Ex-Major Jack Reacher gets in plenty of fight scenes in the Halloween-themed sequel Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, but this movie is as much a family drama as a thrilling whodunit. I liked it less than Jack Reacher (2012) because it was less funny.
Reviewers seem to rate this sequel adequate at best, which means it’s unlikely this book series will continue on film. (Tom Cruise will just have to find another way to make money.)
The premise is that when Reacher arrives in Washington D.C. to meet up with Major Turner, a friendly woman he’s only spoken with on the phone, he finds out that she’s been arrested by the military police. He doesn’t believe for a minute that she’s guilty. Those who framed her are dangerous and determined to keep their secret safe; Reacher has to rescue Turner, protect a girl who might be his daughter, and solve the mystery that cost two of Major Turner’s men their lives.
Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.
My beat sheet for Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Opening image: Reacher single-handedly exposes a human trafficking ring.
Set-up/Theme: Reacher makes his way to to D.C. and learns of the accusation against Major Turner. He insists he is an ex-Major (presumably because you can never go back).
Catalyst: Reacher learns that Turner’s lawyer is not likely to do a good job on her behalf because he’s complacent. The lawyer shows him some papers related to a paternity suit, and Reacher steals the photo of fifteen-year-old Sam, allegedly his daughter.
Debate: Reacher confronts Sam, an independent girl and accomplished shoplifter who doesn’t want anything to do with him. Reacher is followed to an IHOP restaurant. (He does NOT like being followed.) He overcomes the two men and learns they work for something called “Parasource”. Something fishy is going on.
Break into Two: Reacher is arrested for the murder of Turner’s lawyer (whom Parasource has tortured and killed). He cleverly escapes the military prison with Turner just after the Parasource guys show up but before they have the chance to kill her. The “black sedan” line is the best laugh-out-loud moment in the whole movie.
B Story / Promise of the Premise: Reacher and Turner change clothes and pool their limited information. They have to fight off a Parasouce guy after Turner tries to access the army system at an internet cafe. They force Turner’s replacement to give up the critical files. Looking at the files later, they realize Parasource will go after Sam. They discover her hiding in a kitchen cabinet and try to drop her off at a posh private school, but they have to yank her out again almost immediately because she uses a traceable cell phone she lied about not having. Reacher has to explain why Parasouce is after Sam. He explains the paternity claim. They decide to use some credit cards Sam stole from a classmate to go to New Orleans to look for another soldier who was in Afghanistan. Reacher has to steal an I.D. card to board the flight, where he quietly but effectively disables two Parasource guys he recognized by their haircuts. The group evades the Parasource boss at the airport. Sam admits that she had urged her mom to file the paternity claim. The group manages to check into a hotel. Reacher makes contact with the soldier’s wife, but then has to fight off five guys who followed him. (He does NOT like being followed.) Turner scolds Reacher for not letting her help, and Reacher hilariously fails to apologize and respectfully solicit her advice on what to do next. Sam, who’s taking self-defense lessons from Turner, sneaks out and learns where the soldier is likely to be indulging his drug habit.
Midpoint: Turner and Reacher meet with the ex-soldier, learn about a black-market arms deal in Afghanistan and get his cooperation. He agrees to testify against Parasource. Turner and Reacher phone Espin, the military police guy trying to catch them, and ask him to meet them.
Bad Guys Close in: The bad guys are high up in the army and they’re tracking Espin. They’ve framed Reacher for the murder of Turner’s replacement.
All is Lost / Dark Night of the Soul: Espin speaks to the witness at the time and place arranged, but the witness is killed and Espin, Reacher, and Turner barely escape the ambush with their lives.
Break into Three: Reacher and Turner convince Espin to trust them. They’ve just saved his life, and they’ve got a theory. Together, they go to inspect a shipment of weapons from Afghanistan that have just arrived by plane and that—according to their theory—is missing a lot of weapons.
Finale: There’s a showdown with the bad guys at the plane. No weapons seem to be missing. Hang on a minute, though… The weapons are hollow and contain opium! Gotcha. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, Sam has used one of the stolen credit cards to order room service, thus tipping off Parasource as to her location. She leads them on a chase through the hotel, over balconies, through the Halloween festival in the streets, and cross the rooftops until Reacher shows up. She even gets to use her newly-learned self-defense move on the bad guy before Reacher tackles him and falls off the building. After he wins the fight, when Sam keeps pointing out how far he fell, it’s really cute when he suggests having that conversation some other time.
Final Image: Major Turner, exonerated but not interested in seeing Reacher socially, is welcomed back to the army ranks. Reacher learns that Sam is not his daughter, but when he drops her off back at the posh school (to study drawing), he hugs her as if she is. When he gets a text message on the phone she slipped in his pocket, he decides not to hitchhike away after all.