Like a dull double-episode of NCIS.
“Never Go Back” should be the default mantra for any movie studio with a surprise hit on its books. Rare as it is to bottle lightning once, capturing it a second time is nigh on impossible, which is why the list of memorable sequels is usually countable on just one pair of hands. 2012’s original Jack Reacher was a better than expected offering from Paramount, combining top-notch action with a few well paced comedic moments. Unfortunately, it’s part of a million-book series by author Lee Child, meaning so long as these movies even just do ‘okay’, we’ll likely see a whole bunch more of them.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back sees Tom Cruise again assume the lead role of the celebrated soldier turned drifter ‘with the habit of getting in trouble, or going looking for it’. This time round he finds himself coming to the aid of an army officer accused of espionage (played by How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders). Everyone seems to want her dead, so the pair needs to figure out who’s behind the apparent setup before they’re both executed by dogged assassins. An alternate name for the movie would be ‘Cobie Smulders Gets To Run Alongside Tom Cruise: A Lot’, because that constitutes a significant part of both the plot and action.
There are a couple of key problems with this film. Firstly, Cruise plays Reacher with a ridiculous amount of simmering menace that proves entirely unnecessary given the character is already so ridiculously calm and capable against any number of threats. In the original movie they got the balance right, with Cruise playfully almost helping and advising the people he was fighting, but here he just glares and threatens before beating everyone up, which robs the scenes of any personality. Apologists will say that’s how Reacher is written, but even in the books he’s possessed of a dry wit amidst all the bitterness.
Secondly, there’s very little here by way of interesting plot. It ultimately feels like a double episode of NCIS, only with less action or intrigue. Add to that the frequent schmaltz, particularly between Reacher and the young girl whose life he saves, and you end up with a dull, predictable and corny piece of cinema that undoes all the good work of its predecessor.