There’s an interesting moment about halfway through Jack Reacher: Never Go Back in which Tom Cruise’s title character and Cobie Smulders’ Major Susan Turner argue about gender roles in action movies. When Jack Reacher asks Major Turner to watch over a young woman (who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter; long story), while he leaves to go do some action hero things, Major Turner questions why she’s being asked to look after a child. She has no children. She doesn’t know any more than Reacher does about kids and has proven she can handle herself in a fight just as well as Reacher. I found this interesting. It felt like Tom Cruise’s own internal monologue about what it even means to be an “action star” in 2016. And coupled with Cruise’s recent films, which all feature a woman as his on-screen equal or superior (Edge of Tomorrow, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and now Jack Reacher: Never Go Back) this scene is probably as close as we will get to Cruise’s opinions on this matter.
(We all know we will never learn anything real from Tom Cruise in an interview. We started to see the real guy about 12 years ago, but he’s long gone again because we didn’t like everything we saw. Though, I bet he has some interesting thoughts about all of this. It’s a shame we will never hear them.)
The first Jack Reacher movie – directed by Cruise’s MI5 director, Christopher McQuarrie – was quirky and absurd. The big takeaway then was that, in the books, Jack Reacher is a tree of a human being. But now here’s Tom Cruise as Reacher, who has never been described as “tall.” (Also: I realize these are very popular books, but I don’t personally know anyone who has read one.) What I love about that first movie is how it never apologizes for Cruise’s physical appearance. He goes “all in,” in only the way Tom Cruise can, as Mr. Tough Guy. Whether its intended or not, the result is absurd. But, dammit, it’s an enjoyable absurdity.
Jack Reach: Never Go Back amps up the absurdity to, well, absurd levels. (If this were Twitter, I’d add the hashtag #absurd.) There’s a scene in which the main bad guy (I have no idea what his name is and I’m not going to look it up because it doesn’t at all matter in this movie) threatens Jack Reacher over the phone. Reacher responds by saying, “I’m going to break your arms!” Oh my gosh, I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. This is an impossibly dumb movie and I had so much fun watching it. Bring on ten more Jack Reacher movies.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back begins with that scene you’ve seen a dozen times in the advertising campaign: With an arrested Jack Reacher informing a local yokel sheriff that, no, “You’re the one in trouble, mister!” (That might not be a direct quote.) This sting operation was set up by the aforementioned Major Turner (Smulders), which we then see, through a montage of sorts, leads to a fun phone friendship between Reacher and Major Turner.
While in Washington D.C., Reacher (a former Army officer) stops by to visit Major Turner – but is shocked to learn she’s been arrested for espionage. This leads Reacher down a path of government cover-ups that were almost unearthed by Major Turner before she was taken away. How does Jack Reacher deal with this? To be fair, at first he does try to go the legal route and discuss Major Turner’s options with a military attorney. When he realizes that won’t work, he then simply breaks her out of military jail. Jack Reacher can do such things because he’s Jack Reacher.
The two then go on a cross-country adventure in an effort to clear Major Turner’s name (and, now, Jack Reacher’s name) and to discover just what a mysterious contractor, that’s doing business with the U.S. government, is trying to hide. (Also, along for the ride is that young woman who may or may not be Jack Reacher’s daughter in a subplot so ridiculous that it ought to be in a Jack Reacher movie. It’s been five days since I’ve seen this movie and I’m still trying to figure this one out.)
But, whatever! Tom Cruise kicks and punches his way through yet another ridiculous adventure and I was entertained the whole time. I mean, look at this! Tom Cruise punches a man through a car window! How is this not absurd entertainment?
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.