JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK Review
Director: Edward Zwick
Ew. When I went to see JACK REACHER in 2012 I accepted it at face value: a Tom Cruise spinoff to kill time for the inevitable release of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — ROGUE NATION. And you know what? It was fine. Just fine, mind you. Werner Herzog’s brief star-turn as a villain helped remind me how desperately I’d like to see him play antagonists in great action films, but with JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK, I have instead been reminded of every reason why I despise generic action fodder in the first place.
My complaints with NEVER GO BACK lie in its amateurism. Despite all its flaws, Cruise’s 2012 film embraced a certain economy that made it redeemable. JACK REACHER was a film that didn’t indulge in massive set pieces. Viewers did not get to see Cruise hold onto planes or climb the Burj Khalifa. This was a markedly smaller adventure that embraced wits over spectacle. In a way, it felt like someone had watched every MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film and figured out why the best scenes were not the most explosive ones. Tom Cruise’s brand has always been somewhat reliant on being a quasi-Sherlock Holmes action star. He outsmarts his antagonists before bashing their faces in, and although the action was objectively bland in JACK REACHER, it at least maintained the trademark rhetoric that made MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE endearing.
“You are hereby charged with fraud, imitation of a franchise, and milquetoast presentation.”
With NEVER GO BACK, nothing here indicates “Tom Cruise vehicle.” Action scenes litter the canvas, but rarely do we get explanations of how our heroes make it out of the trickiest of situations. In an absolutely unforgivable prison escape, we watch Tom Cruise and co-star Cobie Smulders run for a food truck. The truck is consequently surrounded by police, only to be completely empty. We then cut to Cruise and Smulders driving off in a police car, with little-to-no explanation as to how they ever got there. Finding your way out of tricky situations is the entire appeal of a JACK REACHER film, and for a Cruise picture, this error is a capital offense.
I could go on about everything NEVER GO BACK does wrong, but I’ll take a second to give it the benefit of the doubt. Looking past its glaring misfires, poor cinematography, choppy editing, and tedious chase sequences, I can commend director Edward Zwick for delivering a serviceable investigative caper. Chock full of intrigue and military conspiracy, NEVER GO BACK is certainly more entertaining on paper than it is on screen (to no surprise, seeing as it’s an adaptation). It’s a shame that there isn’t a compelling antagonist to go along with it, ultimately relegating the bad guys to a bundle of cronies with various confused motives. Though the plot develops with ease and the inciting incident occurs within the first five minutes, throwing us right into the action, this begs the question as to why NEVER GO BACK is over two hours long.
Zwick: “I watched the opening to SPECTRE and thought, hey, I definitely CAN’T do that”
But the worst offender is Zwick’s frat-bro feminism. NEVER GO BACK really wants to be a product of the 21st century, a film that allows its female character the same attention as its male star. But it never follows through with its intentions. Smulders is a competent actress who could easily hold her own in an action film, yet Cruise is almost always out to rescue her, constantly taking command of a situation. Even after the two duke it out about her not being respected because of her gender, Cruise maintains a certain high ground that keeps the message from being effective.
Hell, even when she has her moment to shine by proving her innocence in a military conspiracy, it’s Cruise that helps her stop the enemy. In the film’s climactic showdown, Smulders does next to nothing to save the day. To make matters worse, I guess Zwick and company. somehow believe that watching Cruise shirtless is no different from his (I kid you not) 20 year younger co-star. Just because our female hero and our male hero are shirtless together doesn’t keep it from being sexually objectifying, especially when one is 54 years old. It all feels patently awkward, actively pandering to feminist ideals without understanding a lick of it.
A race for gender equality
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK is the microwave dinner of action films, a piece of entertainment destined for RedBox rentals. Tom Cruise is perfectly competent as an action star, but his insistence on playing the same character in every single film hasn’t helped him in the past decade. This is a man who used to have the potential to be a force to be reckoned with in the acting world. He proved dramatic chops with JERRY MAGUIRE and comedic talent with RISKY BUSINESS. For heaven’s sake, he played in THE COLOR OF MONEY. And somehow, despite all of this potential, he has opted to play these voiceless heroes time and time again. If Cruise would take just a minute to consider the potential of playing his action stars with a little more self awareness, then maybe viewers would more willingly go back.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend