Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) (Review)

Jack Reacher became a modestly-sized hit back in 2012, when the first film based on the character created by Lee Child was released. It did enough to grant a sequel, subtitled Never Go Back, in the hope of growing a franchise for Tom Cruise as the action-hero lead. The beginning of Autumn has been a brilliant time for adult-skewing dramas powered by starry leads, leading up to the main bulk of the Oscar season, and respite to the uninspiring summer season; so does Jack Reacher: Never Go Back continue this trend?

After tipping a human trafficking ring off to Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), Jack Reacher (Cruise) returns to his old military headquarters only to learn that she has been accused of espionage (which lead to the death of two soldiers) and detained. Believing she is being framed, Reacher and Turner become fugitives on the run, along with 15 year-old Samantha (Danika Yarosh), from the state to track down those responsible. If it seems a pretty generic storyline then you'd be about right, with the 'crime' depicted far less compelling by the deadly sniper attack that opened the first film.

2012s Jack Reacher felt a little forgettable - in fact, I had to quickly refresh myself on its ending just before the sequel started - but it admittedly felt a little smarter than most other action thrillers and featured a genuinely compelling plot and solid performances. Second time is certainly not the charm here, as it feels as formulaic and derivative of other genre entries as it possibly could be. It is without its own charm and identity, failing to standout from a busy crowd - Bourne and Bond and even Crusie's own Ethan Hunt spring to mind. What's even more damaging though than its lack of originality is that this is a genuinely boring film, despite a number of chases, fights and shootouts. It descends into an empty spectacle that isn't even that interesting to look out, with little thought or sophistication put into the directing either. It feels like a straight-to-dvd release that will be in the bargain bin at supermarkets by the end of the year. It's lazily directed and lazily executed, but quite surprisingly, its lazily performed too...

Cruise is usually a dead cert to give a reliable and committed performance, but in Never Go Back, he often looks as uninterested I was sitting through this film - although that could be down to his thinly-sketched character, who surely has to be more lively on the page to last twenty-odd novels. The poor, plodding script he is forced to work with can't be much fun either though. Cobie Smulders is a little better, although she is also seemingly there to offer the inspiring 'women can do it too!' role, only to then follow Reacher's plan blindly and rarely put her skills to the test. It's frustrating to see the two leads stranded with such lifeless material, but its down right heartbreaking for newcomer Danika Yarosh, whose role as 'teenager' is built upon every imaginable stereotype and cliche you can think of. Smulders, and especially Cruise, will have plenty of opportunities to hide this film in their ever-expanding filmographies so lets just hope Yarosh isn't defined and held back by this weak performance of an even weaker character.

It's not all bad in fairness, in fact there is one thing I will pride the film on; it's approach to humour was surprisingly hit more than miss, and injected the script with just a tiny bit of life, thinly dispersed throughout the two hour runtime. And, thank goodness, the final twenty minutes brings the film some much needed intensity and momentum, even if that intensity does lack in comparison to its genre stablemates, with an interestingly Halloween-themed finale saving the film from being a complete shambles. Oh, and Madalyn Horcher's Sergeant Leach could have been interesting if she was given more than two minutes of screen time, but alas.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back feels like a quick and desperate cash-in on the search for the next big franchise, with little care taken to craft an even remotely compelling storyline and characters. It's honest to god a rather boring experience, with the final 20 minutes coming along to just about save it from being a total farce. And, I'm not saying its a completely terrible film either as it does have a few flashes of promise throughout it but it's just downright lazy, monotonous and generic.


Summary: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is film-making at its absolute laziest, with poorly-written characters and a storyline helped no further by a surprisingly weak and uncommitted lead performance from the once reliable Tom Cruise.

Highlight: The humour was okay?