Jack Reacher proved to be an exceptional surprise hit for Paramount back in 2012, garnering positive reception from many critics and moviegoers, and providing the foundation for another budding action movie franchise for Tom Cruise, to go along with Paramount’s marquee Mission: Impossible movie series. Despite the warm reception to Jack Reacher however, the movie’s expected sequel took longer than anticipated to develop, primarily due to the fact that the source novels, a massive collection of Reacher tales written by novelist, Lee Child, were plentiful, and gave the studio many options that included some false starts. This is particularly true when the first movie didn’t even adapt the first book in the series, instead adapting the ninth novel, One Shot.
After a bit of tweaking though, the Jack Reacher movie sequel opted to adapt Never Go Back, the eighteenth novel in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, and one that teams the character with two new allies. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is very unlike its predecessor, not just because of the change in directors from Christopher McQuarrie (who defected to the Mission: Impossible movies to helm its fifth, and upcoming sixth installment), to Cruise’s The Last Samurai director, Edward Zwick, but also because the story of Never Go Back feels strangely conventional, and more conservative when it comes to action-thrillers. The first Jack Reacher felt distinct, powerful and memorable, but the sequel, by contrast, is disappointingly forgettable, while still being at least functional. If you enjoyed the original Jack Reacher, enjoy Tom Cruise movies in general, or simply want a reliable action-thriller to enjoy this October, then Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is acceptable, even if a lot of the potent punch of its predecessor now seems to be gone.
Now in his fifties, Tom Cruise has honed his action movie craft to a tee, and that continues to be the case in Never Go Back. Cruise is falling back on his default setting for much of the movie, namely being a very persistent badass that is almost impervious to any degree of serious harm. Reacher is at least more grounded and vulnerable than Cruise’s borderline super-powered Mission: Impossible protagonist, Ethan Hunt, but Reacher is still infinitely resourceful, capable and feared. There’s only a couple of instances where Reacher appears to be in a situation that he can’t get out of without help, and these are usually pretty short-lived.
In all honesty though, Cruise’s playbook has become fairly predictable at this point, with less twists for his character than the original Jack Reacher from 2012. It’s Cobie Smulders that actually ends up being this movie’s big standout, evidently doing her own stunts, and single-handedly providing all of the heart and energy to Never Go Back, while Cruise does the job of busting heads and little else. Smulders plays Susan Turner, a major in the U.S. military who sometimes assists Reacher with some investigations over the phone, who is falsely arrested for espionage, motivating Reacher to try and clear her name. This in turn also gets Reacher falsely accused of crimes, which is something that happens to him very often in the source novels, and this ties both Reacher and Turner together in their quest to evade capture while trying to expose the real villains.
Making the slight effort to add to this storyline is the fact that Reacher may have a teenage daughter, one that also ends up caught up in the same web of conspiracy. This character is Sam, played by Heroes Reborn’s Danika Yarosh, a back-talking, disobedient and troublesome teen that does seem to take a bit after Reacher in terms of her resourcefulness and hard attitude. Sam has some moments of appeal, though she also frustratingly exists as a cheap excuse to cause trouble when the plot can’t find a more organic way to do so. The movie never outright spells out that Sam is supposed to be smart, but she certainly doesn’t listen very well, and doesn’t seem to have any semblance of common sense, despite supposedly being forced to develop street smarts on account of her rough upbringing and foster care. Sam’s connection to Reacher in the movie, and her involvement in the overall plot, is also very tenuous much of the time, and the way that the movie justifies Reacher possibly being her father is disappointingly lazy, especially when that backstory is half-heartedly resolved at the end.
Whatever antagonists are in the movie are also barely worth mentioning. Despite the supposed grand scope of the over-arching conspiracy, which takes the protagonists to many diverse locations around the U.S., the ultimate baddies of this movie are incredibly cliched, and their grand motivation is disappointingly shallow. The fact that this big conspiracy is taking place in the U.S. military only further makes it seem suspect, since this is, after all, a Tom Cruise movie, and the villains of a Tom Cruise movie are generally about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Granted, the original Jack Reacher had unrealistically conspicuous villains too, but at least those villains were sort of clever for the most part. In Never Go Back though, the villains literally just feel like an assembly line of goons for Cruise to smack around, further compounding the feeling that this sequel lacks any noteworthy inspiration.
