As Jack Reacher: Never Go Back came to a underwhelming ending, I realize one thing about this franchise: Jack Reacher should never have made on the big screen. In every sense, Reacher (the name we hear over and over again in this movie) is a TV character on a procedural show. Even the ending of this film feels like it should be leading into a “next week, on Jack Reacher” promo. Not to say that procedural TV series are bad (loved House and NCIS, and I’ve seen just about every episode of Murder She Wrote and Columbo). But imagine one of those episodes being stretched out to almost two hours and costing an audience more than $10? That’s how I felt watching Jack Reacher.
I was surprised to learn Reacher was even given a second film. I know the character is from a series of books by Lee Child. A successful series, considering the guy sitting next to me that clearly knew this character better than I. But the original film didn’t feel like a big success. Nor did it feel like a great character fit for Cruise. Reacher seems like it calls for someone a little more weathered and world-weary than super shiny Cruise. With his glib comments throughout the movie while showing that Cruise smile, makes Reacher feel even more unlikable her0. If we’re supposed to be charmed, he wasn’t winning me over the same way a character like Ethan Hunt in the Mission Impossible movies (or his performances in Rain Man or A Few Good Men). Cruise plays cocky-swagger well, but Reacher’s gruff and meanness just makes Never Go Back a big of a drag.
The other thing making Never Go Back a drag (besides that generic title) is its severe lack of levity. There are plenty of action movies which have been a bit overly serious in tone (since the Bourne influence). But in the Jack Reacher films, like James Bond, the plots are both so convoluted and predictable, that the lack of any humor weighs down the films and forces audiences to think about what is going on. And thinking about plot holes in a movie like Jack Reacher, isn’t in the movie’s benefit.
The plot of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back concerns Reacher’s new friend, Maria Hill (from the Marvel Universe)…I mean Susan Turner played by Cobie Smulders. Playing a very similar character to her Maria Hill, proving once again with her physicality and charisma that Smulders should have more to do in the Avengers films. Turner has been arrested for espionage despite clearly being innocent because questioning your characters isn’t part of this movie. So after getting broken out of military jail by Reacher, they go on the lamb trying to prove her innocence (again, I’m not sure they even are doing that but it doesn’t really matter). A mysterious agency working with the US Military are after them.
Danika Yarosh is also a part of the action, as Samantha, a young girl being used as collateral with Reacher…in one of the dumbest workarounds a movie’s ever used to make a character heroic. Patrick Heusinger is the agency’s “hunter,” but doesn’t leave a huge impression as a character. Yarosh and Smulders are the best additions to the movie and could have anchored the movie even better if given more to do than riding along with Reacher. Smulders especially is excellent at projecting authority and with fight choreography, and when allowed to utilize those skills a joy to watch.
Unfortunately, director Edward Zwick doesn’t call on her enough and instead has Cruise performing much of the action. And the action in this movie is boring and monotonous. I would be shocked to learn this movie had been story-boarded, because it felt like the last half hour of an action-light movie is just one long, repetitive chase-fight scene between Reacher and the Hunter. The action isn’t memorable or creative throughout the entire film and the film lacks any big moments. I don’t believe every movie needs to out do the last, but a bit more time and effort with a fight choreographers and effects designers could have come up with even one sequence to make Jack Reacher stand out.
The movie doesn’t stand out at all though and what’s worse, has the feeling of a movie that feels it didn’t have to. The problem we’re facing with franchise movie overload right now is the foregone conclusion that every action film is just one piece of a larger franchise. Some of these films rise to the occasion and try to deliver every time they add to the franchise. But others simply make the franchise deposit and weight for the next. Jack Reacher doesn’t deserve a franchise…at least not a theatrical one.