'Jack Reacher: Never Go Back' Review

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
2.5

Since Tom Cruise has made out like gangbusters in the third and fourth Mission: Impossible sequels lately, there is reason to hope for the first sequel to Jack Reacher. However, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back doesn't quite have that kind of luck going back, and not just because Cruise isn't climbing buildings or a plane in this sequel.

Ex military policeman turned drifter Jack Reacher heads to DC to meet the female major who now has his old command, only to immediately find she has just been arrested for treason. Once Jack digs deeper, the real culprits have him framed for murder, although that only makes it easier for Jack to break himself and Major Turner out of custody. But if that wasn't enough, they wind up adding a third member to their group, in a teenaged girl that is said to be Jack's daughter.

That element was not mentioned in any trailers or ads at all, although it was hinted at in an online teaser synopsis. Yet needless to say, the vast majority who see Jack Reacher: Never Go Back will be surprised to learn that it is more of a surrogate family adventure than an slam-bang action thriller. How much of a pleasant surprise it is will likely vary, although co-writer/director Edward Zwick doesn't provide many favors.

Zwick takes over for Christopher McQuarrie, who made the first Jack Reacher before he and Cruise reteamed for Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation. While Zwick and Cruise also have past history from The Last Samurai, both are hardly as ambitious in this reunion.

The trailers did a good job of selling Never Go Back, especially in the opener where Jack tells corrupt cops that two things will happen in the next 90 seconds. Unfortunately, since the trailers spoiled that whole scene already, it doesn't pack as much of a punch seeing it in the movie. Technically, the last two Mission: Impossible movies spoiled their biggest moments and stunts well in advance, yet they got away with it better than Never Go Back does.

With many of Cruise's good one-liners and action moments already given away, all it leaves is the family/surrogate family element, as Jack and Turner are practically the bickering parents of young Samantha. Sometimes it yields amusing moments and unlikely bonding, while other parts are lazier and cringe worthy, such as the arguments between Jack and Turner in a New Orleans hotel.

For all the tension and amusement meant to be had in giving a loner like Jack a potential daughter and a female partner while on the run, the central premise of the character does undercut the mystery in how it will all turn out. This isn't the only example of Never Go Back's predictability, but it becomes pretty glaring once the end credits start rolling by.

Ideally, the action should balance out the shortcomings in other areas. But in this element, Zwick comes up short as well, save for scattershot scenes like Reacher taking on several guys at once again and a finale set in the middle of a Mardi Gras parade. Otherwise, Zwick comes up fairly short compared to McQuarrie in action, tension, suspense and craft, leaving aside how family time cuts into action time.

Never Go Back becomes yet another 2016 sequel that mainly exists to point out how better its predecessor was by comparison, whether it was truly exceptional or not. Compared to the first Jack Reacher, there are less Cruise one-liners and impressive fight sequences, less quirky touches like casting Werner Herzog, and what appears to be less maximum effort from the director.

Cruise has rarely been accused of not giving it his all, but things are more limiting for him this time around. Fans of the Reacher books constantly say he is miscast because he isn't tall enough, yet Never Go Back also makes it clearer that Reacher is less verbal, less social and less personality driven than the usual Cruise action heroes, which is a difficult obstacle in its own right.

To bounce off Reacher's walls, Cobie Smulders is promoted from supporting Avengers actress to an actual action co-lead, not to mention designated mother/babysitter in this would-be family unit during her down time. Still, she gets to do more action than in her three MCU films combined, and even sells a particularly crazy one-liner/threat to an arch-villain with a straight face, almost like in the old How I Met Your Mother days.

There aren't many other well known people behind Cruise and Smulders, yet the original Jack Reacher wound up landing Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo two years before their 2014 breakouts in Gone Girl and Selma. In this case, the sequel has young Danika Yarosh as its big new find, with Samantha all but hijacking the film after act one. As for the adults, they just have Patrick Heusinger, Aldis Hodge, Holt McCallany, Madalyn Horcher and Robert Knepper on their side.

Jack Reacher was an early part of Cruise's string of action hits in the last few years, but Jack Reacher: Never Go Back puts a halt to that streak for now. It is more of a case of false advertising than a case for Cruise making the Reacher franchise as long and fruitful as Mission: Impossible. Then again, since it took a few movies for that series to hit its real stride, this one may still be able to take its time.

Never Go Back takes its time to a less successful degree, as its non-action moments wind up being the most memorable, albeit not always in good ways. Hiding such a big part of the movie in promos was a triumph in secret keeping, if not a total triumph in the film itself. But even if the would-be Reacher family tree hadn't taken over, Zwick doesn't prove that a more completely action packed approach would have worked any better.

Cruise's other franchises may keep him from going back to this one for a while, so hopefully the break does him and Jack Reacher more good than the last one seemed to do.