Director: Edward Zwick

Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge. Patrick Heusinger, Robert Knepper

Classification: M (Violence)

Review by Peter Gray

Although director Edward Zwick has helmed films that have elements of action to them – most notably 2003’s ‘The Last Samurai’ and 2006’s ‘Blood Diamond’ – ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ serves as his first official genre entrant. And perhaps because of Zwick’s inexperience working within the compounds of an action film is why this surprise sequel lacks the one ingredient it needs to survive – action!

Despite the first film, simply titled ‘Jack Reacher’, failing to make much of an impact at the North American box office, it earned blockbuster status thanks to overseas figures, and it’s evident that the film’s star (and producer) Tom Cruise is eager to make Lee Child’s award-winning novel creation its own franchise. Though he already has a winning action series in the ‘Mission: Impossible’ films, there’s a more low-key approach to the ‘Jack Reacher’ films, with drama and character development seemingly being more important than outlandish stunt-heavy sequences; suddenly the hiring of director Zwick makes sense.

There is something charming about the film’s more grounded approach to action with hand-to-hand combat and fire-armed shoot-outs taking precedence over anything CGI-enhanced, but ‘Never Go Back’ sadly doesn’t offer up enough of these moments, leaving large portions of the film without much visual excitement. It does help that Cruise (still looking physically immaculate for a man in his mid-fifties) and his co-star Cobie Smulders move the story along with their natural chemistry, and the script from Zwick, Richard Wenk and Marshall Herskovitz offers up a relatively interesting, if sometimes complex, plot that pits Cruise’s Reacher and Smulders’ Susan Turner against the very government they so loyally serve.

Murder, treason, kidnapping, drug deals and the selling of US army weapons on the black market make for great action movie fodder, and ‘Never Go Back’ has all these ingredients peppered throughout its near 2-hour running time, it’s just a shame the film is unable to cook these components as cohesively as it should; the film is also let down by the fact that it’s main villain (the always reliable Robert Knepper) doesn’t get much of a chance to assert himself, leaving his heavy lifting to right-hand man Patrick Heusinger. On that note though, Heusinger is a physical being whose man-to-man brawls with Cruise rank as the film’s highlights, with Zwick squeezing plenty of mileage out of just how brutal your content is allowed to be in an M rated film.

Tom Cruise fans and ‘Jack Reacher’ enthusiasts are likely to warm to ‘Never Go Back’, even if doesn’t prove as exciting as the ‘Mission: Impossible’ films. As reserved as the film may be in regards to its action content, it survives on star-power alone, and not just Cruise’s. Similar to how Emily Blunt held her own in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and Rebecca Ferguson walked away with ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’, Smulders proves every bit the power-player, refusing to serve as window-dressing and standing confidently as a heroine worthy of her own franchise.

My rating: 3/5

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