Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a paint-by-numbers action movie that cannot punch or kick its way to an original thought. I found myself questioning whether or not I was seeing a scrapped Mission: Impossible script made into a non-franchise title several times, but to say that this film is as good as that brand would be a slam against the world Bruce Geller created way back in 1966.
One might think a sequel to a film that made more than $200 million at the global box office would go to great lengths to tie its story to its predecessor, but that is not the case with Never Go Back. Set four years after the events of the last film, this standalone title follows Reacher (Tom Cruise) as he attempts to clear the name of his friend, Army Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who has been accused of espionage. His attempts to accomplish this quietly are soon foiled, and in the process he too becomes one of the most wanted people on the planet. Reacher and Turner must then work together to figure out who has targeted them, all while protecting a teen who may or may not be Reacher’s illegitimate child.
That last part may be what ultimately causes Never Go Back to come completely off the rails. The introduction of Samantha (Danika Yarosh) as Reacher’s potential daughter he never knew existed drags the otherwise taut world of action this franchise has created into a world of cinematic melodrama that feels like ’90s nostalgia done wrong. Her storyline is used to inject arguments and humor into sequences that otherwise would play as straightforward action, but instead of adding to the overall entertainment value of the film it weighs down the story to the point that all excitement caused by the preceding action sequences dissipates as soon as the gunfire stops. It’s nothing against Yarosh, who gives her all to the role, it’s just not a good character.
Whether the above description brings to mind a movie you’ve seen or one of many episodes of TV shows you’ve watched, there is no getting around the fact that nearly every element of Never Go Back has been done before several times over. Cruise himself has played out similar stories in other, far better films, which only further raises the question of how such an uninspired work made it to the big screen. Is it simply an attempt to cash in on one of the last reliable movie stars before his time in the spotlight begins to dim? Is it an honest attempt to find something new to say with parts people know by heart? Is it simply the result of a rushed production cycle created to fit in with its star’s demanding schedule?
The answer is probably a little bit of all three, but no amount of explanation can cover the fact that this movie is among the laziest $90 million dollar creations in quite some time. Even the look of the film is tired. Action sequences come and go with the predictability of primetime, major network television. The stars are never hurt or shot, despite often facing four or more villains at a time who are all armed to the teeth. Cruise and Smolders are basically superheroes without the heart, interesting origin story, or purpose found in comic books.
The only other time Tom Cruise has appeared in a sequel as bad as Jack Reacher: Never Go Back was when Mission: Impossible 2 disappointed moviegoers around the world. While that franchise was able to recover thanks to the brilliant talent that worked both on and off camera for the third installment, I doubt Reacher will be given the same opportunity. Everything about this film feels dead on arrival, and even Cruise himself seems to realize this about halfway through. Never Go Back is nothing more than tired retreads of ideas that would have felt outdated five years ago, and it ultimately amounts to a viewing experience you will forget before you even leave your seat.