Jack Reacher: Never Go Back isn’t the thunderclap thriller the first one was and considerably diminishes from a large scale epic feel to something more small, comforting and TV movie style, which is not say that’s a bad thing as I quite enjoyed it, I just wasn’t riveted and amped up like I was the first round. It’s interesting that director Edward Zwick stepped in as he’s usually accustomed to large scale, sweeping epics (Legends Of The Fall, Courage Under Fire, Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai, Glory) and instead went for something smaller here, but it works.
Tom Cruise’s nomadic badass Jack Reacher is still out there looking for people who cause trouble so he can cause it tenfold back upon them and as the film opens we see him take down nasty small town sheriff (Jason Douglas) turned human trafficker using only a payphone. That sets the tone for another raucous adventure that is decidedly not as ruthless or brutal as the first, but takes a more compassionate tone which is an interesting decision that I really liked as it allows us to see the softer side of this character. Jack has a liaison in the military called Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) who feeds him intel and he’s taken a liking to her enough to ask her out, but when he arrives in Washington to do that he instead finds her smug superior officer (Holt McCallany) sat at her desk informing him that she’s been arrested under charges of espionage. This doesn’t quite sit well with Jack and after beating the shit out of him for answers, he launches a violent inquiry, tracks Major Turner down and helps her clear her name and vet out a conspiracy within the military.
This film works well because of that relationship between the two, and the terrific chemistry that Cruise and Cobie have. They serve as both romantic leads and partners in action and provide the story with a warmth that wasn’t there in the first, as the relationships there felt a bit cold and detached. There’s also a mysterious girl (Danika Yarosh) who may in fact be Jack’s daughter from a wife years back, and that adds a human side as well which was welcome. On the weaker side, the action set pieces aren’t as ingenious or as memorable as before, and the villains not as charismatic or well painted. It is hard to top Werner goddamn Herzog though so I feel their pain. McCallany is nasty enough as a classic bully and Robert Knepper sneers and snarls as an evil private security Colonel but he shows up so late in the game it’s hard for him to make a real impact. What does work works really well though, and Smulders is the best thing the film has going for it. She’s a true star that never mugs the camera but always feels sympathetic and engaging, not to mention gorgeous. Not the film the first was, but a fun time all the same.