As solid as the original Jack Reacher had been a sequel seemed unlikely due to under performing ticket receipts. However, despite the backlash of the stalwart fans of the book series, there was an audience for the military drifter. So when Reacher tipped over the $200 million mark the next installment was green-lit.
The opening to Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (or Jack Reacher 2) starts strongly enough. As seen in the trailer County Sheriffs arrive to a diner where Reacher has laid waste to gang and calmly sips a coffee at the counter top. When the sheriffs do approach him he's a little more grizzled. He still has the one-liner's in the chamber, but more importantly he's covered in grazes and bruises. It may seem like a small detail, but the original Jack Reacher film made a point of making him capable, but not invincible. Although Jack's character seems very much intact, the other ties that bound the original's taught Action/Thriller seems all but gone. The result is something of a facsimile that neither has the same edge or packs the same punch.
The beginning of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back catches us up on the last 4 years, where he seems have gone from flying under the radar to righting wrongs with the help of Cobie Smulders' Major Susan Turner. They share vaguely veiled phone calls that build toward Jack dropping by Washington DC to find Major Turner has been embroiled in some military conspiracy involving stolen weapons and nefarious military contractors. One of the original's most refreshing changes was it's confidence to not lean on the genre tropes and tick them off. Even if you're happy to go along with exploring another side to Reacher - one that tries to run game on the ladies - it does seem a little against the spirit of the first installment's character, whom against the odds of the action/thriller bible and a push-up bra, was more of a truth-seeking missile than a fire-and-forget Lothario. If you do manage to fall in with this particular march, then there's the addition of an is she/isn't she daughter. Hellbent on ignoring everything she's told, it feels more like a parade march than a quick step and while it's easy to keep up, it misses a few beats here and there.
Credit where it's due the first act is intriguing enough. While Reacher himself is tangled up before we go on the run, there's more than enough intrigue to keep you interested. It's also interesting to bring the character back to the place of his origins. He may have turned his back on the military, but there's moments where he naturally falls into routine which adds a bit of depth for those interested enough to pay attention. However it's quick to jettison anything intriguing (and therefore trickier narratively) to indulge a by-the-numbers operation.
While the first installment may not have reinvented the wheel, it was careful to manoeuvre nicely between Bourne and Bond to avoid comparison. The who-dun-it was kept wound tight until it was time to unravel and still injected some originality into tired tropes. Here we see an attempted follow up that seems to get less interested as the running time continues. Where the original had a keenly shot car chase punctuated by engine revs, wheel screeching and gear grinds, Never Go Back has devolved into on-foot chases with telegraphed musical cues. It's even more of a shame when you consider some real highlights in the first act.
While we can rack up all the charges against it, if all you're looking for is a Friday Night actioner with a little bit of heart you won't be bringing it before a Court Marshall. If you'd hoped for something as fulfilling as the first, you may shove it before a firing squad.
2* - Mission: Implausible