JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK – a review by JJ Heaton

Starring: Tom Cruise (Edge of Tomorrow), Cobie Smulders (The Avengers), Aldis Hodge (Straight Outta Compton), Danika Yarosh (Heroes Reborn), Patrick Heusigner (Frances Ha)

Director: Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond)

Writers: Richard Wenk (The Equalizer) and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz (The Last Samurai)

Runtime: 1 hour 58 minutes

Release Date: 20 October (UK), 21 October (US)

The first Jack Reacher film wasn’t well received by everyone, but I was amongst those who praised it for being a welcome throwback to action thrillers of the 70s and 80s with a slick modern paintjob. The action was visceral, it had a charming sense of humour, and Tom Cruise imbued Reacher with an entertaining mix of charisma and brutality. I thought it would make a great ongoing franchise for Cruise to jump into between impossible missions, but its marginal profits made a sequel seem doubtful for a while. Thankfully, the numbers just about worked out and now Reacher’s journey continues in Never Go Back. Unfortunately, it’s not quite the follow-up I was hoping for.

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Never Go Back starts off strong enough with a fun opening sequence that perfectly brings the audience back into the life of Jack Reacher, but that’s sadly where it peaks. The main plot this time around goes for more of a Bourne-light feel with our main characters on the run whilst unravelling some government conspiracy, which ultimately seems less fresh than the first’s homicide investigation. The stakes are fairly low and the mystery itself isn’t that intriguing, making the film feel more like a middling episode of a military drama than a cinematic action movie. Even the third act feels incredibly underwhelming as the main conflict being resolved with half an hour still to go, resulting in them pulling an unnecessary chase scene out of their arses just to give it a climax. The film’s comedic moments are also far less frequent and nowhere near as witty, with some of Reacher’s witty remarks feeling more like Schwarzenegger quotes than clever repartee. The absence of Christopher McQuarrie as writer/director is gravely felt throughout Never Go Back’s entire runtime, and whilst Edward Zwick is a worthy replacement he fails to bring anything new to the table. It’s never a boring watch, as the action is still frequent and there are a few moments of comedic brilliance, but there’s very little about it that you couldn’t find in any other action movie.

Tom Cruise is rarely one to phone in a performance, and in Never Go Back he’s still giving it his all despite the lesser material. Jack Reacher is still very much the gruff but charming loner he was in the first, and Cruise once again convinces in the role in spite of his stature. The film delves a little more into Reacher’s softer side with the introduction Danika Yarosh as his maybe-daughter Sam, but thankfully it doesn’t distract too much from all the beat-downs he gives throughout the movie. Cobie Smulders is the film’s real revelation, getting far more opportunities to kick ass than she has in any of the Marvel movies and proves herself a worthy action heroine in her own right. At certain points, I began to wonder why the movie wasn’t focused on her instead, with Reacher operating more as the Mad Max to her Furiosa. Yarosh is decent enough playing the rebellious teenager archetype, but she so often complains about Reacher not trusting her and then immediately does something stupid that it’s hard to sympathise with her. The rest of the cast is pretty interchangeable, filled with a bunch of belligerent military types and shady mercenaries, which only makes the film feel even more like a Bourne rip-off.

The action in the first Jack Reacher was well done thanks to restrained cinematography and good choreography. In Never Go Back, it falls back into the clichés of the modern action movie with quick cuts that obscure all the fun. It’s not done with total incompetence and they do still have energy to them, but there is not a single standout sequence in this sequel compared to the plethora of them found in the original. The film doesn’t make particularly good use of its locations either, with no real sense of identity that makes Washington DC and New Orleans the only places this story could have taken place in; considering the first film made Pittsburgh look interesting, that’s a damn shame.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back does just about enough to remain an engaging watch, but it’s nothing that demands the cinematic experience; wait for it to pop up on Netflix or late at night on TV. Cruise remains an engaging lead and Smulders shows she has real chops as an action star, but the plot is incredibly formulaic and it doesn’t take enough advantage of what made Jack Reacher such a fun ride. If the franchise manages to soldier on, I hope they’ll learn from their missteps here. Bring back McQuarrie, bring back the fun, and maybe we can have another Jack Reacher story worth telling.

FINAL VERDICT: 6/10

Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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