By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn - You Can Find Several Other Reviews By Jack Dignan Here As Well
As it currently stands, there have been 21 different JACK REACHER novels published, as well as a number of short stories. It’s a decade-spanning book series, and it still maintains its popularity today, one book coming out every year. I have never read the books, but I did see the first movie when it hit theatres back in 2012. I remember not loving it, but definitely liking it, and that’s about it. That’s as much as I really remembered from that film, and as a matter of fact, I only just found out recently that the cast included Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo and Werner Herzog. I wasn’t super exciting for this sequel, but it did have Tom Cruise punching people in the face, so of course there was about a 100% chance I was going to check it out.
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is a ghost. He travels from city to city, never really settling down, but staying wherever he wants for as long as he needs. During his travels, he’s become somewhat of a pen pal (are you still a pen pal if it’s phone conversations?) with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), and it’s pretty safe to say the two have developed quite the crush on each other, despite never actually meeting. So, Reacher arrives in Washington DC, where Turner is stationed, but upon arrival, he’s given news he wasn’t expecting. Major Turner has been arrested for espionage and is being held in prison.
This news doesn’t sit well with Reacher, who’s so desperate to take her out on a date that he decides to break her out of prison. But woah, what a surprise, this makes both of them criminals. Who would’ve thought? They’re on the run, trying to uncover the truth behind all that’s going on and take down those who are really responsible, and matters become personal for Reacher when he encounters a teenager by the name of Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who’s supposedly Reacher’s daughter, or so he’s told.
As a film reviewer, I get to see most new release films before they hit theatres. Because of this, more often than not, the films usually have an embargo in place, meaning I’m not allowed to publish my review of that film until a certain date or time, so that the studio can choose an appropriate time to raise the hype for a movie. I saw JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK earlier this week, and the embargo was placed for 12:01am on Thursday October 20th, which is the film’s release date here in Australia. That means the studio didn’t want people to know if the film was good or not until the day of release.
In some instances, this is because we get it a week or two before other countries get the film, but that isn’t the case here. JACK REACHER opens just one day later in the US, and so, naturally, this embargo had me worried. Was this film going to bomb? Was it going to be unbearably bad? Or maybe they tried to get it earlier, but couldn’t. I had no idea. Having seen the film now, not knowing what to expect, I can definitely confirm that having an embargo until the day of release was a smart move on the studio’s behalf, as this is most certainly not a good movie.
No matter what your feelings are towards the guy, the fact that Tom Cruise does all of his own stunts is admirable, whether it’s climbing along the outside of the tallest building in the world or holding onto a plane as it takes off. Both are impressive, and both just so happen to be from the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise, which I love to pieces, even MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 as it’s one of the most over the top, ridiculous action films ever. The JACK REACHER series is not nearly on the same level as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, no matter how hard it tries to be. Sure, they both star Tom Cruise as a stoic hero who kicks a lot of ass, but one of the main differences between the two franchises is the quality of the action.
None of the action set pieces in JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK are remotely thrilling, nor that memorable, yet they still manage to be the best part of the movie. Weird, huh? You have no idea. They’re fairly ordinary, bland fight sequences, but each of them have a moment or two that’s legitimately awesome. Whether it’s Tom Cruise single handedly taking down four thugs at once, or a fun prison escape sequence (that I actually got to see prior at a special footage presentation before the screening of the new Ben-Hur movie. Fun fact.), nothing is all that original, but from time to time, it can be a lot of fun. My heart was never once racing, the suspense pretty much non-existent every time, but watching Tom Cruise bash people to shit just makes for a good time at the movies.
DIE HARD is one of my favourite movies of all time, and all that happens in that is the almighty Bruce Willis trying to rescue people inside a building. RAMBO and PREDATOR, while distinctly different movies in terms of plot, both feature a man just trying to survive oncoming attacks. They’re simple plots that are used effectively to tell the story they’re trying to tell, and they make for some of the most entertaining movies of all time. Now, this doesn’t mean I want every action film to have a simple plot. I do love a good, complex action thriller, but JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK tries so very hard to make its plot complex that it just doesn’t work.
There’s so many loosely connected sub-plots that are all thrown into the mix together, and the filmmakers try to make them work, but they just don’t. They can’t. If this film were as simple as Jack and Major Turner trying to uncover the truth as to what happened with the whole espionage-traitor thing, then maybe it would’ve been more enjoyable. They could’ve actually fleshed out the story details so that they were believable and made sense, but of course that isn’t the case. That plot ends up being thin and borderline idiotic, and it just seems even worse when it’s mashed together with several other plots and character backstories that make this film painfully messy. None of the plots are complicated to understand in their own right, but when they’re edited together with the other stories, it’s easy to get lost.
Not only does the film try to be more complex than it has any right to be, it also manages to somehow be mind bogglingly stupid. Sure, I mean, if Jack Reacher wants to go out of his way to break someone out of prison that he hasn’t actually met, then get himself involved in a complicated, life threatening scenario just because he’s convinced this stranger is innocent, then go for it. I’m not going to stop him. I’m just going to not-so-secretly judge him. He makes the wildest jumps to conclusions all the time, and they all come out of nowhere. I couldn’t buy into anything he was doing or saying, and that’s because everything he does is just insanely dumb. There is a scene early on where Reacher and Major Turner go to a public internet café to try and log into a high security government website using Major Turner’s logins, knowing full well that the people after them will discover their location and come get them. Why they were surprised when the baddies actually came is beyond me.
It’s a film that’s brimming with terrible writing, two-dimensional characters and plot holes. Reacher makes countless mistakes along the way, and everyone just completely ignores what he’s done, and can we please talk about that plane sequence for a second. This sequence is, partially, shown in the trailer, so don’t worry, knowing this isn’t really going to spoil anything. But there’s a scene in the second act that sees Reacher, Turner and Samantha on a plane. How they got on there without getting caught, I don’t know. While on this plane, Reacher manages to take down two guys… in the middle of the goddamn flight. He just beats them up, leaves them be and walks back to his seat. Nobody around him, and yes, people are definitely around him, even blinks an eye. They all either ignore it or don’t care. While not shown on screen, I can’t imagine what everyone was thinking when getting off the plane, leaving behind two unconscious, bleeding bodies.
For all those who are seeking out an entertaining action flick starring Tom Cruise, there’s five perfectly good MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies waiting for you at home. JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK once again attempts to turn the JACK REACHER books into a movie franchise, and it does so to unsuccessful, usually stupid results. The action is fine at times, I suppose, and I guess the performances aren’t too bad, but everything else just doesn’t mash well together at all.