Tom Cruise is the man. In recent years, the 54-year-old actor has made quite the resurgence, recovering from a number of questionable publicity moves by starring in some genuinely great films. He turned the Mission: Impossible series around, with the latter three installments representing some of the very best in action cinema, and gave us the criminally underrated sci-fi action masterpiece Edge of Tomorrow. These films cemented Cruise among the action greats and, with his undeniable charisma, has helped set a standard for live stunt work in action films.
When Cruise was announced to play the title character in 2012’s Jack Reacher, fans of the books by Lee Child were understandably upset. Cruise, standing only 5’7, didn’t exactly fit the 6’5, 230-pound behemoth from the novels. In the novels, Reacher was a tough-as-nails private investigator with next to no emotion, something that didn’t fit the usual charismatic Cruise character. Despite this, Jack Reacher ended up being an exciting mystery, and Cruise shushed the naysayers by remaining faithful to the character while also turning him into one of his iconic characters alongside Ethan Hunt and Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back comes four years after the previous film and sees a change in directors, switching out Christopher McQuarrie for Edward Zwick, who previously collaborated with Cruise for 2003’s sensational The Last Samurai. More known for artistic films than he is for action blockbusters, Zwick brings a deeper human element to this new film. Never Go Back sees Reacher on the run with Major Susan Turner (played by Cobie Smulders of How I Met Your Mother), a woman helping Reacher with investigations who gets charged with espionage. Along the way, Reacher also has to protect Samantha Dayton (played by Danika Yarosh), a teenager who may be Reacher’s long lost daughter.
It can’t be understated just how much Cruise elevates Never Go Back. He’s an intense character and as an actor, commands the screen anytime he’s in the frame. Cruise, of course, goes all out, throwing himself off buildings and punching bad guys left and right. Never Go Back is an action packed affair, but the story and script let the exciting action down. While the first Reacher film was an intense, action-mystery with a great central villain to root against, Never Go Back never finds its rhythm, failing to wring anything special out of its convoluted and formulaic plot. It doesn’t help that the film lacks an interesting antagonist, completely destroying any possible intrigue when the supposedly main villain is revealed and vanishes with no clear motive or really anything resembling distinct characteristics. Instead, a cookie cutter assassin (played by Patrick Heusinger) chases Reacher, never becoming anything more than a bland henchmen character.
There’s so many plot holes and events that lead to nothing in Never Go Back. The script is shockingly dull, dishing out clichés by the dozen and failing to create any emotional involvement with Reacher’s possible daughter. The film tries to create a badass father/daughter pairing and fails because the daughter character is such an unbearable presence. It’s not the fault of Danika Yarosh, who does her best with a character who makes one stupid decision after another. It gets so unbearable that it’s impossible not to shake your head when watching what kind of character the script created. Thankfully, Cobie Smulders gets her time to shine, kicking ass almost as much as the title character.
The script isn’t helped by the directing of Edward Zwick either. Instead of bringing a grand, intimate approach like he’s done with film before, he directs with such stagnancy the film ends up being uncharacteristically flat. Nothing pops; nothing sparkles on screen. A New Orleans setting in the latter half of the film is completely wasted as Zwick fails to capture anything that could have made the setting visually captivating. It ends up being an area for characters to quickly ditch the potentially visually stimulating night parade for boring alleyways and buildings with no identity.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a disappointing film, but one that offers some entertainment for those solely wanting to see Tom Cruise punch people in the face and be an overwhelmingly charismatic presence. It’s unfortunate that Never Go Back ultimately ends up being a formulaic cash grab with the only one seemingly interested being Cruise. With a better script, direction and story, Never Go Back could have marked the moment where Cruise found himself another franchise. Instead, it ends up being another forgettable, generic action film only elevated by the presence of its main star.