Review: ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ (2016)

Back in 2012, Tom Cruise was having an odd year. He was coming off of the success of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, but then stumbled at the box office with the (underrated) musical Rock of Ages. After its faceplant, eyes on Cruise were mostly targeted on his then-upcoming (and utterly forgettable) 2013 sci-fi flick Oblivion. Sandwiched between the two was an overlooked, mid-budgeted action romp named Jack Reacher.
Based on the on-going popular novel series by Lee Child, Jack Reacher saw Cruise stepping into what amounted to a stripped down throwback action thriller. It was pretty damn good and, best of all, people actually responded to it. The film wasn’t a runaway hit, but it was a bit of a surprise sleeper and ultimately raked in enough dough worldwide to warrant a sequel.

Cut to four years later and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back has finally arrived. The good news is that it’s another entertaining throwback actioner. The bad news is that it’s definitely not as good as the first one. A bit bummed? I was too, but as an action fan, I’m kind of used to it by now.

In regards to the negatives, director Edward Zwick seems to be on autopilot here. That’s a shame, because the action suffers as a result. Not only does it have a mid-’90s action feel to it, but it’s sadly shot like any random similar film from that decade. Zwick is no auteur, but his films tend to look great and be decently composed. Here, practically anyone could have shot it and it feels like Zwick taking a paycheck from a pal.

It really is a shame that Christopher McQuarrie only produced this film, as opposed to also writing and directing it. He worked his magic brilliantly with Cruise in both Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. That deft touch is absolutely missed here. I was expecting a bit of a dip on that front, since McQuarrie is the better filmmaker of the two, but I was hoping that Cruise’s The Last Samurai director would bring at least some enthusiasm to the project.

The good news is that the cast mostly makes up for the pedestrian craftsmanship on display. Cruise is still a load of fun as Reacher, be it when he is dismantling goons or bringing welcome moments of levity in his reactions to his sidekicks. Yes, he has sidekicks, but don’t cringe just yet. These “sidekicks” come in the form of Cobie Smulders, playing an equally badass military police Major, and Danika Yarosh as a feisty wayward teen who might be Reacher’s daughter.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Cruise, who is incredibly involved in every film he stars in, has been making it a habit lately to have strong female roles showcased in his films. Rebecca Ferguson (M:I – Rogue Nation) and Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), in particular, come to mind. Cobie Smulders and Danika Yarosh aren’t given as much to chew on here as those two, but it is just as much their movie as it is Cruise’s and they both knock it out of the park.

On the villain front, it’s hard to fault our trio of baddies here for not measuring up to the first film’s creepy transcendence of Werner Herzog and surprisingly-engaging Jai Courtney henchman. Still, if you’re going to have above average antagonists, it’s nice to have them played by Robert Knepper, Holt McCallany, and a evil Diet Chris Evans.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back will not wow or impress you. That said, I had fun watching it and it’s destined to find immortality playing forever on cable TV to dads in their living rooms. Such is the ultimate fate of all above average, but unremarkable action films. Will it do well enough to warrant a third? It’s hard to say at this stage. I’ll certainly watch it if we get one, although I do hope any potential follow-up returns to the quality of the first.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)
Directed by Edward Zwick
Produced by Tom Cruise, Don Granger, and Christopher McQuarrie
Screenplay by Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz
Based on “Never Go Back” by Lee Child
Starring Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger, Robert Knepper, and Holt McCallany

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