The first Jack Reacher was better than it had any right to be. Steeped in generic action tropes that were more at home in a Dolph Lundgren film, Jack Reacher had no right being a $60 million Tom Cruise film. But in the hands of writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, Reacher toyed with those tropes on its way to becoming a solid throwback action film. In lesser hands, Jack Reacher would’ve succumbed to those pesky tropes. The sequel, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, is in lesser hands.
Cruise returns as Jack Reacher, a former Army investigator who now roams the country living off the grid. After a series of phone calls with his replacement, Susan (Cobie Smulders), Reacher travels to the District of Columbia to meet his crush… only to discover she’s been arrested for treason. Naturally, there’s a greater conspiracy afoot and Reacher aims to find out what it is.
All it takes to see where Never Go Back went so wrong is the drop-off in talent around the two films. McQuarrie is a top-notch writer and director, having worked on Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow and directed one of the actor’s best with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. With Never Go Back, McQuarrie has been replaced with Cruise’s The Last Samurai director Edward Zwick. Anyone remember The Last Samurai? That silly film where Cruise – an American – is the titular “last samurai?” No? That’s okay. Nobody does.
Jack Reacher made the inspired choice to cast legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog as the film’s big bad, which in action movie lingo is the main villain – usually an older male – who does little more than pull the strings, relying on a younger, more skillful right-hand man to do all the dirty work. Herzog brought intrigue to a standard, cardboard role. Jack Reacher also featured a classic car chase, the sounds of the engine belonging to the Chevelle SS Reacher drives pulsating throughout.
In Never Go Back, the big bad is played by Robert Knepper of Transporter 3, Hitman and Hard Target 2 (not the original starring Jean-Claude Van Damme) fame. The action is just as uninspired, with the same ho-hum stuff seen a million times over.
In a nutshell, the difference in the actors playing the big bad villains is what separates the two Reacher films. The first toys with the genre, making fun, inspired choices, while the sequel sees no reason to do anything more than go through the motions.