4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
"JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK"
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy, 2016, PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, profanity and thematic elements; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: "Reacher Returns" featurette
THE WANDERER is back.
It's been four years since producer/actor Tom Cruise played two-fisted action hero Jack Reacher, the ex-U.S. Army commander who drifts from town-to-town exploring America. Based on British author Lee Child's bestselling book series – 21 and counting – Cruise has produced a sequel to his well-made B-movie thriller, "Jack Reacher" (2012).
Cruise invited producers Don Granger and Christopher McQuarrie, who directed the first installment, to his Beverly Hills mansion (recently sold for a whopping $40 million) to select the next book for adaptation. In the "Reacher Returns" featurette, Granger says they lined up all of the Jack Reacher books on Cruise's patio, and went through each one, exploring positives, negatives and logistics.
All three were drawn to "Never Go Back," selected as one of The New York Times Top 10 Books of the Year (2014). (Three more Reacher tales have been written since then.) It introduced moviegoers to a strong female character, Army Major Susan Turner played by the talented Cobie Smulders. She has Reacher's old military-police unit command in Washington D.C., and a flirtatious phone relationship leads to a promised dinner. Reacher discovers he may be the father of a young girl, Samantha (Danika Yarosh), and wants to check into that.
Cruise next called on director Edward Zwick ("Glory," "Blood Diamond"), whom he greatly admired; the two had worked together on "The Last Samurai" a dozen years earlier. Zwick wasn't particularly jumping up and down to take the job. "Well, gee, I've never done a sequel before or a franchise before and it's not anything that I might necessarily be inclined to think of doing," Zwick recalls saying.
"Just read the book," Cruise told Zwick.
Afterward, the veteran director agreed to join Cruise, recruiting his longtime collaborator, screenwriter Marshall Herskovitz, for the script.
"Never Go Back" opens with a night scene in which Reacher has dropped four assailants on the ground outside of a diner in an unnamed small-town. It's another case of him rooting out corruption, and the military police arrive and arrest the local sheriff. "He's in pursuit of justice, in pursuit of righting wrongs, and its justice as Reacher sees it fit," Zwick says.
Continuing his Greyhound hopscotch across the U.S., Reacher eventually lands in Northern Virginia and D.C. to meet Turner. When he arrives at her post, he discovers the major has been framed for espionage. Reacher only sees one course of action – break her out of military prison. There's plenty of running in this yarn; an assassin is on their tail, taking orders from Turner's replacement. It's all part of an illegal arms deal orchestrated by a military contractor, who also killed two of Turner's officers in Afghanistan.
But, Cruise says the real heart and soul of the film is the relationship between Reacher and Samantha, who he calls the "Artful Dodger," loaded with street-smarts and yet kind.
"Never Go Back" is mindless entertainment. Compared to the first film, it falls flat in spots. Perhaps Zwick just can't find the fun in adventure. "Jack Reacher" also had first-rate, stylized photography from five-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and a top-notch supporting cast with David Oyelowo, Richard Jenkins, Rosamund Pike and Robert Duvall.
The 4K disc has no extras, but the enclosed Blu-ray houses six featurettes with interviews from the cast and crew; behind-scenes footage from the production mostly filmed in Louisiana within Baton Rouge and New Orleans, plus the search for the right diner for the opening scene, and an interesting look at still-photographer David James, who was commissioned to make the behind-scenes photos and publicity images.
Right off the bat we notice the 4K picture has a nice wash of natural 35mm film grain, since Zwick and cinematographer Oliver Wood ("Bourne" films) captured the action on Panavision's super widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) cameras. On a negative note, "Never Go Back" is another movie mastered in 2K when its source was 4K. That's millions of pixels per frame that's lost and can't be recaptured – not even with a 2K to 4K upconversion. Most likely it's a casualty of not actually filming in D.C., with the real U.S. Capitol and monuments on the mall, and relying on waxy VFX to recreate scenes with 2K rendering.
On a positive note, the HDR color levels and contrast give the 4K disc a more striking visual experience with overall onscreen pop and correct facial tone balancing. There's also a more defined image with wide-shots and during closes ups, even showing two blemishes on Smulders' left chin popping up for just a few seconds between cuts in her final scene.
The 4K and Blu-ray both feature Dolby's Atmos expansive soundtrack pushing bullet sound effects and sections of Henry Jackman's score ("Captain America: Civil War," "Big Hero 6") to vertical height speakers. The default Dolby TrueHD eight-channel track still provides plenty of audible separation and a wide soundstage.
"Never Go Back" still made big bucks even though the worldwide box office was down $40 million from its predecessor. Is it enough to bring the wanderer back for a third installment? With Cruise running the show, you can bet on it.
― Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer