With all of the iconic characters that he’s portrayed onscreen, it’s inevitable that some of Tom Cruise’s many movie action heroes might not land or become quite as memorable as some of the others. For every Ethan Hunt, there’s a Jack Reacher lying around somewhere, a character based on the popular Lee Child books who brings out a much quirkier, more intense, and often more absurd version of Cruise’s tough guy persona. For better, or for worse.
Now, Cruise is returning as Reacher on screen this week in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, which finds the “ex-Major” once again taking justice into his own hands when Major Turner (Cobie Smulders), a female military leader who he’s taken a fondness to, is arrested under mysterious circumstances that hint at a conspiracy or cover-up going on within the military. At the same time, Reacher also learns that he may be a father to a daughter he never met — a 15-year-old living on her own out of foster care — and searches for the girl in the hopes of finding out the truth behind their relationship.
Those are the basic plot components of Never Go Back and from there, Cruise and Smulders both go on a journey that not only takes them to internet cafes in Washington D.C., but also to parades in New Orleans. Where the first Jack Reacher film was directed with a quirky and brutal hand by Christopher McQuarrie, Cruise is instead reuniting here with his Last Samurai filmmaker, Edward Zwick, who takes the more intense and unique parts about the Jack Reacher character and bumps them all the way up to some seriously ridiculously levels here.
To its credit though, the film seems well aware of this. From the opening scene of Never Go Back, which sees Reacher being arrested by an arrogant country sheriff, only for Reacher to then turn the tables and say that soon enough a phone’s going to ring and he’s going to be the one in the cuffs, Zwick lays out the tone of the sequel well. So, when all of Reacher’s predictions end up coming true and the baffled Sheriff looks at Reacher and asks, “Who are you?,” you’re either going to be laughing when Cruise intensely says back, “I’m the person you didn’t count on,” or you’re going to be groaning. Never Go Back doesn’t hide what it is in the slightest in those opening moments, and fully prepares you for what’s to come, which is even more absurd scenarios involving Cruise in dangerous situations, almost always throwing out cheesy one-liners.
Unfortunately, where Cruise is sometimes able to make the absurdity of his dialogue and the character’s intense arrogance work, Smulders doesn’t fare so well. A majority of the dialogue that she’s forced to say in the film just feels forced and awkwardly placed, and the entire, possible romantic connection between the two characters doesn’t work very well either. Turner is written as a strong, kick-ass female character that’s able to hold her own in a fight just as much as Reacher can, but she’s still forced to play second fiddle to Cruise’s action hero for a majority of the story. It’s so strange that Turner even calls Reacher out for it at one point in a scene with admirable intentions, but which fails to do much with them.
As Reacher’s possible daughter Samantha, Danika Yarosh is given a few moments to shine throughout and is able to bring some humanity to her character, but ultimately can’t elevate her beyond the many tropes and stereotypes she’s been written with. Her relationship with Reacher is, surprisingly, one of Never Go Back’s better aspects and their growing dependency upon each other is well-paced and thoughtful. It’s just not able to escape the rest of the absurdity happening on screen.
The same can be said for the entirety of Never Go Back however, an action sequel with some strong components and moments throughout, but that are pieced together by convoluted situations involving a character that doesn’t ever feel like he’s in much danger at all and whose bravado often escalates into some dangerously laughable territory. Following the impressive Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation last year, arguably one of Cruise’s most impressive action films to date, Never Go Back isn’t able to be nearly as memorable or entertaining as some of his other, more recent outings.