As a massive fan of the books and the character, I’d personally like to see him recast in a couple of years with a younger actor.

  42. So you’d rather retrofit Reacher’s origins so that he was born in the 80s and didn’t muster out of the army in the late 90s, meaning he went to war in the early 2000s, meaning ever single thing about his history is different, rather than have a Reacher who’s the proper age for present-day Reacher because his age wouldn’t match if they decided to do an earlier book in the series? That’s crazy to me. That’s an insane storytelling priority.

  43. I am not too concerned about sticking to the books. The books have to a basic formula which is pretty flexible and I would not mind them mixing plot elements from different books like the Bond films has done.

  44. And as many “fans” claims that this is NOT Jack Reacher from the books ( or rather their dreams), then there is no reason to have a dogmatic approach to the source material.

  45. Looking forward to the reboot with Zac Efron as Reacher.

  46. Finally saw this. I had the same basic reaction as Vern, but I think I’m more frustrated. REACHER 1 was scrappy, atmospheric, and brimming over with memorable characters and interesting faces. This film has all of the atmosphere of an NCIS episode. It looks utterly generic, Cobie Smulders’s character is a complete recycle of her AVENGERS character (just amped up a bit), and putting her and REACHER together as partners in almost every scene is a fatal misstep. We lose the loner appeal and the moments alone with Reacher. The Reacher bad-ass lines feel strained and desperate. Plus, I stand by what I’ve said elsewhere about this: Tom Cruise looks terrible. Perhaps this shouldn’t matter, but being Mr. Terrific Handsome Guy is a major element of his legend and persona, and he’s on some kind of botox bender in this, and it completely takes me out of the film. He’s look fine if he could just accept aging and grow into older action hero. But he’s trying pass for early 40s, and that’s yet another bad call this film makes. Total unforced error. Finally, the villain, like the film itself, is such an utterly generic non-entity that he makes Jai Courtney look like fucking Tom Hardy.

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