Friday, 21 October 2016

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back review

I really liked the first Jack Reacher movie. I have never read the books, but I enjoyed that movie. There were flaws, but overall it felt like a fun throwback to the hard-bitten action flicks of the seventies, with a strong vein of humour, some fun action and a terrifically terse performance from Tom Cruise to recommend it.

When I heard there was going to be a sequel, I was pretty keen.

The plot is pretty straightforward: Jack Reacher (Cruise) gets dragged into action when his successor (Colbie Smulders) at his old unit is arrested for espionage and he in turn is accused of murder.

After breaking her out of jail, Reacher has to go on the run to clear her name AND rescue the girl who MIGHT be his daughter before the bad guys kill them.

Boy, this movie is a letdown. Chris McQuarrie, whose duties on Mission: Impossible prevented him from coming back, is sorely missed. He has a handle on pared down, hardboiled thrillers and this movie proves how hard it is to achieve.

Ed Zwick is not known for his genre fare. He's made his bones on movies that trade in genre tropes but stretch for greater dramatic weight. For a good example, check out Glory, for a bad example, pretty much everything else he's ever done.

To boil it down, Zwick is a little too high-bar for this kind of material, and his lack of investment is evident onscreen. The plot never really comes into focus, the villains are extremely mediocre, and Cruise's Reacher, once so taciturn and uncompromising, comes off as a bit of an oaf here.

Cruise still knows what he's doing -- he flings out what few one liners he has with precision, and is still believable in the action sequences -- but the movie around him is flabby and confused.

Here Zwick fails him, with confusing editing and hand held camera work that turns most of Reacher's brawls into chaotic melanges of fists and faces. The one set piece that works, and feels the most like the original film, is the one where Zwick plonks the camera down and lets Cruise do his thing -- swaggering through a crowded airplane to surreptitiously dispatch of two thugs.

Colbie Smulders is fine as Cruise's partner Turner, but her character always feels one script draft away from being really memorable. She's not a damsel in distress (we'll get to that one soon), and she has agency, but there's something iffy about her backstory and motivations that make it hard to really invest in her story.

As Reacher's potential offspring, Danika Yarosh is fine but forgettable. Not her fault but that whole subplot rings hollow -- we've only known Reacher for one movie and suddenly we expected to be emotionally invested. Reacher's a cypher and there just isn't enough characterisation there to make that storyline interesting. If this was Cruise's fourth or fifth movie as Reacher, then this bit of backstory might have made for a good movie, but here it feels wedged in and unnecessary. The character just ends up being a hostage for the third act, and you can see it coming a mile away. If the movie had just been about Reacher and Turner, maybe the movie would work better.

The villains and their plan are the real problem. Robert Knepper and Patrick Heusinger are pretty weak sauce and colourless. Heusinger at least gets to play a character who is more physically capable than Reacher -- that adds a certain tension to their scraps, but other than that, neither is all that interesting. Knapper is barely onscreen, and his weaselly industrialist is never that imposing or threatening. The movie needed more of a threat and a sense of stakes -- there's a lack of tension that just bogs the movie down in between the set pieces, and as already outlined, those are not staged to a standard that would make up for the deficiencies of the plot. 

Overall, while not terrible, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a pretty underwhelming follow-up to a decent thriller. If there is another instalment, hopefully Cruise finds the right creative team (ala his other franchise gig) to get this series back on track. 

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