Jack Reacher returns to the screen to announce that he has been franchised. Looking a lot older and worn-out in his years, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back finds him back in action and caught in an uncanny case of déjà-vu. With the mystique and intrigue of the first film no longer a practical storytelling device, the film relies in familiarity and tropes to engage the viewer. The result is an intentionally contrived action-extravaganza that hits the ground running and doesn’t relent.
When Jack Reacher returns to the headquarters of his former military base, he discovers that his friend, a high ranking major, has been arrested for espionage. Upon investigating what he believes to be a military cover-up, he finds himself accused of murder and on the run with his high-ranking friend and a teenage girl who may or may not be his daughter.
Director Edward Zwick reunites with his Last Samurai star, Tom Cruise, for this curious sequel that makes no apologies for its construct and, presumably, marks the first of a series of sequels. Ignoring the events of the first film, Jack Reacher Never Go Back serves as a stand-alone story, which mirrors the former instalment while exploring Reacher’s character a little further. The inclusion of a daughter-figure – who is introduced as leverage by the bad guys – lends the story a new angle that compensates for its lack of intricacy and innovation. Reacher is given a new sensibility and his character is given a personal exploration that was absent in the first film.
Of course, there is action a plenty, with a relentless series of sequences that have Reacher single-handedly wiping the floor with countless thugs and assassins. Cruise may look older, but his stamina is high and his physicality is in peak-condition. Helping to carry the load is actress Cobie Smulders, who has an equal share of the action and facilitates a less-than subtle feminism theme. Indeed, she kicks a lot of ass, and with the pressure of sharing screen time with Cruise she well and truly dominates the story to the point of vying for the lead role. Her performance is strong and her on- screen dynamic is compelling.
Where the film falters is in its lack of cohesion and while the story definitely makes sense, the scenes are stitched together loosely and play out like a patchwork of good ideas. Even though it is the second film in the series, the story is adapted from the eighteenth book Lee Child’s Reacher series, and as a consequence we are given very little subtext. The strength of the previous film’s supporting cast is also lost with the likes of Richard Jenkins, Rosamund Pike and Robert Duvall sorely missed. With that said, the simplicity of the story combined with the unabated action and an ambiguous father-daughter set-up leaves little time for anything else, and Cruise and Smulders carry the weight convincingly.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a worthy follow-up that maintains its stamina and holds its own. It understands its position as an action sequel and works well within those confines. And while it may be less stylised than its predecessor, the action is ramped up and delivered with deliberate intent. It attempts to play its action-loving audience like a fiddle and for the most part, succeeds.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10