Four years ago, author Lee Child's popular crime drama character, Jack Reacher, was lifted off the pages of his novel and personified on screen. People complained that Hollywood powerhouse Tom Cruise was too diminutive to embody the large-than-life persona of the inked version of Reacher, but Cruise proved he had what it takes to make it work, and the 2012 film Jack Reacher was enough of a success to make a sequel a reality. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back isn't exactly a continuation of the first film; it's more of another story in the journey of the titular character.
Honestly, I don't know much at all about the character beyond the first film, this film, and the filmmakers and Child himself talking about the character. I was surprised to learn in the special features for Never Go Back that, not only is this indeed an adaptation of another one of Child's novels, but that it was published back in 2014 -- two years after the first film released. It became a huge hit and was apparently Child's best reviewed book up until then, so when the plan for a sequel was kicked around, this title was quickly selected. And that also had a lot to do with how different the story is for Reacher. For example, even with just comparing the two existing films, the 2012 entry had Reacher appear as some kind of living legend. They talked about him like he was this feared ghost or myth (kind of like The Black Pearl in Pirates of the Caribbean). The story was also told as much through the eyes of Rosamund Pike's character was it was Reacher's. And the film didn't even open on Jack; it opened with the murder mystery that would drive the story, and characters talking about it. Reacher was covered in a veil of mystery. Never Go Back, the film, opens with that mysteriousness gone, and it picks up at the tail end of whatever Reacher's previous adventure was, showing the scene that's in the trailer for the film (Where police find a bunch of beaten up guys writhing on the ground outside a diner where Reacher sits, beaten but victorious). From here, the story follows Reacher, and is told largely through his eyes. And, from the start, there's a much different feel to this follow-up story.
At the risk for being a little spoilery, I was surprised at the directions the story took. I suppose if I'd read the book, it wouldn't come as a surprise, but none of the promotional materials lead me to believe it'd be anything other than the kind of one-man show the first film was. This time around, early on, Reacher is told he has a daughter from a woman who filed to collect child support from him. Jack then seeks out this possible child of his and, in doing so, accidentally makes her a target. And in his efforts to save the wrongfully accused Major Susan Turner, the three end up hitting the road together. It creates a quirky dynamic for Reacher and for the film, but it messes with the tone of the film. It's the kind of scenario that should generate a lot of humor - a la Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Indy is forced to drag his father along on his travels - and while there are some funny moments, the movie has a tension that's created by not realizing the humor herein. (I'm sure some talented YouTube editor could cut together a trailer using these scenes and make this movie look like an action comedy.) Where Cruise's own Knight and Day was a fully self-aware action comedy, Never Go Back just kind of is awkward in these moments. It's one of those things where choosing to avoid this unintentional tension would have made for a better end result. Still, I must add, it makes for some surprisingly emotional moments in the movie - particularly at the end - that, as the filmmakers say, kind of sneak up on you because it's a slow-build throughout the course of the film.
As a film, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a good action thriller, but I have to admit it isn't as expertly crafted as the first film. I've rewatched the first one a couple times since first seeing it and reviewing it in 2013, and I've grown to appreciate and enjoy that film with each subsequent viewing. It's quite possible that Never Go Back will improve with future viewings, but compared to its predecessor, I feel as though it just doesn't offer the tension and suspense of the 2012 film. It also just feels like a much different film. I tend to like sequels to at least feel part of the same series without repeating itself, and I struggle with sequels that tend to go a completely different direction with a different feel. Fans want SOME continuity - whether in story or tone - without it feeling like a retread. That's a really tough thing to pull off, admittedly, but Never Go Back has a different director and composer, for starters, despite still having Cruise as the star and producer. I suppose this isn't anything new, however, since Cruise's own Mission: Impossible movies feel different from movie to movie, with a different director each time.
I must add that one of the biggest drawbacks to the film for me is the character of Samantha - the "is she or isn't she?" daughter of Jack. I don't suppose it's entirely the actress Danica's fault, but she's rather irritating in the film, especially early on when everything out of her mouth is saturated with attitude. She brings a dynamic that isn't entirely welcomed for this franchise (at least, not by me). Recalling my analogy from earlier, I know some original Raiders of the Lost Ark fans didn't like Last Crusade for the reason that it involves his father and is more comedic, but that was also the third film in the franchise. With this being just the second film, I'm not sure it needed to shake things up so much already. Cobie Smulders is good as Major Turner, but the fact that she's got elements of being a female version of Reacher creates a few gender discussions and tension that just really isn't necessary or welcomed. Reacher wants to do things alone, and when he sidelines Turner in one scene with the task of looking after Sam while he goes out looking for the bad guys, she immediately jumps to the defense that she can do anything he does, despite him being a man and her being a woman. And with all the drama in our culture right now, it'd be nice to just enjoy an action film like this without having to witness yet another argument over this topic being brought up. (Isn't that what Facebook is for?)
