Tom Cruise returns with Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, the first sequel to 2012's successful action thriller Jack Reacher based on a series of novels by Lee Child.
A much less flashy franchise than the Mission: Impossible series, the Jack Reacher films aim for a darker, grittier take on the genre more akin to an episode of 24 than a bombastic blockbuster. While lower key than some of Cruise's other vehicles, the first film did include some stand-out elements like the deliciously tense Bullitt-style car chase, the inspired casting choice of Werner Herzog as the intimidating main villain, a particularly brutal fist-fight and an instantly compelling plot. Most sequels tend to go bigger and sillier but Never Go Back takes a page out of the Bourne movies and keeps things relatively restrained. From the mostly star-free cast to the character-centric approach, this is, against all odds, a significantly less over-the-top film than its predecessor. Which is not to say it's realistic, far from it, but there was definitely an active decision here to not get side-tracked and try to mimic Tom Cruise's other popular franchise.
The plot sees ex-US Army super-soldier Jack Reacher get framed for espionage due to his link with Army Major Turner (Cobie Smulders) who is being detained. Suspecting conspiracy, Reacher breaks Turner free and they both find themselves on the run from the Military Police. On top of that, Reacher finds out that he could potentially be the father of a young girl whose life is soon put in danger. Cruise is still the tough guy we expect and, even though he gets a few more playful moments here, he also gives a somewhat more intense performance, which fits the character. But this is Smulders' show: her Major Turner bringing a whole lot of girl power to the table as a much less mysterious but equally tough character as Reacher himself. The daughter scenario doesn't really work, however, and, although Danika Yarosh gives a perfectly decent performance, seeing Jack Reacher as a potential dad and family man really adds little to the plot which feels, ultimately, underwritten and irrelevant.
Never Go Back is an entertaining thriller with enough kicks and punches to please Cruise fans. That said, this sequel lacks intrigue, threat, surprises and stand-out action sequences making it a far more predictable by-numbers effort than you'd expect.