The first film in the Jack Reacher now-franchise was a twisty mess that occasionally had moments of excellence. The eponymous Reacher—played by Tom Cruise—could reevaluate a combed-over crime scene within seconds and add an extra layer to every crime. His car chases were hilariously problematic, clunky and realistic in ways that are rarely seen in action films. Hell, it even had Werner Herzog as the main villain as a character whose name literally translated to “prisoner human being.” Jack Reacher was dumb, but it was dumb fun.
With Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, the name really says it all. Reacher loses the original’s writer-director Christopher McQuarrie—a man that has written and/or directed some of Cruise’s best recent work like Edge of Tomorrow and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Never Go Back has Edward Zwick taking over the franchise, the director who made such fun romps as Defiance and Blood Diamond. What Zwick brings to the franchise, alongside writers Richard Wenk, Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz, is one of the blandest and dated action films in years.
Based on the 18th book in the Jack Reacher series written by Lee Child (a man that clearly doesn’t believe in Never Go Back), Cruise is the mysterious former military police commander who keeps attachments to no one and no place. He’s a loner. A rebel. When he starts a flirtation with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who took over his old unit, he heads to DC to finally meet her. When he gets there, he finds her arrested for treason and discovers he might also have a child (Danika Yarosh) he didn’t know about.
Technically, there is a story to Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. There’s unnamed henchmen, something about Afghanistan, opium smuggling, etc. But really, the plot here is to get the makeshift family of Reacher, Turner and his possible daughter Samantha to get from DC (clearly played by New Orleans) to New Orleans (real New Orleans). Along the way, Reacher is confronted with whether or not this traveling soldier could just quit elbowing every person he meets in the face, and maybe settle down.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is about as tedious and insipid as possible. There’s nothing here that stands out in any way. In fact, Never Go Back feels so generic, this could almost be seen as a parody of 90s action tropes. This is a film in 2016 that has its two leads trying to get information by going to an internet cafe. Every line in Never Go Back’s screenplay feels like a Mad Libs version of “Basic Action Film” and every scene is immediately obvious for anyone who has ever seen an action film.
Zwick’s direction does nothing to help matters. In a new addition to this story, Reacher now has an black-and-white viewpoint he slips into when trying to solve crimes. These reenactments are sped up to almost Benny Hill levels and aren’t even accurate, making Reacher’s talents from the first film completely irrelevant. In the film’s climactic fight scene, Zwick’s use of zooms, slow-motion and terrible CGI makes what should be a tense moment ridiculous and laughable.
Cruise does the best he can in Never Go Back, but he seems to be lacking any enthusiasm for the role that once had a spark to it. If anything, it is interesting to see Cruise continue his stretch of films that include strong female leads that aren’t defined by their relationships to him. Edge of Tomorrow and Ghost Protocol at least made these character intriguing, whereas Smulders just doesn’t fit the role of Turner, nor the role of equal to Cruise’s presence.
Never Go Back is a bore that loses any fun and excitement that the series once had. By sucking life out of this character, it leaves the shell of action films from decades past. Reacher and Cruise himself both should have read the title of their own movie.