There are lots of big-budget sequels produced in Hollywood, but it’s rare for one to feel as superfluous as Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. The original Jack Reacher was a solid Tom Cruise vehicle, with Christopher Macquarie’s good taste landing him the gig for the latest Mission Impossible film, but it didn’t perform especially well in American cinemas (although it was fairly successful internationally), and not many people really expected (or wanted) a sequel to it. As such, Never Go Back doesn’t exactly feel like essential viewing, which is just as well, since it is one of the most paper-thin, by-the-numbers Hollywood films in recent memory.
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is a military veteran who spends his time wandering the United States, solving mysteries. He begins having flirtatious phone conversations with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), the officer who has taken over his old post, but when he goes to meet her, she has been arrested for espionage. He then gets embroiled in a conspiracy that involves his supposed estranged daughter, all whilst being hunted by an unnamed assassin. It’s a solid setup for a conspiracy/chase thriller, but unfortunately, the weak script and even weaker direction squander almost all of the film’s potential.
It’s easy to pick the movie apart, but most of the blame lies squarely with Zwick’s direction (he was also one of the film’s writers). Whilst Cruise was likeable as the grizzled Reacher in the first film, in Never Go Back Zwick seems to have to told him to repress all of his natural charisma, and he quickly becomes a frustrating presence, especially in comparison to Cobie Smulder’s magnetism. Recent films have shown that Cruise still has what it takes to carry a film like this, but in Never Go Back he is barely allowed to run or jump anywhere. He has a few, fairly low-key stunts, but his usual sprightly athleticism is replaced by an odd weariness. He feels distinctly old and tired (which makes the romance with the 20-odd year younger Smulders especially creepy), a sentiment which applies to the film as well. The film cost $60 million to make, but it doesn’t look it. The cinematography and production value rarely seems far above an episode of 24, and Zwick directs the film’s few action sequences with little-to-no energy. He seems to be more interested in a gritty, low key style of action than the CGI explosions of most Hollywood films. This is in of itself admirable, but he directs with such little flair he made me wish Cruise would start climbing the Burj Khalifa again.
The most frustrating thing about Never Go Back is that by rights, it should be much better than it is. Tom Cruise has been on a roll lately, and there still isn’t a better action movie star working today. Cobie Smulders has seemingly graduated from indie films and supporting Marvel roles into convincing leading ones. Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond) has shown that he can make a solid action-thriller while Lee Child’s Jack Reacher book series is huge, and widely loved. However, Never Go Back manages to negate these positive elements, and reveals itself to be staid and boring. Recently I would have said that what Hollywood needed was a down-to-Earth, gritty thriller, without too much complex plotting or CGI wizardry, but Never Go Back has made me reconsider that stance.