The title says it all.
2012’s Jack Reacher wasn’t an exceptional film, but it was a solidly entertaining, low-stakes action film that worked because star Tom Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie knew what they were doing. Their work together was strong enough for McQuarrie to take the reins on Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, which ended up being a high point for that series and resulted in McQuarrie being the first director to be brought back for a follow-up M:I film.
So where does that leave Jack Reacher: Never Go Back? In the hands of another former Cruise collaborator, The Last Samurai director Edward Zwick, who simply isn’t cut out for directing an action film, let alone writing for a character who’s supposed to be unlikable like Jack Reacher. While Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher notoriously lacks the imposing height of Lee Child’s books, he’s otherwise a rough badass who isn’t sympathetic but is always compelling, at least based on the first film. So what does Zwick do? He gives Reacher a possible daughter to soften him up.
As the film opens, Reacher is still a drifter of sorts, performing random acts of justice across the country. He’s developed a bit of a flirtatious relationship over the phone with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), though, and he’s decided to stop through Washington, D.C. for a date. He arrives, though, to find that she’s been arrested by military police for espionage after soldiers under her command were killed. Reacher also discovers that he’s been named in a paternity suit as the father of 15-year-old foster kid Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh). Realizing that they’re all in danger, Reacher rescues both Turner and Samantha, then proceeds to run with the two in tow.
Part of this film works, namely the pairing of Reacher and Turner. That’s less due to the script, which saddles both of them with corny dialogue, and more to the chemistry between Cruise and Smulders. Turner is a no-nonsense badass herself, and Smulders makes it clear that she can take care of herself. But the rest of the film falters significantly compared to the previous film. The inclusion of a smart-mouthed kid is never a good idea, but using the kid to make Reacher a little softer? That’s a horrible idea. And while it would be hard to compare to Werner Herzog, who played Jack Reacher‘s villain, there’s nearly nothing given to make Robert Knepper’s villain motivated. And Patrick Heusinger, as the main assassin trailing Reacher and Turner, manages to make the first film’s charisma-free Jai Courtney look compelling.
Jack Reacher did well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel, but not exceptionally. The film itself was good enough to make a sequel something I wanted to see, though, so watching Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a true disappointment. It’s rough enough to potentially kill this franchise, which is a shame. With the right writer/director on board, this is a franchise that could continue for a while, rather than end two films in.