Does it seem to you like over the course of the last decade Tom Cruise just hasn't challenged himself much? Save for an occasional diversion, most everything from him these days is an action movie, a sequel, or an action movie sequel. After doing surprisingly well with 2012's Jack Reacher (an action movie) and a couple interesting films in between, and another Mission: Impossible film, he decided to make a sequel to the Reacher saga.
Cruise reprises the role in the second Jack Reacher film, subtitled Never Go Back. Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote an adapted screenplay/directed the first film, made way for Richard Wenk (The Equalizer) and Marshall Herskovitz (Love & Other Drugs) to tackle Lee Child's novel, with Edward Zwick, who directed Cruise in (The Last Samurai) working as director.
Jack Reacher continues drifting through sleepy towns occasionally working on some justice and hitchhiking. Think of him as Bruce Banner, but without the gamma ray transformation to kick some ass. Reacher works with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, They Came Together), talking to her via phone as he gets rides via car, bus, or back of a pickup truck with a dog, in order to see her in Washington. When he does, he finds out she is gone, relived of her command and arrested for espionage. Turner has been accused of murder in Afghanistan, and Reacher works on not only finding out the truth behind this, but also whether or not he is the father of a 15-year old girl, so he juggles a couple of plot arcs, one action, one a little less so but requires some emotional subtlety.
With these two arcs that require ample amounts of time, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back almost splits them in half over the course of the film. The first has the most action in it of course because the decision to keep Reacher away from his daughter should be done a little later for logic. So Tom Cruise kicks a lot of ass in hand to hand battles and occasional gunfire, while trying to meet Turner. Smulders also gets her scenes to beat people up, including some moments in a kitchen in the standout sequence of the bunch. It's an interesting story to follow. For a while.
The challenge of getting Reacher with his daughter and his acclimation to the revelation that he even might be a father was a conscious one made by Cruise and the filmmakers. And while it may have been a conscious decision it doesn't appear to be an inspired one. The girl, named Samantha, is played by relative newcomer Danika Yarosh, and she carries herself with a headstrong presence and strength that one would presumably see in the child of a single mother. The problem is the relationship between Samantha and Reacher comes off as insincere with little emotional bond. The viewer is supposed to care about Samantha and Reacher because there MIGHT be the chance of a connection, and Reacher/Cruise keeps guarded even as the two spend some semblance of quality time together. Turner serves as a breaking in point to Reacher's feelings to a degree, but nothing that possesses any resonance.
Making Never Go Back doubly frustrating is that generally the performances are decent. Cruise aside, Smulders and Yarosh are fine, and they are the ones driving the boat. It's a bummer we don't get Werner Herzog reincarnated somehow for this, but Patrick Heusinger (a href="http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/62865/frances-ha-blu-ray-dvd-dual-format-edition/">Frances Ha), whose name in the film is "The Hunter," and Robert Knepper (R.I.P.D.) serve as average proxy.
For as pleasantly surprising as the first Jack Reacher film was, the second film is all over the place, trying to further the work of the first film (which it barely does) while trying to introduce a new aspect to the title character (which is messy). I'm going to presume that Cruise will move on to a new action film in the hopes of spawning a franchise, or extending this one further in the hopes people will come back to it somehow. But hopefully with Jack Reacher Tom Cruise (puts on shades, cranks "Won't Get Fooled Again") Never Goes Back.
Using an AVC encode, the 2.40:1 widescreen presentation of Never Go Back in high-definition looks excellent. Image detail is fine throughout, colors look great, whether it's in the military uniforms or dress B's or in the blown out white lights of a prison, or in the dark Louisiana sky. Film grain is present during viewing and haloing is virtually nonexistent. It's a quality transfer.
The Dolby Atmos 7.1 track brings the goods as well, with directional effects (buzzing of doors, phone ringers) chiming in the satellite speakers early to help convey to the viewers their home theater is in for a workout. Low end involvement from the subwoofer is active with the numerous explosions, gunfire sounds clear as can be and provides for a nice level of immersion, dialogue is consistent and requires little adjustment. I caught some grief for waking my kid up while watching this but it was worth it.
A few longer than expected extras grace this two-disc (with standard definition and digital copy) set, starting with an illustrated short story that comes inside the slipcover.Next is "Reacher in Focus" (8:33), where Cruise and longtime friend and set still photographer David James discuss their friendship and James talks about his role on set, which includes loads of stills from it. James discusses working with Cruise and Zwick and training his daughter to take the reins over one day. "Reacher Returns" (11:31) features the cast crew and Child talking about this film and adapting it, and the challenges it brought, along with the desired intent of the character. "An Unexpected Family" (14:31) looks at the potential Reacher daughter and includes Yarosh's thoughts on the role and working with Cruise, and the joys of being on set. "Relentless" (25:46) looks at the production and Cruise's desire to do the stunts, and looks at the benefits of shooting in New Orleans, along with moments like car chases and Child's cameo in the film. "Take Your Revenge First" (12:42) looks at the fight sequences and rehearsals of same, and the crew members share their thoughts on working with Cruise. "No Quarter Given" (8:13) looks at the rooftop battle and shows the wrap for it, and words from Zwick and Cruise.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back feels like a sequel that was made more out of obligation than any palpable passion for the source. Cruise seems to be going through the motions here and it almost ruins the performances of the others in the cast, and the result is a disappointment. It's a pretty looking and sounding disappointment to be sure, and the extras are better than what I expected. If you're that invested in the first film feel free to check this out, otherwise you're not really missing much in this one.