The content for the movie is about as rough as the first film. The villain kills a few characters in a pretty brutal fashion, literally punching a man in the face to death (the end result is done off screen), shooting people multiple times to death (some of it off screen) or beating a man to death with the base of a telephone just outside of the frame. We also see two separate instances of a man's arm being bent backwards (in a way it's not supposed to go), and a few brutal hand-to-hand fights that end badly for people each time. One such scene shows the villain grabbing a police officer's gun and shooting another officer while it's still in the first officer's hand, and then turning the gun on the officer themselves and shooting them in the head (it's not bloody, but we do see this). Another brutal fight has a man's head being snapped back as their neck is broken, with one final hit to their face killing them. Other content includes the start of the "F" word ("What the fff--") and a handful of other language, including blasphemy, and some dialog where Samantha asks if Reacher and Turner are sleeping with each other, and other similar remarks.
When I reviewed the first film, I wondered if repeat viewings would give Jack Reacher a more lasting impression, and I found that to be the case. I even rewatched it again before watching Never Go Back for the first time as a refresher and I still felt a little disappointed with this sequel. Maybe repeat viewings over time will help it, as expectations have subsided, but after just one viewing, I have to say that Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is an entertaining sequel, but a rather unsatisfying one. I'm hoping Cruise does go back to the Reacher role at least once more to give the character a better send-off.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 1/28/17)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is available on single disc DVD, in a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack, and in a 4K/Blu-Ray/Digital HD combo pack. It was also released two weeks early via the usual digital movie providers.
The Blu-Ray combo pack comes with an insert booklet that is an illustrated short story by Lee Child, called "Everyone Talks." It's cool that, if you've never read anything by Child, you can get a taste of his written work in actual paper form (and not just digitally) with this release.
Along with the short paperback insert are the following extras on the Blu-Ray disc:
Reacher Returns (11:31) - Tom Cruise talks about the character of Reacher regarding both of the movies, as well as how their selection process went when choosing this book to make into a film next. They also talk about how the movie opens with the phone-driven relationship he has with Turner that started in the book 61 Hours and continues in this story. There's also some great behind-the-scenes footage. (1 "S" word)
An Unexpected Family (14:31) focuses on Cobie and Tom's chemistry and how that affects Reacher's character. It also talks about Cobie's character, Turner, and the training the actress underwent to prepare for the character. It also talks about Reacher's relationship with Samantha and how that affects the story and changes the dynamic.
Relentless: On Location in Louisiana (25:46) is all about the various locations they chose to shoot in in Louisiana. They filmed at a real airport, showing us some on-set footage from there. They also show some of the car chase filming with Tom doing his own driving, and they show us how they staged their own parade on the New Orleans streets and filled the scenes with extras and locals.
Take Your Revenge First: Lethal Combat (12:42) - This featurette focuses on the fight in the film, covering Cobie Smulder's fights and training, shooting the kitchen fight, working with the stunt coordinator, and the specific fight style used in the film.
No Quarter Given: Rooftop Battle (8:13) - While in New Orleans, they got the idea to stage the finale on the rooftops. We see glimpses of the in-studio rooftop set, and then get an unexpected treat of the last day of filming after the big fight and some toast speeches from the director and Cruise.
