I’ve never read any of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, but by all accounts they appear to be the very definition of an airport paperback: Fast paced page-turners that excite in the moment but don’t exactly break the narrative mold or require much in the way of intellectual/emotional investment. And based on that definition, the Tom Cruise fronted Jack Reacher movies are perfect adaptations.

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Knowledge of the events of the previous Chris McQuarrie directed film is superfluous here as this sequel – now seeing Cruise reteam with his The Last Samurai director Edward Zwick – kicks off in media res, as a scene outside and in a diner, moaning men strewn in the parking lot as a bloodied and scuffed up Reacher calmly sits inside, tells us everything we need to know succinctly. Cruise’s Reacher is an ex-Military Police badass – with the “ex” only applying to the “Military Police” part – who drifts through the countryside, constantly finding trouble and fixing it through some good ol’ fashion skull cracking. His contact with his old life comes in the form of a telephone dalliance with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), the replacement now manning his old desk – one which bears the forehead imprint of some unfortunate sod who crossed Reacher before.

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But when Turner is arrested on what appears to be trumped charges of treason, Reacher – true to his trouble-finding ways – intervenes… Only to find himself accused of murder and dragged back into the military system he left under an air of disillusionment. With no choices left, Reacher is forced to break himself and Turner out of custody to get to the bottom of who is trying to frame them both. Complicating matters though is Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh), a troubled 15-year old who has a mysterious connection to Reacher… something his enemies may be able to exploit.

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Lots of criticism was originally leveled at the casting of the relatively diminutive Cruise as the man-mountain Reacher that Child wrote about in his books. And while Cruise is anatomically incapable of fixing that *ahem* shortcoming, he does more to inhabit the spirit of Reacher this time around. There’s an added gruffness here, an increased stoicism – and even a tiny bit of flab around the middle – that all gives a Reacher a believably lived-in world weariness.

And that creates a slight disconnect with the lively Samantha, making for an odd couple pairing between the two. Newcomer Yarosh doesn’t always stick the thespian landings on her side though, but she’s decent when it counts. Not that there’s too much heavy lifting needed. There could be more drama to mine from the awkward relationship between Reacher and Samantha, but Zwick prefers to keep things moving. Or rather, keep things running Tom Cruise style, a signature career move that never fails to enliven a movie, and which continues to produce results here.

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This time though Cruise has a running partner in the very capable Major Turner, who is not only able to match his Cruise control speeds, but she’s a skull cracker of note herself. There are hints at some more depths to her character as the movie flirts with issues of gender discrimination and equality in the military, but these are fleeting trysts before we’re racing off again. Smulders handles herself well though, with the role of Turner giving her more action heroine street cred than she’s had in her career thus far (she’s more badass Maria Hill here than in her actual role of Maria Hill in the Marvel movies).

But in the end, it doesn’t say Susan Turner: Never Go Back at the top of the posters. This is the Tom Cruise action hero show, as Zwick stages several bone-crunching action beats around his star, showing off Reacher’s ability to flatten rooms of people with his fists. And despite getting on a bit, the 54-year old actor still delivers the goods with violent glory. It’s just goods you’ve already received ample deliveries of over the years. Most recently in this movie’s predecessor, in fact.

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And that’s really Jack Reacher: Never Go Back‘s biggest problem: It never once tries to reach for anything more than what you would expect of it, or what you’ve seen before. The actors all turn in solid bankable performances, Zwick stages his action beats with effective competency, and the story never slumps at any point. But those performances never truly dig under your skin, the action beats feature a lack of cinematographical ingenuity, and the boilerplate story is about as forgettable – and easily figured out – a plot as you will encounter this year. I don’t expect this movie to feature widescreen world-ending odds and eye-popping visual effects orgies, as that is most definitely not what Jack Reacher is about, but at least the first film had a strong central mystery and boasted one of the best movie car chases of recent memory.

But that doesn’t make this movie bad. Far from it, in fact. It’s just that as it stands now, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is very much like it’s central character: Solidly built with brutal efficacy, bulling its way from point A to point B with enlivening inertia. Just don’t expect any creative gymnastics or sudden surprising flares here though.

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Last Updated: October 21, 2016

Jack Reacher
Summary
7

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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