Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is exactly what I expected it to be. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but watching this movie with the wrong expectations could be rough. I’d place this in the realm of the first three Transformers movies (Age of Extinction was just garbage) — not strictly good films, but fun if you’re willing to turn off your brain a little.
The Jack Reacher films are based on Lee Child’s popular long-running novel series of the same name. Never Go Back is largely based on the plot of the eighteenth novel in the series, with which it shares its title. The original film written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie — who also wrote The Usual Suspects and Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow, both of which were were stellar. The 2012 work on its own was a solid movie, complimented by a charismatic performance from Tom Cruise, who returns to reprise his role in the new film.
Never Go Back was directed by Edward Zwick, who is notably not Christopher McQuarrie — though the later was given producer credit. Though there were no clear missteps on Zwick’s part, this movie lacked the sequences and set pieces to stun audiences. With the level of production we’ve come to expect in cinema these days, that’s an issue.
The real issues here lie in the writing. Though I maintain that Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders (the female lead) and Patrick Heusinger (Jack’s primary antagonist) turn in commendable performances, the situations and lines that they are fed are a serious weakness. My sister, who dozed off through much of the exposition, had as many questions about the story as I did. It isn’t that the film has massive plot holes, but on repeated occasion the script failed to justify the characters’ motivations and actions. I found myself asking ‘why’ more than I would’ve liked. Additionally, much of the characterization and dialogue falls victim to repeated cliché. Danika Yarosh’s character, Samantha, is especially guilty of this. Her teenage character fits the authority-rejecting millennial stereotype to an eye-rolling degree. These issues compound into moments where a viewer will find themselves taken out of the action.
Now I’m not here just to trash the film here. There are certain aspects which certainly deserve positive consideration! Unlike the Jason Bournes and Marvel Heroes that are so popular these days, Jack isn’t a god. In fact, our protagonist is repeatedly called on his shit. Jack’s whole stick is being a lone wolf, a wanderer wary of outsiders. In Never Go Back, two women enter Jack’s life and he is forced to rely on both of them. In these interactions, Reacher is made to admit his own shortcomings. In one notable scene, Jack insists that he alone must confront the group’s adversary and is subsequently called out for his bullish, borderline-misogynist tendencies by Smulders’ character. Jack’s subtly shown weakness makes his character more relatable to the average viewer. He isn’t perfect, and neither are his choices.
There are also very strong action sequences strewn throughout the film. The fighting in this movie feels more realistic and visceral than many films of recent years. In most action movies I can usually point out one or two scenes where I thought: ‘Really? He’s not dead?’ Of course, because it is an action movie, Jack survives events that no real human could ever dream of living through, but the ridiculousness of his longevity is toned down a bit. In the ever-present mano e mano fist fight near the end of the movie, the protagonist and antagonist seem to be genuinely affected by each other’s blows. Again, these relatable deficiencies in the main characters of the film makes the entire experience more believable.
In conclusion, a weak plot and flimsy dialogue are steps backward from the relatively strong first entry in the series. However, the complexity of Jack’s character is refreshing and makes the movie an enjoyable watch if you’re bored on a weekday afternoon.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 hitchhiking thumbs.