Verdict: 3 / 5
The world’s deadliest drifter is back with Tom Cruise reprising his role as former US Army Major Jack Reacher. As Reacher continues to lend a helping hand to the military, he telephonically befriends Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) who happens to occupy his former post. Just as Reacher is set to meet Turner in person, he learns she’s been arrested for treason. Suspecting foul play, which is confirmed when he is accused of murder; Reacher once again becomes entangled in yet another government conspiracy.
The plot is not highly original; it’s the usual “accused of a crime so they’re on the run to clear their name”. Where Reacher doesn’t stand to lose much, Turner is fighting for her job, her reputation, and her freedom; add the seriousness of the conspiracy, and the stakes are set quite high. The subplot though, while it means to add depth to the mysterious lead character and perhaps force him to put down some roots, only gets in the way of a potentially better movie. The weight of the conspiracy is never appreciated as we are constantly diverted back to the secondary matter. That said, this is a very different film from the first; it is much more gritty with less spectacle but plenty hard-hitting action. Reacher is a one-man army; he’s used to working alone and has learned to depend only on himself. He may have met his match in his new accomplice, as Turner provides a solid counterweight; she is capable, resourceful and intuitive.
Cruise is excellent, as always, bringing sincerity to lone wolf Reacher, a role that could easily be two-dimensional. There is very appealing chemistry between him and Smulders, which is set up effectively, but sadly never developed. The film tries to force an emotional connection that just isn’t there with the subplot, while completely ignoring the genuine one, which they worked so hard to establish. Smulders is an extremely refreshing addition to the cast, drawing your attention away from the generic thug type villains. So much attention was paid to the question over whether Reacher could possibly have a “normal” life, the writers neglected to develop the characters in the central plot. There are so many nondescript “bad guys” that you almost lose track of who Reacher is after.
The direction and editing seem to be constantly at odds in Never Go Back. This makes for a jarring experience as it feels as though chunks of detail are missing. There is often little explanation to support how or why the fugitive heroes end up in a specific location, movements occur solely to serve the narrative. Although New Orleans makes for a vibrant backdrop to the final act, it’s not clear how exactly they managed to get there.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back opens with a scene that promises something special. The tension builds well for a while, but then stagnates before the conclusion as you wait for the action to happen and the mystery to unfold. The action set pieces are definitely entertaining, but apart from this, and strong performances from Cruise and Smulders, there is not much that makes this sequel memorable. A third installment would not be a dreadful prospect though, as there does still appear to be decent foundations for improvement.