I actually didn’t see the first one when it came out, but I caught it online a couple weeks before the sequel came out. Anyone who knows me really well knows I ain’t gonna come into a franchise midway through its lifespan. I’m going in from the very beginning. So quick review of the first film, I really liked it. It was fun, intense, pretty funny, and bad-ass. This looks to be no different, just a fun, awesome action flick, except trading out Rosamund Pike with Cobie Smulders. Not a bad idea, Smulders has been a capable action woman in the past thanks to her turns in the Marvel universe and has some serious dramatic acting chops, so she might even be an upgrade by comparison to Pike, no offense to her considering she’s the superior actress. But whatever, talent is talent and a fun action movie is a fun action movie.
Well let’s take a look at the cast. Tom Cruise is a reliable energy in whatever film he’s in, from the Mission: Impossible franchise, to TOP GUN (1986), MINORITY REPORT (2002), and so on and so forth. Say what you want about the man himself… who is very weird… he’s an entertaining enough actor to pull a movie through, whether a part of an ensemble cast, or soloing it. Smulders is wonderful, both as an action gal (THE AVENGERS ), a funny woman (TV show HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER), and even a dramatic actress (THE INTERVENTION ). If her name’s attached to a film, instant interest.
Now for behind the scenes. Directing and co-writing is Edward Zwick, known for PAWN SACRIFICE (2015). Zwick’s partners-in-pen are Richard Wenk and Marshall Herskovitz. Wenk is known for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) and THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012). Herskovitz is known for LOVE & OTHER DRUGS (2010) and THE LAST SAMURAI (2003). The man behind the music is Henry Jackman, known for THE BIRTH OF A NATION (2016). Finally the cinematographer is Oliver Wood, known for BEN-HUR (2016).
I’m looking forward to this. I think it’s going to be more or less the same as the previous. I just want to hear funny one-liners, awesome action, and Smulders. Smulders is a perfect cup of kick-ass cup of sugar for any flick to have. So let’s get to it.
This is my honest opinion of: JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is at it again, still kicking ass and taking names, all while making his way to Washington D.C., helping a contact in D.C., Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). Seeking to meet her in person, he arrives just in time to discover that Susan was arrested for selling military secrets. Refusing to believe that she’d do anything like that, made only more suspicious when Susan’s attorney is murdered and he’s framed for it. But when he’s taken into custody, it doesn’t take long for him to escape and locates Susan and together they escape trying to figure out what happened, all the while protecting a fifteen-year-old girl named Samantha (Danika Yarosh) believed to be Jack’s daughter.
I have to say, this movie is much improved, but be forewarned, it’s not much of an action film.
Let me elaborate on that statement. What do you think of when you think “action” movie? Something in the vein of THE EXPENDABLES (2010), right? Mindless gun-play, explosions, tons of violence, bulging muscles, gratuitous boobs and asses, the works. JACK REACHER (2012) certainly had a few of those, which made it bad-ass. NEVER GO BACK, however, is a lot more subdued in its action. Because of the inclusion of Sam, some serious character development was necessary. That’s the direction this was taken: making Jack a more fleshed out character. It’s fine for one movie to have a leaning toward more action than story or character development, especially if it’s the pilot to a franchise, but after awhile, the mindlessness becomes repetitive and audiences will need something more. Character development feels like the natural progression and that’s what this movie does best. Don’t get me wrong, there is action in this movie and it’s as awesome as the previous film, but they’re a little further apart this time around. But in this case, it’s not a bad thing.
One of the opening scenes is damn near on par with STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE (1977). Remember Luke’s line, “My father never fought in the Clone Wars”? That one half of a line became a splinter of maddeningly unknown information that wouldn’t be answered for another twenty-five years (much to the dismay of many fans). Point is, for years people wanted to know what the Clone Wars were. There’s a scene where Susan is on the phone with Jack and we learn that Jack was once a Major in the army, and later a highly respected officer, for better or worse. Susan asks him, “Why did you leave the army?” He says, “Let’s just say, one day, I put on the uniform and it didn’t fit.” I was so beyond curious, and although the question isn’t answered in this movie, it’s clear the story wants to move in that direction to answer it in a possible sequel. Not gonna lie, totally down for that.
Jack never forgets being intense and an occasional asshole, but you do see this paternal side to him when he’s around Sam and it’s really adorable. Sam does start off as a cliché angry teen, but thank god that the writers had the foresight to make her actually contribute to the action and does help Jack and Susan progress through the story. Plus, it is pretty clever that their father/daughter relationship is pretty organically developed and not too forced. I mean, you can tell with lines, like, “That was stupid of you to go out without protection! Go to your room!” It’s obvious what the scene is supposed to be, but Jack isn’t shouting at Sam as her father, but as her protector, so it’s fun to see that exchange and the duality of the scene’s purpose.
I also enjoyed Susan’s contribution as the “mother” to Sam. Sam clearly likes Susan more, after all, kick ass women are awesome to younger women, but there’s more than just admiration there. Susan does teach Sam some basic self-defense, like how to disarm an opponent that has a gun to her head, those are also some pretty fun scenes.
Also, continuing the trend of well-written female characters, Susan is definitely no push over and clearly doesn’t always need rescuing (I doubt Smulders would have said “yes” to this role if that were the case) and does do her fair share of ass-kicking on par with Jack, even though a majority of the action is focused on him. It is his movie after all. But she does take charge from time to time and calls Jack out on his shit, she’s a blast as only Smulders can deliver.
Overall, this trio and how they work off each other, the varying levels of interaction, especially between Jack and Sam, is very well executed and entertaining to watch. The acting for this movie is, as you can tell, pretty spot on.
About the only real problem that I have with the movie is that the villains are pretty forgettable. I do feel like General Harkness (Robert Knepper) was added to the cast past the halfway point in the story and played an incredibly small part overall. Seriously, most audiences will identify The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger) as the movie’s antagonist, not Harkness.
But let’s talk about the closest thing to a cardinal sin that this movie has: The Hunter.
The Hunter is a pretty standard “evil version of the protagonist” kind of bad guy. This is even more frustrating, now that I think about it, because if he is supposed to be a dark counterpart, Heusinger is given very little to work with. All he does is make threats and kills other bad guys. For someone essentially built up in this way, he’s not very remarkable compared to Jack. There’s only two fixes I can think of for this. One, The Hunter can keep his nickname, but he needs to have less silly interactions, like, “You and I aren’t too different. Killing you will be a pleasure.” He needs to be almost ninja, like Jack. Second, his effects on Jack would carry more weight if their rivalry carried over into a sequel. A character this intimidating should be allowed to have a deeper effect on the protagonist, but sadly, he’s treated just slightly more than a common henchman.
Overall, I think this movie is pretty damn good. Even the ending had me choked up, and that’s rare for an action movie. While I’m sure most people will call this slower and claim its lessened action to be a downgrade, I think it’s a step-up and I really liked it. Maybe it’s not one for the ages, but I am totally open with seeing this movie a second time. If you liked the first movie, you may be disappointed with this one. But if you’re anything like me and can appreciate an action film that takes its time to deliver some deeper and more developed characters, then I think this might be for you.
My honest rating for JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK: 4/5
Upcoming reviews (apologies for the delays on them):