Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the second entry in the Jack Reacher franchise. It is a utilitarian action adventure that doesn’t have a lot to say. It’s strongest when it focuses on the interpersonal conflicts of the protagonists and it has plenty of action, despite overall having a forgettable story.

Frequently movies may be criticized for following predictable patterns and well established templates for their genre. Arguably, however, this same adherence to a well tested recipe can allow a filmmaker to refine the overall quality of film making and display particular accomplishment in cinematography, choreography, pacing, writing, or even acting. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is an excellent example of quality execution elevating an otherwise generic work.

One of the areas that particularly stands out is a muted performance from Tom Cruise. There is no surprise in the talent and ability of Tom Cruise being able to highlight the aspects of Jack Reacher that make him unique as a character: thoughtful and direct. Little to no time is lost on moments of indecision or superfluous conversation. This doubly works toward the strength of the film as a whole, as it wastes almost no time at all, using all of its scenes and dialog purposefully.

Cobie Smulders is equally well used as she acts opposite Cruise in her portrayal of Major Turner. The well rounded development of Turner is one of the more endearing aspects of the casting and writing. Major Turner adds a nuance to the internal conflict of the protagonists, capturing an counterpoint to Reacher that elevates the interactions between the characters.

The action of Jack Reacher is effectively choreographed. Not as sparse or brutally simplified as John Wick, Never Go Back still has a trim style. Most of the fights, chases, and short and sweet. This sort of restraint is, frankly, still refreshing in an overall environment of excessive overlong action sequences that functionally halt the story telling. We are definitely treated to a sweet spot here, where we’re given enough to savor and enjoy, but not enough to bore.

Its narrative is where Never Go Back is weakest. The finer details of the story were already evaporating from my mind even as I left the theater. I still remember the broader strokes, but what I’m left with is more like an impressionists version of a story. All the major events are flat and the finer details just didn’t feel important enough to stick out, especially not against the well developed character interactions.

This is probably because the antagonists are so thinly defined. We never get more than a few minutes with them as a whole. Never Go Back is so primarily focused with the relationships conflicts of reacher himself, that the actual villains of the story are little more than the background noise to highlight them. You’ll be hard pressed to remember anything particularly interesting about any of the figures that Reacher struggles against.

At worst, though, these are primarily sins of omission. You only miss them when you’re looking for them. There’s enough memorable conflict in the development of the protagonists that these deficiencies will not be much missed.

Never Go Back succeeds by being aggressively direct and to the point. It moves effortlessly from moment to moment, and is downright utilitarian in its use of action sequences. Ultimately, this is a well acted, effectively directed, and at times even cleverly written summer blockbuster that may not be special enough for audiences who are exhausted of empty action flicks. However, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back will be fondly remembered by those who are in the mood for a light, but satisfying, action adventure.

Final Verdict:Formulaic and predictable, but still a fresh and exemplary entry into the action adventure genre.
Rating:C+