Reacher in Focus: with Tom cruise and Photographer David James (8:33) - This is a neat addition that pays homage to Tom Cruise's longtime (and favorite) still photographer, David James. David talks about working with Tom through the years, photographing Tom at the very top of the tallest building in Dubai on the Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol set, as well as training his daughter to follow in his footsteps. It ends with Tom bringing out a cake for David on the set of Never Go Back to celebrate David's 75th birthday.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 1/28/17)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: We briefly see Turner in her bra and Reacher without a shirt as they're in a hotel after a fight with The Hunter; Samantha asks Turner if she's gay because she's a soldier. Turner says there are some and it's okay, but she's not. She then asks her if she's sleeping with Reacher. She then says that they're just friends, then Sam asks if they're "friends with benefits;" We briefly see a miscellaneous woman in a bikini dancing in the streets of New Orleans; In two separate scenes, we see Turner in just her bathrobe (it's not sexual, although in one instance, Turner flirts with Jack about what his intentions with her would have been if they'd had a normal dinner night. He says they'd go back to her place); A girl flirts with an officer who shoos her away and she laments not getting "a taste." We quickly learn she was paid to do it to plant a phone on him; Jack says he tends to remember the women he sleeps with.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 incomplete "F" word, 11 "S" words, 1 "J-sus Chr-st," 2 "g*dd*mn," 1 "J-sus," 3 "G-d," 7 "h*ll," 1 "d*mn," 2 "b*tch," 2 "a" word, 1 "*ssh*le," 1 "pr*ck," 1 "d*ck," 2 "d*ckhead," 1 "sucks," 1 "p*sser," 1 "cr*p," 1 "balls"; Sam gives Reacher the middle finger
Alcohol/Drugs: A comment is made about a guy hanging out wherever there is dope; Turner and Reacher visit an abandoned warehouse filled with strung out junkies while looking for a witness. The witness has dark track marks up and down his arms; Some drugs are uncovered hidden in a shipment.
Blood/Gore: We see blood on Jack's knuckles, cheek, and shirt as he sits in a diner; We see some blood on a man's head after Jack punches a man through the driver side car window; A man who's strapped to a chair has blood on his head and shirt; There's a little blood when Hunter shoots a cop; Turner has a bloody nose and Reacher has a bloody cut on his cheek and his head after the brawl in the restaurant kitchen; We see some bruises on Turner's body when she walks around a hotel room in pants and a bra; Reacher comes upon a man's dead body with some blood on it. We then see a dead woman in a similar state, slumped over with some blood on them; There's a little bit of blood when Hunter beats a man to death with the base of a desk phone; We see some blood on a man's cheek; Blood smears on an airplane bathroom wall as a man Jack has just punched slides down it; A man Turner and Reacher talk to has dark track marks up and down his arms; There's some blood on a man's shirt when he's shot; We see blood as a man is shot; Both Jack and Hunter have blood on their faces after and during a fight.
The movie opens with a bunch of beaten-up guys laying on the ground of a parking lot; With a salt shaker in his fist, Jack punches through a car window and knocks out the driver and pulls a gun on the passenger; We see a flashback of two soldiers being shot (not bloody) from someone off camera; We see a man strapped to a chair who's been interrogated and has a bloody face. The camera pans away as the attacker continues to repeatedly punch him in the face; Jack hits an officer and throws him into a a top bunk, knocking him out; Jack attacks two men who enter Turner's cell and she's forced to fight them as well. A man is tazed while Turner hits one with a night stick; Turner and Reacher enter a kitchen and yell for the workers to get out, so they start throwing stuff and knocking it over to scare them out. A fist fight and gun battle break out with "The Hunter." At one point, Hunter grabs a police officer and makes them shoot their partner and then forces their own gun on themselves and shoots them in the head; Jack twists a man's arm while threatening him; Reacher and Turner find a dead man and then we see "Reacher vision" where he imagines how it happened and we see the man shot in a flashback. They then come upon a dead woman and we see the same thing about her; Samantha comes at Reacher with a knife; Hunter hits a man with the base of a desk phone, knocking him over. He then repeatedly beats him (off screen) with the base as the scene cuts away. We later learn the victim died; Jack punches a man in his seat and then steps on his foot as he leaves; Jack opens an airplane bathroom door and repeatedly hits the man inside, knocking him out; Jack is surrounded by guys intending to beat him up. The fight breaks out when he hits one in the face with a crane that's hanging down nearby. He continues to fight and hit them and, at one point, bends a guy's arm visibly backwards. The fight for a gun and he ends up shooting a few of them; Turner smashes a man's head into a table top; In a flashback, we see an explosion when a military jeep blows up, and people getting shot up. We see The Hunter shoot 2 people and then again after they go down; We see a random, creepy Halloween commercial featuring a scary girl bursting through a door (which startles Sam who's watching it); A man is shot; There's a big gunfight where a car is shot up and some people are wounded or killed. A big explosion engulfs man; Jack recklessly drives through the streets and runs over some fences; A man grabs Sam and Turner fights a man with a pipe and strangles him till she breaks his neck; Jack pushes a man off roof so his face hits the corner of a roof of another building as he falls; Jack tackles a man off a roof. He keeps kicking Jack while he's down. They shake off the stunned feeling of having fallen and begin to fight; Jack bends a man's arm backwards and then cracks him in the back of the neck. Reacher then finishes him off with a hit to the face and drops his body off the roof.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.