Hey y’all, more reviews!
So this is going to be something of a tricky review for me. I say that because it’s difficult to talk about Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Not because Never Go Back is necessarily a poor film, or even a great film. No, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is hard to talk about because it is, in essence, a perfectly average film. But I agreed to do this, so try I must.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the follow-up to the original Jack Reacher, adapted from Lee Child’s novel series based on the adventures of the titular character. Never Go Back once again follows ultra badass action man Jack Reacher (Cruise), as he finds himself tangled up in another conspiracy, this time concerning the sudden and abrupt imprisonment of his friend Major Susan Turner (Smulders), who stands accused of espionage.
It should be said that the original Jack Reacher was something of a surprise hit for me: a tight, well-executed little mystery thriller with satisfying splashes of action, a solid plot, and some intriguing moments and characters. Never Go Back, while not necessarily a horrible film, is certainly uninspired compared to its predecessor. Most of Never Go Back’s problems emerge from its script, which is equal parts bland, uninspired, and horribly lazy. Never Go Back is laden with flat, uninteresting characters, stale and hokey dialogue, and a lot of head-scratching plotting and story decisions that frequently set up moments and ideas that simply never pay off. While it only really veers into “terrible” territory a handful of times, it’s so laden with clichés and extremely familiar moments that it’s difficult to ever really get into anything that’s happening, and Never Go Back as a whole just feels like it never really gets out of first gear any point.
With that said, however, one of Never Go Back’s stronger elements was its overall pacing, which held consistent throughout most of the film. Events moved at a nice speed, and there were only a few points where Never Go Back felt aimless or meandering. That said, however, it is a bit disappointing that Never Go Back opted to take a much more action-focused direction. One of the more surprising things about the original Jack Reacher was that its stock-standard action trappings gave way to a slower-paced mystery thriller that was well put-together and satisfying. While some of those trappings remain, they often take a backseat to the much heavier presence of action scenes and whatever intricacies the plot offers gets a bit lost as a result.
The aforementioned hokey dialogue was another particularly frustrating aspect of Never Go Back. Never Go Back is loaded up with clunky and ham fisted exchanges and attempts at jokes and one-liners that often miss far more than they hit. Part of what made the first Jack Reacher such a delight for me was its restraint; it knew when to say, “Enough is enough”. Never Go Back, unfortunately, didn’t get the memo on that one, and often feels like its trying too hard to be one of those charmingly hokey, Schwarzenegger-esque action films of the 90s, but the delivery and cadence of the dialogue just doesn’t match the feel or tone of those movies.
Never Go Back’s better points are found more with the performances of its two stars, both of which were the anchors that Never Go Back desperately needed. Tom Cruise was, of course, his reliable Tom Cruise Action-Man self, delivering a performance imbued with the stoic intensity that people have come to expect of Jack Reacher. The real revelation, however, was Cobie Smulders’ performance as Susan Turner. Smulders proved that she has serious chops as an action star, and she felt completely at home as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense military woman. That said, however, the rest of Never Go Back’s cast did little to impress. While there weren’t any particularly awful performances, much like the film as a whole, there wasn’t much in the way of anything particularly stand-out or impressive, and the cast did little to elevate the to be fair, very thin material they were given.
Never Go Back’s letdowns continued on into its action sequences. Again, fine in execution, but just generally not particularly exciting or uninspired. It’s a shame too, since Never Go Back has some locations and set pieces, which seem ripe for some fun or inventive action sequences, but little advantage is taken of the potential to do something interesting with these locations. This is particularly frustrating with one of later action sequences that take place during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, which easily had potential for “intro sequence of SPECTRE” levels of awesomeness, but inside just ends up sliding into being another competent yet dull action scene.
Much like I said up top, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is indeed a perfectly average film. While Never Go Back certainly doesn’t do anything really poorly, it has little in the way of anything above average, save what Cruise and Smulders bring to the table as the leads. Never Go Back proved itself to be a fine enough diversion if you have two hours to spare, but it’s hardly a film worth going out of your way to see.