A former military veteran returns to his origins from out of the shadows of hiding, in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”. Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) returns with his particular brand of justice, hurting bad guys at day and night. Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) is the Army Major who heads Reacher’s old military investigative unit. She is arrested for Treason and knowing that she is innocent, Reacher must break her out of prison and uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear their names and save their lives. On the run as fugitives from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever. Based upon “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” author Lee Child’s 18th novel in the best-selling Jack Reacher series, that has seen 100 million books sold worldwide. “Never Go Back” is directed by Edward Zwick and is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some bloody imagery, adult language and thematic elements.
For all of its spins and story arcs that are inserted for the title character, “Never Go Back” feels like more than a familiar theme for a movie riddled in familiarity and conventional. This is a cash grab sequel that fails to take very many chances to make it stand out from the overcrowded genre. I enjoyed the original “Jack Reacher” movie, but that dealt more on the underlying aspects of Cruise comeback after a disappointing decade that saw many flubs from him. What you establish in a first movie of any series is the tone and the average of everything that you should come to expect in that particular group of films. The problem with “Never Go Back” is that it doesn’t raise the stakes after four long years on the shelf. This isn’t a sequel that many people were clamoring for, and the script reflects that flimsy concept that really didn’t present its audience with many kinds of intrigue or revealing looks at our main protagonist. It is very much forgettable for all that it’s worth, and I couldn’t help but feel this movie run out of gas about halfway through, as everything feels very easily choreographed.
A lot of that reason is because this movie flounders in obvious screenplays that we have not only seen hundreds of times before it, but seen it done a lot less predictably. We are presented with two different arcs for Reacher early on in the film; one being his tracking of this woman who apparently meant a lot to him. I say apparently because the movie never really tells us much about their pasts and why Reacher has such admiration for her. The second arc is Reacher finding out that he may or may not be the father to a young adult girl. These are two different feels in creative direction for this movie, and they just don’t blend well together. The latter is portrayed with a comedic layering of sex jokes and parenthood hijinks, and the former is as straight-laced as you can get with chase thrillers. When you mix them together, it feels very in-cohesive, and never gels together to capture a tone that is continuously pleasing. Then something funny happened. About halfway through this movie, Reacher becomes a supporting character in his own movie. This is very much about Smulders character, as we start to understand why this mystery and capture is so important to her character. It does allow Smulders to break free from the mold of cliche female arm candy for these type of films, but it really says a lot more for a script that can’t give enough interesting things for its title character to play off of.
The action is very limited, slow in pacing, and felt very much rehearsed because of the lack of chemistry from our two conflicted characters. In particular, the final conflict feels very stalling and forgettable, void of any major devastating blows or lanscapes that relay the idea that this is it. For as little time that is dedicated to it, this ending really lacked any kind of definitive stamp that this was the last stand. One thing that does carry well is the terrific sound editing, which left me very impacted, and kept me from ever completely dosing off to sleep. The gun shootouts in particular really subject the audience to some crisp, clear strikes, and do a great job of conveying the dangeous atmosphere that is present in every battle. I also appreciated the variation in concept of each fight sequence, refusing to ever feel repetitive or redundant in design, even if the end results felt very much so. One of the reasons Reacher has always been uninteresting as a badass to me is because there’s no human side of vulnerability to his character, and without it he might as well be a robot. The audience will lack emotional investment if he runs through a barrage of men time after time, very much the case here.
As for performances, Smulders easily steals the show, offering the female audience a powerful pony in this fight. The most valuable thing that Zwick instills in this movie is the spacing to let Cobie shine. We’ve seen her butt-kicking side in “The Avengers” movies, but it’s nice to see her at the forefront of all of the action here. Smulders adds some heart in her delivery to the tough girl exterior, and I found her a delight every time she graced the screen. A movie with her character is probably the only direction for this now defunct series to tread. Cruise very much phones his performance in unfortunately. There’s nothing from an acting standpoint that makes his delivery standout, instead opting for the straight-faced, monotonous superman that we got in the first movie. It’s sad that his character hasn’t grown much in such a time span, and while Cruise does feel believable despite his less-than immense frame, there’s simply no vulnerability or moment of panic to ever warrant my feelings for him. Even worse, this movie has one of the very best villanous actors working today in Robert Knepper and they waste him. Until the final act, Knepper is in ONE SCENE??? How did this make the final draft of the script? With someone like Knepper’s slimy on-screen personalities, you simply turn a camera on and let him create magic. Just another wasted opportunity begging us to “Never Go Back”.
“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is mindless, gutless, and a virtual checklist of tireless cliches that will have you writing out the screenplay minutes before it develops. With overhyped action scenes and close to no character development, mediocre was all this movie was ever going to be. It’s just unfortunate that I didn’t heed the advice that the title had given me in big bold letters.