Whatever complexities existed in the storyline of the first
Jack Reacher movie have been firmly extinguished in the sequel. The plot of Never Go Back treads a lot of overly familiar ground for action-thrillers, and is built on a really frustrating amount of tired cliches. Even Lee Child’s source novels have a few cliches across them of course, namely the previously mentioned tendency of Reacher getting framed for crimes he didn’t commit, but Never Go Back feels entirely built around ideas that have already been done to death in this genre of film. This is a very disappointingly formulaic sequel, which stings all the more when its predecessor managed to stand out a lot better.
On top of being formulaic, the storyline in this sequel also feels just plain sloppy. There’s quite a few story elements that don’t add up at the conclusion of it all, especially where the villains and Sam are concerned, and for a movie that’s so blatantly following every cliche in the action-thriller playbook, Never Go Back is strangely difficult to keep straight and stay focused on at times. The whole movie amounts to a bunch of people who don’t really want to be stuck together, being stuck together, then being forced to go on the run, while Tom Cruise smacks around many irrelevant bad guys. That’s the whole storyline. It’s serviceable, it’s watchable, but none of it is remarkable in the slightest, least of all for a follow-up to Jack Reacher.
Edward Zwick replaces Christopher McQuarrie in the director’s chair for Never Go Back, and Zwick has done some exceptional work with Cruise in the past, namely in their collaboration on 2003’s The Last Samurai. Despite that though, Zwick doesn’t feel like he’s directing for any other reason than contractual obligation here, or possibly as a favour to Tom Cruise. Zwick’s direction is very sleepy and very by-the-book, with the movie’s action scenes being approached listlessly and without enthusiasm. There’s a handful of semi-cool scenes, but there’s never a sense of any real money shots in Never Go Back, which is a huge part of the reason why the movie feels so forgettable. At least Zwick does still manage to work well with Cruise, who remains quite competent and charismatic as an action man, but Cruise feels like the only slight draw in a movie that would have been a complete snore without him.
Paramount at least seemed to try for some spectacle with Never Go Back, namely by giving it a decent-sized marketing campaign, and granting it an IMAX release. The IMAX cut doesn’t do much to help what’s already a really rote action movie though. My screening was in IMAX, and while it did make some of Cruise’s hits a little harder, it didn’t add much else to the production. If you’re so inclined to see Never Go Back, you’re better off just saving your money and sticking with a regular digital screening, since the small sound upgrade really isn’t worth it, and the movie isn’t visually interesting enough to capitalize on the larger, more detailed screen.
Never Go Back is a very disappointing follow-up to the original Jack Reacher, particularly given the extended wait and production hiccups that Paramount suffered in trying to get this sequel to theatres. Tom Cruise is perfectly serviceable with his usual strengths in charisma, stunt work and hard-hitting action, but Cruise is also on a boilerplate setting that seems to do the bare minimum here, without really excelling. The lethargic direction behind the sequel doesn’t help either, and seems to further dash any more franchise hopes for Reacher’s big screen outings in the future.
If you just want a perfectly acceptable, highly disposable action-thriller, and have a particular taste for Tom Cruise, then maybe Never Go Back will satisfy you, even if it likely won’t impress you. It’s also not a terrible rental choice for home viewing, if you happen to enjoy the Jack Reacher character, or Tom Cruise movies in general. Within an especially disappointing October movie roster for 2016 though, Never Go Back feels like the latest high-profile let-down for this month, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t get another Jack Reacher movie with Tom Cruise after this. I suppose we at least still have Ethan Hunt. Hopefully his next sequel has some actual life to it.
- Cruise's usual leading man appeal is mostly intact
- Smulders is a performance standout
- A few cool scenes here and there
- Storyline is very formulaic and ultimately makes little sense
- Direction is lethargic and dull
- Sam is a transparent troublemaker character