Picking Never Go Back from Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series for the second movie adaptation was a bit of a risky choice. Not because the source material is tricky to work with, quite the opposite (it’s probably the most naturally cinematic of all the books). It’s more that the title gifts critics a free joke to kick off their write-ups should they not enjoy the thing. Luckily for Paramount, only the most cynical of reviewers could fail to dig this second instalment in the franchise.
After the first Jack Reacher movie – the cleverly-titled Jack Reacher – was announced some five years ago, a few fans of Child’s books were surprised to hear that the rather diminutive Tom Cruise would take on playing the ex Army Major. Reacher is, after all, built like a brick, er, outhouse. Cruise’s perceived shortcomings weren’t a problem once the film hit cinemas, though. Sure, the big screen Reacher doesn’t exactly tower over people like his papery version, but he’s every bit as fearless, resourceful and tough. Cruise plays the man with a steely-eyed stoicism that should please all but the most pernickity fans of the novels.
Jack Reacher 2: Never Go Back sees Reacher, well, going back. Back to Washington DC, back to the US Army and even back to his old office. And, wouldn’t you know it? Back in trouble. Again.
One of the things that the Reacher movies may get some stick for is its low key locations. Compared to other more glamorous action thriller series like the Bonds or Bournes, places like Norfolk, Virginia aren’t all that exciting, are they? But that’s half the appeal of Reacher, isn’t it? He isn’t a jet-setting intelligence asset or CIA supersoldier, he’s basically just a drifter. Albeit a really, really hard one with an almost Sherlock Holmesian nose for solving mysteries. Jack Reacher is no frills. And that’s the way we like him.
Anyway, the swaggering and no-ties lone wolf who only works alone gets himself a partner in this outing. Actually, he gets himself two. Two ladies. An on-the-run Army Major framed for espionage and a street-wise teenage girl. One’s a potential love interest, the other may or may not be his daughter. We’ll let you work out which is which. With his emotions being twanged from every angle, we see a slightly different side to our normally dispassionate and emotion-swerving hero. Still rough, still tough, but human. Cruise gets to inject a touch of his trademark charm and charisma, but never at the expense of the character’s core traits and personalities.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film is just how much time and room Cobie Smulders and Danika Yarosh are given. One minor fault of the first Reacher movie was the lack of strong, fully-formed female characters that inhabited it. But the same cannot be said here. Smulders more than keeps up with Cruise in the action scenes as they hunt down the people responsible for having her wrongfully jailed. But it’s youngster Yarosh that particularly shines as the sassy teenager that’s more than just along for the ride.
The ‘feelings’ and melodrama are there, but they don’t outweigh the action. The fight scenes take a while to appear, but when they do? They’re thick and fast and bone-breakingly brutal. You can tell that Cruise still enjoys taking on as many of his own stunts as possible, even if this is arguably the first movie of his career where he’s starting to look a little ‘senior’.
If we’re being critical, the weakest part of the movie are the ‘bad guys’. Prison Break’s creepy ‘T-Bag’ (Robert Knepper) appears, but is woefully underused. And the Reacher-esque henchman Patrick Heusinger is just a walking, shooting trenchcoat. Albeit a very handsome one. But compared to ‘The Zec’ in the first installment? Wernor Herzog’s chilling character easily out-bads anyone here.
Jack Reacher 2: Never Go Back isn’t quite as frenetic or stylish as its predecessor, but for our money? It’s much more engaging and revealing. Reacher isn’t a machine, he’s a man. But he’s still Jack Reacher. So if you enjoyed the first film in the cinema – we’d more than recommend you Go Back.
Not seen Jack Reacher 2: Never Go Back yet? Watch the trailer here.