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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Blu-ray Review)

27 Jan, 2017 By: John Latchem

Street 1/31/17
Box Office $58.7 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $49.99 UHD BD
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements.
Stars Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger, Robert Knepper.

It’s an unfortunate reality of Hollywood that many films aspire to become franchises but rarely get the chance. Even films based on reliable source material can squander the potential and fizzle out quickly. These trends often result in filmmakers avoiding looking too far beyond the film they’re doing by explicitly setting up a sequel or series. It also means finding the compelling stories to do right away to draw in the audience, regardless of if they are based on source material that handled the sequence differently.

The “Jack Reacher” movies are a prime example of this. The first film in 2012, Jack Reacher, was based on the ninth book, called One Shot, simply because the producers found it the more compelling cinematic starting point. The sequel, Never Go Back, is based on the 18th book, which happened to be the first book released since the first movie came out.

In the Blu-ray bonus materials, the author of the books, Lee Child, discusses how the stories are standalone adventures and don’t require any previous knowledge of the character to follow along. There is one catch, however. Never Go Back pays off a storyline that ran through several books as Reacher made his way across the country to meet with an acquaintance he was communicating with over the phone.

Now, a franchise on surer footing might have actually made those movies to build to the point where Never Go Back begins. And maybe that would have created a richer experience in terms of the audience’s relationship with the character. But the Reacher books don’t have the public awareness of “Twilight” or “Harry Potter,” and their box office, while solid compared with their budgets, aren’t at a level that speaks to the certainty of future films. The model here is closer to the James Bond movies, where the novels have their own order and movies are their own thing.

That relationship between standalone movies vs. franchise potential also speaks to the difference in the nature of film vs. television, where shows can spend several episodes building up minor plot points to pay off later. Movies typically have to play it in reverse, sometimes hinting at future events and paying them off if they ever get a chance, but more often than making references in the later films to call back to things in the earlier movies to make it look like that was the plan all along.

But that’s neither here nor there when it comes to Jack Reacher: Never Look Back, another thoroughly entertaining action vehicle for Tom Cruise that, true to form, doesn’t rely on any knowledge of the previous installment to let audiences enjoy it.

The movie opens with a quick montage to cover the relationship it took several books to build. Reacher, the former soldier turned gruff loner who drifts from place to place fighting injustice when he sees it, becomes enamored with the voice of Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who is now in charge of the military police unit Reacher used to run. He offers to take her to dinner, then makes his way to Washington, D.C., to finally meet her in person.

When he finally arrives, he learns she has been arrested on suspicion of selling state secrets after authorities found she had a private server loaded with state secrets. But before she can run for president, she’s thrown in prison where Reacher learns mercenaries are likely on the way to kill her. Soon enough, he’s embroiled in a conspiracy involving military contractors selling weapons on the black market.

Caught in the middle is a teenager named Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who may be Reacher’s long-lost daughter. When the bad guys target her in retaliation for Reacher involving himself in the conspiracy, Reacher, Turner and Samantha find themselves on the run searching for clues to expose the real criminals and clear their names.

The main mercenary on their tail is a man with a past very much like Reacher, ex-military but unable to adjust to life without the action. He represents the darker side of what Reacher could have been, trading his sense of justice for contract work and an easy paycheck.

It’s easy to see why producers chose this story for their sequel, as it ups the personal stakes for Reacher by giving him that human connection, providing a bit of a peak behind his tough-as-nails façade. Having a family is the last thing one would expect from someone as disconnected as Reacher, and yet here he’s thrown together with an ersatz family unit on the most hazardous vacation imaginable, on the run for their lives.

In the capable hands of director Edward Zwick, the result is a better all around film than the first one, as Cruise nails the stoic Reacher idiosyncrasies in a way that sets his performance apart from other Cruise actioners, such as the “Mission: Impossible” movies, much more distinctly. Cruise’s performance also helps us better understand whatever emotional arc the character may experience by the end of the story.

The only extras on the Blu-ray are six featurettes that delve into the making of the film, running a total of 82 minutes. The individual segments aren’t too long but offer a lot of insights into the production, from the story process to location shooting and action sequences.

About the Author: John Latchem

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