Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Edward Zwick's functional, pacey thriller is dependably brutal - and more than a touch predictable

 

Words  Greg Taylor

Edward Zwick’s thriller delivers on stripped back fight scenes and appealing characters, but stumbles over its own predictable narrative. For this action sequel, the clue is in the title.

Jack Reacher is the taciturn poster boy of the white man’s mid-life crisis. He’s hard-as-nails (but seems to only eat only junk food), off-the-grid, a hit with the ladies and utterly unfettered by family or responsibility beyond his own compulsion to right wrongs and beat heads. As played by Tom Cruise, a far cry physically from the protagonist of Lee Child’s popular source novel, he’s relentless, humourless, dependably brutal and now the focus of a surprising second movie after 2012’s forgettable Jack Reacher performed solidly, if unspectacularly, at the box office.

This sequel finds uber-decorated ex-army renegade Reacher up to his neck in military conspiracy when a major he’s never met, but is pursuing for a date, is arrested for espionage. Smelling foul-play Reacher busts her out of jail with characteristic lack of subtlety, and after picking up an implausibly-introduced teenage girl who may be the daughter he never knew he had, goes on the run to solve the mystery, stay ahead of the forces out for his blood, batter those responsible, and maybe even make some emotional connections with his new, ready-made family unit.

Director Edward Zwick, au fait with directing sweeping epics like Legends of the Fall (1995) and The Last Samurai(2006), goes back-basics here, doing a fine job of delivering the very definition of a generic, low-fi action film befitting his defiantly unshowy hero. Reacher is never shy about introducing his elbow to a face or his boot to a stomach, and the film’s multiple fight scenes – involving non-descript henchmen and an incompetent assassin (Patrick Heusinger) who preens like a psychotic Wham! reject – are crunchy if samey, but at least the simple and unambitious editing means you can actually tell who is hitting who. In many ways it’s the anti-Mission Impossible, Cruise’s other franchise, with spectacular set-pieces, explosions and fantasy tech all stripped back in favour of a colourless, functional but pacey old-school thriller.

Cruise, of course, is Cruise and it’s impossible to doubt his commitment to his work or audience. He, like Reacher, is a consistently dependable stalwart and as magnetic as ever.

What the film lacks in giddy spectacle it makes up for in its appealing characters. Major Turner, the recipient of Reacher’s heroics, as played by How I Met Your Mother star Cobie Smulders is every bit as tough as her rescuer – resourceful, intelligent and rejecting of the tropes that would have playing out the film as Reacher’s support, relegated to the mother role and swooning in his arms. She gets to dole out thumpings, drive dangerously, and teach teenage Samantha (Danika Yarosh, impressive in her first major movie role) how to take down assailants. An entertaining foil to Turner and Reacher with all the attitude and resilience of her apparent father, Samantha’s presence bring the taciturn toughies out of their shells, add a touch of much-needed levity to the slightly plodding plot, and even aim for an emotional kick that is inevitable, if underwhelming. Cruise, of course, is Cruise and it’s impossible to doubt his commitment to his work or audience. He, like Reacher, is a consistently dependable stalwart and as magnetic as ever.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the kind of action movie that nostalgics lament isn’t made any more, then turn their nose up at when it’s put in front of them. There is an unchallenging pleasure in watching a well-made, predictable thriller that puts a charismatic megastar like Cruise through their paces, letting him run like the wind, kick asses half his age, and save the world. Whether there’s enough pleasure to guarantee a third film will depend on how many of those middle-aged male fantasists make it to the cinema for a second round with their gruff, kill-hungry, and not-quite-outdated hero.

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