‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ offers sound advice in its title

Chiabella James/Paramount Pictures/Courtesy
"Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" | Paramount Pictures
Grade: C

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Complete with a spunky kid sidekick, an incredulous co-star and a seedy, politically charged conspiracy, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” has all the ingredients for a generic thriller, and, unfortunately for the film, it nails the recipe.

The sequel to 2012’s “Jack Reacher” and directed by Edward Zwick, “Jack Reacher: Never Goes Back” follows Tom Cruise’s eponymous protagonist as he embroils himself in a governmental corruption scandal to find justice for an old acquaintance. From the predictability of its plot to the heavy-handedness with which the movie tackles the gender inequality between its starring players, the production can — at best — provide fleeting instances of entertainment in a follow up that feels like it needed more time to materialize.

When it comes to action, the film delivers somewhat with the sequences being brutal and fast paced. What’s more, this time around the filmmakers inject a sense of jovialness into the fight choreography. They negate indistinguishable fights with set pieces that are unique in their execution. In fact, there are plenty of cheer- and wince-worthy moments that highlight the one source of ingenuity in the movie.

Cruise’s return as Reacher is flawed in its familiarity as he brings nothing new to the table in terms of characterization. While the first in the series sought to portray Reacher as a sort of boogeyman for criminality, “Never Go Back” attempts to humanize the veteran with the creation of a family of sorts in the equally gruff Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) and Samantha (Danika Yarosh), a teenager with mysterious links to Reacher’s past.

The opportunity arises for Cruise to explore a new emotional dimension for the character — his ability to build lasting connections. This is a mild success, especially with Yarosh’s character. The two share earnest revelations and comprise perhaps the most palpable chemistry throughout the movie. Cruise’s relationship with Smulders, on the other hand, is a whole other situation entirely.

Refreshingly, the storyline confronts the idea of sexism both in the military and civilian life via the interactions between Turner and Reacher. Smulders deserves credit for the charisma and ease with which she assumes the role of a high-ranking officer. She fully inhabits the role of a high-ranking military officer, fierce in hand-to-hand combat and driven in her own right. But her potential is wasted in a story arc that mistreats her.

There is undoubtedly a conscious attempt to level the playing field between herself and her co-star, yet the movie never truly solidifies the balance between the two. The idea of having a female parallel to Reacher is commendable in theory, but the film undercuts Turner’s attempts at vindication time and time again. She is rendered merely a shell of feminine empowerment.

More problematically though, the film consistently aggrandizes Reacher’s acts of heroism compared to those of Turner. There is no significant instance of danger in the film wherein Turner provides anything but backup to Reacher. Smulders’ role is abbreviated during the film’s most tense sequences, and her lack of a sizeable presence during these moments feels awkward — as if the filmmakers did not know how to coalesce her into the action sequences, despite her pre-established qualifications.

She is the catalyst who sets the narrative in motion, making her absence all the more confusing and oxymoronic and showing how severely underwritten she really is. Turner even goes as far as to tell Reacher, “I don’t want them as bad as you, I want them more,” in reference to the antagonists, yet she is never given her chance to epitomize this declaration of vengeance. While it may not sound like much, given the importance of her character, this is a gross underrepresentation of her capability.

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” tries to justify its own existence by distancing itself from the pulpy grit of its predecessor, but in doing so it loses its personality and proves there’s a limit to how much Tom Cruise can charm with his fists.

Contact Sanjay Nimmagudda at [email protected].