I like Jack Reacher. I liked him as a book series hero, created by Lee Childs. I liked him in his first movie, released in 2012, written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. I liked it enough to forgive the casting of Tom Cruise, who looks nothing like the book Reacher, but acted very much like him (at least in 2012).
I especially like what McQuarrie and Tom Cruise have created in that first film, and in the tragically underseen Edge of Tomorrow and Mission Impossible Rogue Nation – modern, witty, smart, sharp films with gobs of entertainment value. So I had every reason to look forward to this second Jack Reacher, little knowing that the last three words of the movie’s title was actually a warning.
Although McQuarrie is listed as producer, the script was taken over by director Edward “Thirtysomething” Zwick, his partner Marshall Herskovitz, and Richard “Expendables 2” Wenk. It’s quite possible that’s the reason that Jack Reacher is not Jack Reacher in Never Go Back. Instead he’s a zombie or pod person.
The joy of Jack Reacher, and what sets him apart from most other book and movie heroes, was that he was pragmatic and honest. He said what he meant (and meant what he said), so most action movie clichés didn’t work on him. When threatened with the death of an innocent woman in the original film, he basically said “whatevs” and carried on.
There’s a scene early on in Never Go Back where you can actually see the new director/writers emasculate Reacher. As soon as a villain introduces the idea of an illegitimate daughter, I could see him go from smart to stupid, from pragmatic to petulant. And sure enough, the movie starts sinking rapidly from there on.
It’s not that they made him vulnerable and caring, they made him simply stop thinking. Things he should have (and used to) easily predict and plan ahead for now become occasions for agonized dialog that ranges from embarrassing to ridiculous. Worse, he stops being honest and starts posturing in ways that would have been obvious, stereotypical, and unwelcome even back on a generic 1980’s TV series.
This also, tragically, extends to the action sequences credited to Robert Alonzo and Wade Eastwood. In the first film, Reacher fights smart, almost always going for the eyes and balls. Here, the film doesn’t even show the first fight – instead showing Reacher’s bruised, broken, and bloody knuckles – something Reacher, or any smart fighter, would never use. He also used weapons expertly in the first film. Not here. In the first film, the close-ups invariably showed him thinking. Here, they repeatedly show him not thinking.
The casting also didn’t help, but I’m not throwing any actor under the bus the director/writers are driving. Instead, I’ll just sigh at the memory of how boring and annoying this misconceived sequel was, and hope that the real Jack Reacher someday returns from the grave this film dug for him.