Latest reviews of new albums:
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
  • Composed by Henry Jackman
  • Paramount Music / 2016 / 52m

Christopher McQuarrie’s 2013 Jack Reacher, based on the ninth of Lee Child’s hugely successful (and entertaining) series of novels about the loner who seems to find trouble wherever he goes, was an above-average modern action thriller intended to start a series but it didn’t do all that well, so it was a bit surprising to hear the series would be getting a second entry, Never Go Back, based on the 18th novel.  Tom Cruise is back, of course, but McQuarrie isn’t, Edward Zwick stepping into the director’s chair in his place.

Joe Kraemer wrote a fine score for the first film.  I said at the time (after making a joke about Cruise spending most of the film standing either on a box or next to someone standing in a hole, which I’m very proud of) that “what’s surprising about [Kraemer’s score] is that it largely eschews the modern approach to most thriller scores (by which I mean fairly anonymous music which gets drowned out by the helicopters and guns) for one which is more in keeping with music by composers like David Shire and Michael Small from those great 1970s thrillers.”  For the sequel… strike that.  Indeed, I could pretty much copy and paste the previous review and stick the word “not!” after an ellipsis at the end.

Henry Jackman

Henry Jackman

If you imagine for a moment a deleted scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Captain Picard asks the ship’s computer to play him a piece of music which most represents film music for action thrillers in the second decade of the 21st century, the computer would play him Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.  (Maybe that scene did actually appear in the show – I can’t remember every single second of it, after all.)  Henry Jackman’s the composer, but it doesn’t really matter – it could be by anyone.

There’s the Jason Bourne ostinato for the action, the HORN OF DOOM for the particularly exciting moments, the mellow strings-guitar-piano combo for when something tender is happening, the lightly chopping strings and synths for when nothing much is happening.  There’s no melody you’ll remember, indeed nothing of anything you’ll remember.  And this, in a film directed by the man who made Glory and Legends of the Fall.  Jackman’s music isn’t awful – it’s just ordinary.  There are some occasional Eastern European flavours and some Middle Eastern ones, but that’s all that stops it from sounding completely generic (and they really just make it sound even more like Bourne).

I’m sure it takes a lot of effort to create this stuff – the intricately-designed synths, the orchestral layers – so I just wish I could get something more from it.  But I find it dull – it’s understandable to rely on well-worn techniques, there’s no point reinventing the wheel every time, and I’ve mentioned them above so should say that few would position Glory or Legends of the Fall as prime examples of groundbreaking film scoring techniques after all – but there’s just not enough to it.  The score is at its best in some of the action tracks, like “Jailbreak”, but they really do sound almost like they could be straight from the Bourne scores, if only they had a bit more panache – and without that panache, why would anyone choose them over the real thing?  And for every “Jailbreak” there’s a “Cat & Mouse” with the god-awful HORN OF DOOM to contend with.  Seriously… enough with it.  In any case, the action is only occasional.  Most of the score is innocuous suspense.  The best track, which sounds nothing like anything else in the score (but instead sounds like Thomas Newman) is the last one, “Making the Connection” – but even there, it sounds like Thomas Newman, and inevitably isn’t as good as Thomas Newman.  It would be nice to know what Henry Jackman sounds like, but 30 film scores in, I still haven’t got a clue.

You can hear the orchestra here – it doesn’t sound like samples, which sets it apart a bit from a lot of these things, which manage to sound sampled even when they’re not – and it’s not all just crash-bang-wallop (in fact it might have a bit more oomph if more of it were), there are the lighter moments to go with that.  But what’s it doing, really, that library music couldn’t accomplish?  Where’s the feeling in it?  What’s it doing to try to position Never Go Back as something other than a generic action thriller?  I can’t think of an answer to any of those, so even though it’s all perfectly competent and probably no different from what the composer of Zwick’s four previous movies, James Newton Howard, would have written – there’s just not enough here for me – in all probability I’ll follow the advice of the film and never go back.

Rating: **

See also:
Jack Reacher Joe Kraemer | |

Tags: ,

  1. Aidabaida (Reply) on Friday 21 October, 2016 at 21:33

    “It would be nice to know what Henry Jackman sounds like, but 30 film scores in, I still haven’t got a clue.”

    He’s fine tuned the craft of burying his own voice, but he does have one. His style involves sharp, crackling trumpets over a bed of thin-sounding strings. Often, he uses intervals of octaves or fifths. Actually, his style is really identifiable. Compare the theme in “Skydiving” to the theme in “X-Men: First Class”, or the theme in “Kingsman” to the themes used at the end of the first song in “Civil War”. He does have a VERY specific sound, but, yes, he often buries it in generic RC rubbish.

  2. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Sunday 23 October, 2016 at 00:15

    I agree, Aidabaida. I think Jackman is frightfully hit-and-miss but I *do* hear a style there, even in his weakest and most interchangeable scores. Now obviously he’s no Goldsmith or Horner, but I’d have no problems saying that he has a more identifiable voice than someone like John Debney or Joel McNeely (although obviously their superior craftsmanship and listenability and commitment to melody make them better composers overall).

    In any case I’d take this score, dull as it is, over the ear-mangling torture that is most of Inferno, any day of the week.