JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK

In an era where any film with a sizable budget requires a connection to some form of previously existing intellectual property, the number of genuine movie stars that can sell a film based on their name alone is dwindling. Tom Cruise is one of the exceptions, và he’s been one of the exceptions for almost four decades now. Since 1983’s Risky Business, Cruise has been a bankable star who has seamlessly drifted between popcorn fare, auteur awards contenders, and elevated genre films. But of all Cruise's many career swerves and readjustments, there's one glaring example of a road unfortunately not taken, and that's all down to 2016's Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.

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First, some context. Cruise has always been his own brand, and next year marks an interesting turning point in his career. Not only will Cruise turn sixty years old (although that will hardly stop him from hanging off planes), but his two films slated for release see him returning lớn iconic roles. The currently untitled Mission: Impossible 7 is the first of a two-part follow-up (and perhaps finale?) lớn Ethan Hunt’s story, and Top Gun: Maverick will see Cruise finally return khổng lồ the world of aviation and beach volleyball.


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Image via Paramount
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Cruise doesn’t seem khổng lồ be slowing down anytime soon, but he may need lớn adjust. An actor so committed khổng lồ the theatrical experience (you’ll probably never see him in a Netflix film) who's rarely interested in awards contenders anymore (remember American Made?) may need khổng lồ commit himself khổng lồ a franchise at some point. It’s not as if Cruise hasn’t been trying, but between the slow process on an Edge of Tomorrow sequel, continued delays on Top Gun: Maverick, và the absolute disaster of the “Dark Universe,” Ethan Hunt has been his only consistently recurring character.


However, Cruise did flirt with one potential exterior franchise with the Jack Reacher series. In Christopher McQuarrie’s second feature directorial effort, Cruise embodied the U.S. Army police detective from Lee Child’s novels. Although it was certainly another excuse for Cruise lớn beat the ever-living crap out of people (including five guys at once), Reacher was a distinct character from Hunt that could feasibly be developed in subsequent films adapting other books within Child’s series. Unfortunately, the năm 2016 sequel Jack Reacher: Never Go Back made all the classic sequel mistakes, killing what could have been an interesting move in Cruise’s career.


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Image via Paramount
Never Go Back turned Reacher into just another action hero. The pulpy opening sequence would have been a fun intro if it previewed actual substance later on, but the film traps Cruise within a convoluted military conspiracy with little emphasis on any actual problem-solving. The first Jack Reacher was interesting because it wasn’t a Mission: Impossible movie. Cruise didn’t need just another kích hoạt franchise; seeing him in a pulpy urban noir was a refreshing change of pace.

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Jack Reacher also helped fill a void in mid-budget crime kích hoạt films that have been sorely missing in Hollywood. While McQuarrie is now Cruise’s favorite director & script doctor, he started out in the world of neo-noir with his Oscar-winning screenplay for The Usual Suspects and directorial debut The Way of the Gun. Compared to lớn the rather disturbing opening sequence of the first film, Never Go Back gives him sub-Mission: Impossible action.

It was particularly disappointing considering McQuarrie’s intentions for the series to lớn go in a darker, R-Rated direction, as the first film already pushed the boundaries of PG-13. Cruise has only appeared in a few R-Rated films across the last decade, but he has the quality ability to draw an audience lớn a dying genre (Rock of Ages notwithstanding). Could Cruise have kickstarted a trend of modern neo-noir with Jack Reacher in the same way Edge of Tomorrow inspired interest in original sci-fi? We’ll never know.


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Image via Paramount
Never Go Back also fell into the uncomfortable territory of lionizing Reacher’s tactics, but again the first film was interesting because Cruise was actually holding himself accountable. He was playing a military operative who crosses ethical và moral boundaries, và there was a genuine moral grayness that isn’t present in the Mission: Impossible series. Never Go Back wasn’t interested in exploring the darkness that Cruise was clearly capable of, instead shackling him with a kid (Danika Yarosh) và an uninteresting love interest (Cobie Smulders, who clearly deserved much better).

Never Go Back made over $50 million less worldwide than its predecessor, and unkind review indicated that audiences would rather just wait for the next Mission: Impossible adventure than see Cruise embarrass himself with another bloated sequel. As is the case with literary heroes like Jack Ryan, Alex Cross, Lisbeth Salandar, and Mickey Haller, Amazon swooped in khổng lồ move the cinematic character to lớn the small screen for a direct-to-streaming series.


Perhaps Child’s work is better suited for a serialized adventure, và hopes are high for the upcoming Reacher that debuts in February. However, it remains a shame that Cruise wasn’t given the chance to mature into a darker character as Ethan Hunt’s adventures (eventually) reached their conclusion. Never Go Back’s title was ironically predictive.