Directed by: Edward Zwick
Premise: A sequel to the 2012 film. Private investigator Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) investigates treason charges against a military officer (Cobie Smulders) and the two of them end up on the run from authorities and the assassins of a corrupt weapons manufacturer.
What Works: Never Go Back introduces a new set of characters. Jack Reacher reunites with an old military friend played by Cobie Smulders and she is a relatively interesting character. Smulders plays Turner, an officer who is charged with treason, and she brings an effective mix of femininity and masculine toughness to the part. She is in many respects Jack Reacher’s equal and wants to be treated that way but Smulders and the filmmakers acknowledge her womanhood. The movie plays on the gender politics a little bit with a female character who has forged a path in a man’s world and that allows her some depth. The cast also includes Danika Yarosh as Samantha, a young woman who may be Jack Reacher’s daughter. The rapport between Yarosh and Cruise gives the movie some levity and the filmmakers have fun teasing out the possibilities of their relationship.
What Doesn’t: While Jack Reacher: Never Go Back does some amusing things with its two lead female roles, the title character remains elusive and not in the way the moviemakers probably intended. Reacher is a character out of a western—the drifter who brings justice—and so he necessarily has a certain amount of mystery about him. But he’s also very one note. Never Go Back doesn’t have the dry humor of the first Jack Reacher instalment and the character isn’t fazed even when he is confronted with the possibility of fatherhood. This film was directed by Edward Zwick who had previously helmed Courage Under Fire and The Last Samurai. He ought to be proficient at this but Never Go Back gives the impression that everyone involved was just going through the motions. This sequel repeats a few of the signature moments of the original picture, such as the group fight scene, but those sequences aren’t done as well. There are chases, fights, and shootouts but there’s nothing remarkable about them. A lot of Never Go Back feels recycled from other action pictures and it has none of the style or showmanship of Cruise’s Mission: Impossible movies. The pacing of Never Go Back is off. The story lacks momentum and it has a start-and-stop feel. That’s partly due to the poor storytelling. The plot does not lead organically from one event to the next. There is a mystery to be solved but a lot of what are supposed to be surprises are fairly obvious and much of the plot consists of a flimsy chain of events. The villains barely ever come into direct conflict with the heroes and there’s no compelling stakes and so the movie is very boring. The filmmakers of Never Go Back make an attempt for socio-political relevance by making the villain a Blackwater-like military contractor but the story doesn’t do anything interesting with it. Never Go Back invokes various military industrial complex scandals but it doesn’t actually use them to say anything. This is nowhere near as provocative as the shooting rampage that opened the first film. Never Go Back also suffers from a lot of logical mistakes and otherwise stupid details. For instance, Reacher is arrested for murder and meets with his attorney. The prison guards leave him alone in a meeting room with his lawyer’s briefcase. At another moment, Samantha, a teenage girl, is witness to multiple murders involving people close to her but she’s barely traumatized at all. And there’s a late reveal about Samantha that—without giving too much away—undermines the whole purpose of putting her character into the story. These sorts of unbelievable flaws and bad storytelling decisions litter the movie, making Never Go Back a sloppy piece of work.
Bottom Line: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is as generic as its subtitle. It’s a bunch of random tough guy action movie moments strung together for two hours. It doesn’t make much sense and it doesn’t make a statement. It’s just a second rate movie that’s plays like Walker, Texas Ranger without any of the humor.
Episode: #621 (November 13, 2016)