Tom Cruise is back in action as off-the-grid ex-Major Jack Reacher in Never Go Back, the second film adaptation of the bestselling series of novels by Lee Child.
I was a fan of 2012’s Jack Reacher, which seems to have gotten even better with age; Cruise must have been impressed, too, because he recruited that film’s writer-director, Christopher McQuarrie, to helm the terrific subsequent installment in his Mission: Impossible series(and M:I 6, currently in pre-production).
That film worked largely because of its offbeat approach; McQuarrie, who wrote The Usual Suspects and made the criminally underrated The Way of the Gun, is a master technician at slow-burn suspense, and the mere presence of German director Werner Herzog as the villain elevated the film from the usual-usual.
This one, on the other hand, is a perfectly solid but oh-so routine actioner at the hands of Edward Zwick, who previously directed Cruise in The Last Samurai.
Like the first film, the star’s Jack Reacher seems to materialize from nowhere to help the US military sort out its internal issues. At the film’s outset, he’s dealt with a gang of people smugglers – and takes out a pair of corrupt cops, without lifting a finger – for his military contact in Virginia, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders).
Reacher and Turner have been hitting it off remotely, but when he finally heads down for a face-to-face he discovers another Major in her place. Turner has been arrested on some murky charges, and Reacher sets out to not only prove her innocence, but save her life from the shady contract killers on her tail (but why didn’t they just kill her in the first place?)
To complicate matters, Reacher just happens to discover he may have a daughter in the area when a military lawyer informs him of a child support case filed by a one-time lover. The dates seem to match up, and Reacher searches out the possible daughter (Danika Yarosh) only to inadvertently involve her in his current affairs.
Never Go Back is breezy and deftly plotted, with some surprise twists along the way and well-choreographed action scenes. The climactic chase through the streets of New Orleans during a Halloween parade is particularly exciting.
There isn’t a hint of romance between Reacher and Turner, but Cruise and Smulders make for an engaging on-screen pair, and there’s even a nice family dynamic when Yarosh in thrown into the mix. Most of the film’s most engaging scenes are character-driven asides.
But this Jack Reacher outing it never quite gels, at least not in the ways that the previous film did; there’s precious little new or original here, and the film starts to fade from memory as soon as the credits roll.
Part of that may be down to the villains in this outing: the usual corporate goon (played by Robert Knepper) and a rogue-like psychopath who does his bidding (Patrick Heusinger). Neither are especially imposing threats for Reacher, and there’s not a whole lot of satisfaction in seeing him take them down.
Genre fans can certainly do a lot worse than Reacher 2, which is a polished, calculated kind of thing – a rare serious thriller at a multiplex full of popcorn superhero action flicks. But others will find little to distinguish the movie from dozens of others of its ilk.