Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Review

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Is Cruise doing for Reacher what he did with the M:I series?

by Casimir Harlow Oct 19, 2016 at 2:15 PM

  • Movies review


    Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Review

    Jack Reacher: Never Go Back builds on a solid first Reacher adaptation and offers a future for Cruise beyond the Mission: Impossible franchise, should he choose to accept it.

    Whilst the first film didn't exactly do spectacular box office, it also didn't cost a great deal to make, providing a nice return on the modest budget, and opening the door to a potential new franchise for Cruise to mine, particularly as he, somewhat unbelievably given the shape he's in and stunts he performs, pushes his way towards the latter half of his fifties. One of the interesting innovations of his Mission: Impossible series is the continuity of star but not director, with each successive director bringing a new flavour to the next chapter in the saga, and Cruise's lead character remaining the core to the overarching franchise.
    Perhaps Cruise is going the same route with Reacher and, at least based on this (hopefully not last) sequel, it's a formula that keeps things fresh even if, much like M:I, they need a few goes to get it right. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie brought a unique feel to the first chapter (which he ported over to the excellent Rogue Nation) and it suited the gritty tone. Edward Zwick (who previously worked with Cruise on The Last Samurai) takes screenwriter/directorial duties here, co-adapting author Lee Child's 18th Reacher book, also titled Never Go Back (the first movie was based on the 9th, titled One Shot), and his vision is a very different one.

    Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
    Set several years after our last encounter with the ex-MP, Never Go Back shows exactly what happens when you ignore the warning in the title - with Reacher returning to his alma mater only to find his successor, Major Turner, under arrest for treason and he himself facing charges for crimes that he did not commit. Needless to say, Reacher doesn't think he can get to the bottom of the conspiracy from behind a locked door, busting Turner out and going on the run. To make matters even more complicated, a young woman named Sam Dayton enters the equation and challenges pretty-much all of Reacher's preconceptions about his possession-less roaming lifestyle and lack of ties, and also a tough assassin is dispatched to clean up the whole mess.

    From a commercial perspective, Never Go Back was a rather obvious popular choice for the follow-up to the first Jack Reacher adaptation. Despite fans of the book series likely regarding some of the earlier entries as more 'classic' Reacher tales, this more recent chapter offers an inherently younger angle to broaden the perspective beyond the older main characters. Although it's a commercial rationalisation, the benefit for audiences is that we don't have to wait 17 films to get to one of the first (and only, barring a few very early exceptions) Reacher tale to at least get a little bit personal.

    As a result, despite the cool, aloof, tough and no-nonsense persona Cruise adopted in the first film carrying through here, the story's sub-plot necessitates a more grounded and human streak to become evident. Yes, crazy as it may seem, Reacher is human. And Cruise, eventually, over the course of the movie (and perhaps most evidently towards the very end) rises to the challenge of playing him as such, retaining the core elements necessary to remind us that he's the same animal as he was first time out (replete with phone-based threats), but also developing the character and adding some semblance of depth to someone who was previously little more than an enigma. Some may find it cloying and melodramatic, and in terms of the performance of the actress who plays the girl, it's certainly borders on something out of the 90s, but credit where credit's due: it's at least an attempt to do something different.

    Jack Reacher proved a solid throwback to traditional action-thrillers of old, and Never Go Back maintains that

    Cobie Smulders has enjoyed a celebrated small-screen run on How I Met Your Mother, and some limited big screen mayhem courtesy of her ongoing role as Agent Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but she's seldom had the chance to prove herself as a lead, and whether it's thanks to Cruise's reputed easiness to work alongside, or just Smulders coming out of her shell, she too rises to the challenge. The two make for a plausible duo, and in spite of the fact that, after Edge of Tomorrow, many may have hoped for someone like Emily Blunt playing the role, Smulders just about stands her own opposite the 54-year old action icon.

    And despite his age, Cruise doesn't let up in the action stakes, once again proving the naysayers wrong with a number of positively bone-crunching (after The Magnificent Seven, this is another questionable 12A) fight sequences - some of which are telegraphed in the trailers - that dispel any sense that the man can't convince in the physicality that the role demands. Zwick works with the Bourne cinematographer Oliver Wood to capture some more dirty action sequences, and the screenplay holds true to the narrative of the book, although - much as with the book itself - its sub-plots are often much more interesting than the vanilla tried-and-tested government/military conspiracy backbone which propels the main arc and, ultimately, feels a little redundant by the end of it. It's actually the more human angle, for good or for bad, that separates Never Go Back more clearly from other action films, even if it does sometimes leave it feeling like a relic of the John Grisham era of the 90s, a pervasive fault of the movie which becomes infinitely more clear on a second viewing, to my dismay.

    Nevertheless, Jack Reacher proved a solid, highly entertaining throwback to more traditional well-crafted action-thrillers of old, and Never Go Back arguably only maintains that throwback trend, even if it arguably throws back a little too far and as a result threatens to be one step forward, two steps back. Fans of the first should still enjoy the sequel, but McQuarrie's slick efficiency is sorely missed at times, with the 2 hour runtime feeling a lot baggier this time out and the score (also from the 90s) doing nothing to help maintain tension. It's really only Cruise who holds the reins come the end, and even he's starting to show wear. I honestly never thought I'd get tired of him running. As if it needs to be said, those left underwhelmed last time will certainly not be swayed by this. But, at the end of the day, readers who can't leave Reacher's height on the page would have never gotten on board with this Cruise series no matter what.

    Indeed, Cruise may have an uphill struggle to perfect the formula before he grows too old for it, but he certainly deserves kudos for trying something different second time out, and, even if it doesn't always work, if he continues to follow the same pattern as he did with his mega-successful Mission: Impossible series, here's hoping he'll get it right third time out and we'll be celebrating a burgeoning franchise, rather than just the first two chapters in another dead end. Certainly there's the potential for at least a couple of the remaining eighteen-and-counting Reacher escapades to fuel his next decade; arguably long after he finally calls it a day on climbing up trains/mountains/buildings/planes.

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