Friday, 30 December 2016

Movie Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)



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Jack Reacher, as far as I’m concerned, is one of the few recent action films that I would consider to be a genuine classic. A marked departure from the hyper-masculine and quite over-the-top action films that have become the norm of late, it made its mark with the titular rogue military genius as the main character, surrounded by good actors, better writing and a sense for action that is incredibly brutal and hard-hitting. Oh, and being the only good film Jai Courtney was attached to for many years afterwards probably helped. Well, after writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise went from that film to making the latest iteration in the Mission: Impossible franchise, director Edward Zwick has set up a sequel to the film that I hold in quite high regard. I know that I’ve made it a point of directly comparing sequels/continuations of older films to said older film… and this is going to be much the same, so get used to it. This is Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.

The plot: Ex-military officer Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), while doing his usual drifting across the United States, discovers that one of his contacts within the Army, Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) has been detained under accusations of espionage and selling military secrets. Suspecting a set-up, he teams up with Maj. Turner to discover who is really behind it all, with a hired assassin (Patrick Heusinger) hot on their tail. However, things are about to get even uglier once Jack’s supposed daughter Samantha (Danika Yarosh) enters the picture.

The cast here is a bit of a step-down from last time, but it’s still solid where it counts. Cruise is still very entertaining as the smart-aleck renegade and he still sells the action scenes and displays of badassery very well. Not only that, through an understanding of the difference in personality, he also continues to separate his performance of Jack from his more widely-recognized role as Ethan Hunt. Smulders carries a patriarchy-placed chip on her shoulder, and often ends up being more intense than Cruise in some scenes, but their respective abrasive personalities make for a good team-up. Heusinger as the main gunman actually outdoes Jai Courtney in a similar role, giving a very intimidating presence whenever he’s on screen, while Robert Knepper as the lead villain is a serious downgrade from Zec in the original. Then again, there are few things in this world more terrifying than Werner Herzog as a bad guy. Yarosh is… okay, she’s annoying, but within the realms of kid sidekicks, I’ve seen far worse. It helps that she has decent chemistry with both Cruise and Smulders.

Have to admit, considering how the plot was framed within the trailer, I initially had worries that this was going to turn into another Mission: Impossible bout of high-tech lunacy in outsider’s clothing. Fortunately, that isn’t the case and this manages to stick to the low-tech and smaller scale tone of the 2012 film. Unfortunately, this seems to have done that a little too well as this is pretty much the same plot as before: Military officer framed for murder, Reacher gets involved to clear their name and discovers a bigger conspiracy involving underhanded business dealings. There are admittedly a few tweaks to the formula, like Reacher actively getting involved rather than being dragged into it and working directly with the person accused, but it’s ultimately a bit of a re-hash. A far less involved re-hash too, as the plot here isn’t nearly as cleverly-written as before; details in the first film may have been obvious to those paying attention, but it was still really well set-up and put together. That dumbing-down applies to Jack Reacher as a character as well, as his mental acuity seems to just turn on and off whenever the plot requires.

That said, for a re-hash sequel, it has enough sense to keep plenty of what made the first film as good as it was. Reacher’s drifter personality and wiseass sense of humour are perfectly intact, meaning that this is still a character worth seeing go through this story regardless of whether it’s a downgrade or not, and Maj. Turner works rather nicely alongside him just as Rosamund Pike did. In fact, she might actually be better in that capacity. Getting into more of Reacher’s emotional side this time around means that he ends up playing good cop around her more than once, but it does so without betraying any established character traits in the process. Not only that, the low-tech approach means that this still serves as a nice alternative to the high-flying and overblown action films we’ve otherwise been getting, and the low-flash fight scenes are still brutal and quite intense.

And then there’s the kid, and those few words have spelt doom for many a film, let alone action film. Including what are essentially younger sidekicks into the narrative is usually the move of a storyteller desperate to relate to them young people today, or simply trying to make the audience associate certain newer talent with more established actors. Of course, for a myriad of reasons, this ends up blowing up in their faces; anyone who has sat through The Expendables 3 will have some idea of how this can turn sour rather quickly. As such, the inclusion of Samantha here is rather problematic, not helped by how incredibly annoying she can get in a few too many of her scenes. However, she honestly isn’t that big of a problem in the long run. Yeah, she is written as a petulant teenager and certainly hits that note for all it’s worth, but aside from actually being useful to the characters and not just the plot at large, she actually ends up creating some decent drama in connection to Reacher. Without getting too heavily into spoilers, I’ll just say that the arc they end up going through together and the note that it ends on… well, it just ends up carrying on that spirit of these films being a nice breather from the norm.

All in all, while not nearly as impressive as the first film, this is still a decent action thriller in its own right. The characters, while not as smart as they should be, are fun to watch bicker and fight with each other, the action is solid, the pacing is relatively brisk and, as an action feature, it maintains that break from what has become the norm to fill its own little niche within the genre. I seriously don’t get why this film is being as derided as it is, but then again, most critics weren’t hot about the original to begin with. It’s better than You’re Not Thinking Straight, as the writing is less clunky this time around, but as an overall piece of entertainment, it doesn’t deliver quite as much as Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

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