If there is one thing that can be agreed upon, in relation to modern cinema, it is that Tom Cruise is the strongest candidate for the designation of ‘movie star’. From his role as Ethan Hunt in the ‘Mission Impossible’ series, to his more dramatic contributions in films such as ‘A Few Good Men’ and ‘Born on the Fourth of July’, Cruise is a name that attaches a stigma of desirability to any project.
So it is surprising then, that the sequel to the film named after its eponymous hero, ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’, has entered the cinematic landscape quite unsuspectingly, without the bevy of advertisements and TV spots that usually accompany a Tom Cruise production. Nevertheless, Cruise stars in his only other sequel, outside of the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise, re-teaming with his ‘The Last Samurai’ director Edward Zwick, and delivering an entertaining, albeit formulaic action thriller, based on the Lee Child novel of the same subtitle.
Those wondering whether the original film is required viewing, fear not. Akin to the Man with No Name Spaghetti Westerns by Sergio Leone, the sequel’s only relationship to the original is the lead character: a lone wolf, an aggressive investigator and a heavy-hitting combatant who doesn’t serve the law, but breaks it for its own benefit. This time, we find Reacher working alongside Major Susan Turner (played with stoic but admirable flair by Cobie Smulders) to absolve her of a false accusation of espionage, pertaining to a double murder case involving members of her unit. What Reacher doesn’t realise, is that he is also about to be embroiled in a lovechild scandal involving a former flame, where he discovers that he may be the father of Samantha Dayton, played by Danika Yarosh, who is unintentionally entangled in Reacher and Turner’s run from the military.
Now, from the general synopsis, we can detect a number of formulaic qualities to the plot. The plot of false accusation that we’ve seen in a number of films, from Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’ to Andrew Davis’ ‘The Fugitive’. The daughter figure, adopted by the protagonist, acting as a damsel in distress, such as in Tony Scott’s ‘Man on Fire’ and Luc Besson’s ‘Taken’. At its core, therefore, ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ is a traditional, contemporary action thriller, comfortable in its mysteries and revelations, moving at a relatively steady pace to build character and deliver a number of modestly entertaining action beats.
What makes it a more engaging experience, than it has any right to be, is Cruise’s charisma and the effortless charm and zeal he applies to every role he’s in. There’s the rousing opening sequence, seen in a number of the trailers whereby Reacher threatens a corrupt cop with the clairvoyant like threat of ‘First, that phone over there is gonna ring, second, you’re going to be wearing these cuffs, on your way to prison’, with Cruise delivering that threatening but wearied look that adds to the lone wolf persona of Child’s character. Then there’s the chemistry he brings to the relationship between Reacher and his female companions Turner and Samantha, with Cruise, Smulders and Yarosh creating some real dramatic heft, despite the underlying conventionality of the film plot itself.
These character moments and eccentricities are really at the behest of Zwick, a director who’s in familiar territory, building strong character motivation and delivering a solid visual aesthetic, as he does so succinctly and successfully in a number of his past works, such as the aforementioned ‘The Last Samurai’ and ‘Blood Diamond’. While there is nothing remarkable as such, in terms of Zwick and his Director of Photography Oliver Wood’s cinematographic choices, there are a number of nice touches here, such as the clear and unrelenting force applied to the direction of the action sequences, benefitting from Cruise’s dedication to his own stunt work. Furthermore, the film knows when to let up, to relax and ease off the pedal, a feature of the film that is uncommon and coveted in this age of relentlessly motivated action thrillers.
So, in relation to its predecessor, Cruise and Zwick succeed in polishing and cementing what made the original an engaging, albeit unoriginal affair. What could be seen on the surface level as a rudimentary whodunit, is in fact a refined and entertaining film, that finds Zwick returning to form following his hiatus from big-budget filmmaking, and Cruise continuing his winning streak of popcorn-fuelled blockbusting experiences. While he may have lost his penchant for the dramatic and serious parts he took in films such as ‘Magnolia’, Cruise continues to deliver on the front which he values so much in the later part of his career: pure, unadulterated fun.