I didn't see Jack Reacher, the 2012 film adaptation of the popular Lee Childs novels about a vigilante ex-military police officer of the same name. I haven't read any of the books either. Fortunately, nothing leading up to Jack Reacher: Never Go Back matters! You literally never need to go back! (I'm not sure that is what the title is referring to, but I'm also still not sure what it is.)
When we pick up this time, Reacher (Tom Cruise) has struck up a flirty phone rapport with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). On the eve of their first meeting cum dinner date, Turner is framed for espionage and arrested. Reacher must break her out and then piece together the who, what, when and where of why someone is trying to take her down.
Plot, shmlot. You're buying a ticket to watch Cruise do cool stunts and deliver cool one-liners and generally be cooler than everyone around him. And I'm here to assure you that you will get your money's worth on that front! That said, this did lead to my one point of confusion: Can anyone explain the difference between Jack Reacher and the Mission: Impossible guy? That's not rhetorical. I need someone to explain how they're not the same.
Jack Reacher, the character, exemplifies the same fundamental problem I wrote about in regard to the last offering in Cruise's action canon, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. Both Reacher and Ethan Hunt are too cool. They have no flaws. You never question or underestimate either of them. Their movies won't let you. Both are always right, always one step ahead.
There's one point in Never Go Back where Reacher is so far ahead of everyone else -- including the audience -- that he connects a slew of completely unrelated plot points and another character objects, "What are you talking about? We don't know that any of these things are connected!" And we don't! And the movie never bothers to connect them. Because Tom Cruise knows!
Plot holes, shmlot holes, you cry! Get back to the action! Director Edward Zwick (Cruise's The Last Samurai) certainly knows his way around an action scene and skillfully crafts a string of formidable set pieces: fights and shootouts and chase sequences, oh how many chase scenes! Reacher and Turner go on the run and do so. Much. Running. The first time, it's exhilarating. The third, it's fine. The sixth?
The freshest part of the Never Go Back is its treatment of Smulders' Major Turner. We are given an eye roll-worthy introduction to Turner -- Reacher is noticeably taken aback that his commanding officer is a woman and the movie wastes no time framing her as his love interest -- but it ultimately provides a juxtaposition for the fact that she is so much more. One scene late in the movie sees Turner giving a monologue about how, as a female in the Army, she is constantly being undermined by men who don't think she's as strong, smart, or capable -- it's a speech that could just as easy be delivered by an actress working in an action movie. Turner is no Bond girl. She is complex and badass and so damn cool. We've seen Cruise play this role, but here, Smudlers presents herself as a full-on action star. In the end, I guess I have a second point of confusion, which is: Why wasn't she the lead?