In Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, retired military police commander, Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) has a stretch of bad luck. He is once again framed for murder and trying to help someone beat a bum wrap just like the first movie. He’s an American nomad who loves trouble, and wherever he is, expect action and danger. The film is an ode to old action films of the 90’s where you get action that is sometimes over the top. This film takes itself way too seriously and doesn’t have that sense of fun and surprise as the first film. Are the books just as rigid as this movie? I hope not.
The film is based on the Lee Child series of books, but the only different between the first and the second film is that it runs with the idea of attaching our main hero with a pseudo family. This ‘family’ consist Reacher’s replacement at the 110th military police division, Army major, Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), and a teenage girl named Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh), who may or may not be Jack’s daughter. Reacher is good at getting in and out of trouble, but he’s good at doing it alone. It’s a lot easier to get things done when you only have to worry about yourself. But now he is responsible for two people. Maybe this was done to show more of his nurturing traits, but this plot device tries to force the film to go farther than the story and its hero are designed to go.
The film starts off with Reacher touching down in Washington D.C. to meet with Major Turner. It is then he discovers she has been arrested and charged with espionage. He doesn’t believe she is guilty so he takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of why she is arrested. While out gathering information, he finds he has also been charged with the murder of Major Turner’s lawyer. When he is sent to the same prison as the major, he discovers there are external forces out to kill them both. The duo breaks out of jail and now they are on the run. However, there is a slight hindrance in the mix–Samantha. So not only are they all on the run, Jack now has to mull over whether or not he’s been a deadbeat father. All in a days work for Jack.
The three of them have poor people skills and have no idea how to operate this make-believe family unit. Ironically, this makes for some humorous moments between them. They fail to realize they are all more alike than they are different, but no one wants to admit it. There is also a scene or two where Susan addresses gender equality with Jack–who has no idea how to address the subject except to only apologize–but the forced acting doesn’t make any of it believable. These two themes could have really taken the film to a new level, but writer Marshall Herskovitz has no idea how to make it work in this already clunky action flick. Cruise is trying hard to look intimidating with his deep, squinty stare, boyish good looks, and blue collar fashion, but he’s never been able to pull that off quite well. Cobie Smolders is good, unfortunately, the writing doesn’t give her character any depth to balance out Cruise’s cold and stiff performance. She’s the female version of Jack Reacher and just as cold and stiff as he is. Boring.
Director Edward Zwick couldn’t fit all the puzzle pieces together to make the film exciting. To his credit, the action scenes are filmed very well. You see every bone cracking punch, and bone breaking kick delivered. It just lacks the heart or sense of urgency of the first Jack Reacher where he is really fighting for survival. In Never Go Back, he seems bored and is now looking for–and creating–massive amounts of drama by getting into fights because he has nothing better to do. Instead of cramming fight scenes one after the other, someone should have thought out the plot a bit more.
In trying to invoke the look and feel of the action cinema of yesteryear, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back could have been so much better if it just created something fresher. It almost feels like deja vu where movie audiences are seeing Tom Cruise in similar movies with similar roles–just with different titles and different directors. Jack Reacher, Mission Impossible, Edge of Tomorrow, are beginning to blend into one another. I understand Tom Cruise is great at action and does his own stunts, but the novelty is starting to wear thin, and the films are becoming less exciting. Time to switch it up Tom!