Christopher McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher film came out the best part of four years ago, and given that film was a solid, but not spectacular, financial success, it was not always guaranteed that we’d see Tom Cruise back as Lee Child’s titular drifter. But here we are with Never Go Back, which is based on Child’s 2013 novel of the same name, and directed by Edward Zwick, who has done good work with Cruise before in The Last Samurai.
The 2012 film was an unremarkable if better-than-you-might-expect detective thriller, and that’s a description that can be applied with equal validity to this sequel, which sees Reacher attempting to visit a military contact (Cobie Smulders) before finding out she’s been taken into custody accused of serious crimes. The plot initially seems only tangentially connected to the lead character, meaning the first act has to work a bit to get us involved, but the film does give Reacher a personal connection to the case fairly early on, which works as a not entirely original but well played side plot – namely, there is a young girl involved in things who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter.
Never Go Back functions as a sequel to the 2012 film only in as much as Tom Cruise is back as Jack Reacher, because in all other respects the film is standalone. This was perhaps a wise decision as the first film, though it did adequately at the box office, was not widely seen. The first act tries a little too hard to build a legend around its central character (also a minor problem in the first film) but once the plot settles down it’s an enjoyable watch all told, even despite the odd bit of ropey and unintentionally funny dialogue.
Reacher is a charismatic drifter with kick-ass combat skills, i.e. not much of a stretch for Cruise; but that’s fine, because although Cruise can play this kind of thing in his sleep, he’s still good at it. The interest is more in the supporting performances. Smulders, tougher than we’ve seen her before, does a good job of portraying a strong, smart military type who is more than capable of looking after herself, and Danika Yarosh does good work as the kid thrust into Reacher’s care.
Where the film lets itself down is in the plotting. The mystery behind everything ultimately relies too much on characters who have little or no actual involvement in the film, or on schemes we haven’t been allowed to care much about, meaning the narrative revelations tend to be underwhelming. There’s also a charisma gap as far as the villains are concerned. Patrick Heusinger is actually perfectly good as the nameless, relentless figure hunting Reacher and his companions, but the character is entirely one-note. The film lacks a charismatic figure like Werner Herzog, who was so good in the first one, despite being on screen for about five minutes.
Never Go Back is at its best when Cruise, Smulders and Yarosh are doing their dysfunctional fugitive family routine, or in the crunchy confrontations between Cruise and a succession of faceless henchmen. Like the previous film, there’s enough in here to recommend a viewing if you’re after a relatively old-fashioned thriller; it just won’t stick with you for too long.