Conventional “Jack Reacher” sequel overcomes predictability with thrills

Penn Harrison

Some movies are meant for a Friday night with a bucket of popcorn, not Sunday night at the Oscars. Judging a franchise action flick by its ability to be artful, original and profound will doubtless disappoint. Although “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” the sequel to 2012’s “Jack Reacher,” embraces every convention in the action thriller playbook, it executes it with admirable confidence and agility, making for gripping, if familiar, entertainment. 

A restrained opening flaunts Reacher’s smarts, not just strength. An ex-major in the military, Reacher (Tom Cruise) now hitchhikes across America doing the military’s dirty work. Unlike Cruise’s Ethan Hunt from the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, Reacher is cold, calculating and devoid of charisma. Cruise proves rigid and awkward in the film’s emotional moments, but that’s not why he’s on screen. He’s there to punch, run, duck, dodge and scheme his way out of impossible scenarios.  

When Reacher arrives in D.C., he hopes to take colleague Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) to dinner but arrives to find her arrested for espionage. Reacher realizes a company doing “weapons deals” with the military in Afghanistan hired assassins to take out him and Turner. Reacher is also arrested, then breaks out with Turner. The two now have to outrun not only hired guns, but military police — with one more complication. 

A surprise paternity suit reveals Reacher might have a daughter: 15-year-old Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who ends up along for the ride. As Reacher and Turner struggle to unravel the mystery, they also must keep Samantha from blowing their cover. To nobody’s surprise, she’ll end up in danger, almost save the day and become the emotional center of the film. But Yarosh plays Samantha’s angst and spunk so well we forget her character’s conventionality.  

Edward Zwick, the director behind masterpieces such as “Glory” and “Courage Under Fire,” shoots one agile action sequence after another. His film, like its hero, knows exactly when to fire a gun or throw a punch — and when not to.

His script also flirts with social consciousness. In one scene, a homeless, heroin-addicted Iraq veteran highlights the difficulty Reacher, Turner and thousands of real soldiers face when transitioning back to civilian life. In another, Turner calls Reacher out for treating her like a woman despite their equal military statuses. Finally, Zwick intelligently downplays the romantic potential between Reacher and Turner, emphasizing the strained and more endearing paternal relationship between him and Samantha.

The climax must pull together several disparate plot threads and resolve them in a satisfying set piece. Zwick embraces this convention and executes it perfectly. The military conspiracy, the assassins stalking the protagonists and the bonds between Samantha, Reacher and Turner all converge on a Halloween parade down Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The city has appeared in the background of many recent Hollywood pictures, but it takes center stage in the climax of “Never Go Back” for an epic chase across the French Quarter’s rooftops, culminating in a bone-crunching fistfight. Audiences will see it coming, but it’s so well executed they’re unlikely to care.  

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is imperfect and predictable, but all 118 minutes entertain. A few moments genuinely engage, and it has a functioning brain behind its breathless action. It’s as easy to enjoy as it is to forget. But is that really such a bad thing? 

Rating: 3/5