By: John M Jerva
I’ve literally been spending the past few weeks rewatching old school action flicks as today’s society have a stick up their ass. I so want to go back to those glory days when unapologetic films flooded the market and audiences gobbled them up. Sure there’s a few films out there nowadays that bring the old school vibe but there’s nothing like a solid 80’s or 90’s action film to really get you going with all the political incorrectness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for some of the issues that pop up now and again, but I feel that society as a whole has to lighten up and especially when it comes to movies and television. It’s just entertainment and if you don’t like it then don’t watch it. OK, my rant is officially over.
You can bet that I was pleasantly surprised to finally watch the Amazon Prime adaptation Reacher which brings the take no shit hero of Jack Reacher and brings him to the small screen. Let me also point out that I had no problem with Tom Cruise portraying Reacher in the two movies and yes, I’ve read the books and I know he’s supposed to be a giant among men. Cruise was solid and he made me forget that Reacher was supposed to be 6 foot 5 and have hands as big as turkeys. Cruise still brought his dramatic flair to the role and even though he didn’t stack up stature wise, the films were solid entertainment none the less.
Now author Lee Child can finally rest at night because with the new Amazon Prime series, simply named Reacher this time, he’s got his man in star Alan Ritchson. The enormous actor has made quite the living having starred in comic book TV series like Smallville and Titans and he was even swam solo as Aquaman for a defunct pilot that never went to series. Ritchson has left his comic book roots behind for the harder edged adaptation of the first novel in the 26-book series of Jack Reacher. Adapted from Killing Floor, this Reacher is a faithful adaptation of the source material which is a good and bad thing depending on whether you read the book or not. Even though there are differences in the series, it still follows the plot and fans of the literature will pretty much know what comes next while watching it. I am quite jealous of those who haven’t read the novel as they will enjoy the show way more and be surprised even more.
That’s my biggest gripe with Reacher as the rest of it is near perfection and it’s the perfect cure for all the crap that is going on today as it is essentially an unapologetic 80’s style actioner with elements of CSI mixed with crowd pleasing brutality and a take no shit hero that this world is desperately longing for. How’s that for a ringing endorsement? This small screen version plays out like one long movie broken into eight chapters as each episode literally picks up where the least one left off. Even though I liked Cruise, I have to admit that Ritchson crushes it and is the best interpretation of the original character.
The first season of Reacher kicks off as our fearless hero steps off a bus on his way to the small town of Margrave, Georgia. Newly discharged from the Army where he was an elite Military Police Investigator, Reacher now roams the country where he is looking for his next fight and those who need his help. At first, he’s just set on looking for the hometown of a famous blues singer but unfortunately for him, he’s arrested right away for murder but of course all is not what it looks like here and Reacher is swept up into a huge conspiracy that involves his older brother and a vast counterfeiting cartel. Along the way, he teams up with two cops in detective Oscar Finlay (Malcolm Goodwin) and officer Roscoe Conklin (Willa Fitzgerald). At first, he doesn’t want anyone to get in the way as he proceeds to get in everyone else’s way but as the story unfolds, he accepts their help to figure out the bigger picture and whom is at the heart of it.
That’s all I’ll say about the plot because I think viewers should go in with little spoilers so for the rest of the review, I’m just going to talk about why this series works so well and why it deserved to be renewed three days after it premiered. First of all, the show lives or dies with the performance of Ritchson as Reacher at to that end, he hits a grand slam in both the dramatic and action departments. Ritchson nails the character’s vibe and it’s a treat to watch him work as he is more than just muscle. Reacher is a skilled investigator as well so it’s fun to watch him operate as he tries to figure out just what the hell is going on. Ritchson plays Jack as a silent giant who talks only when he has to but has no problem dropping a monologue on us when the situation warrants it. Reacher keeps people at a distance because he has no time to get involved in any drama.
When it comes time to throw down, Ritchson excels in the fight choreography which brings a brutal tinge to the proceedings. The Tom Cruise films were PG-13 and more reserved so it’s refreshing to see the hard R approach taken with this version and it doesn’t pull punches when the violence hits. The fights that are peppered throughout are brutal and unforgiving and this Reacher is a bad ass that plows through the bad guys like a Mack truck with no brakes. There’s plenty of action to sustain the running time but it doesn’t overshadow the plot or all the quitter moments when Reacher uses his brain to deduce what has happened. Like I said, this season plays out like eight episodes of CSI as Reacher, Conklin and Finlay defy the odds to bring justice to the town of Margrave. When the violence does happen, it hits the audience over the head with blunt force trauma.
Ritchson is front and center, but the supporting cast all deliver as well, especially Goodwin and Fitzgerald whom the viewers become invested in as they are likable and real. Goodwin’s Finlay is a by the book cop who slowly sees that if he wants to get results, he’ll have to play Reacher’s game and Fitzgerald’s Conklin is no damsel in distress as she dishes out just as much as Reacher does. The rest of the town is filled with quirky characters that are spread out during the eight-episode run.
I stated before that if you read the book, you’ll know who the bad guys are which takes away any and all twists in the plot but that’s OK because the villains are all the type that you can’t wait to see then get what’s coming to them. There was one cocky son of a bitch in particular that I was biding my time until he got his comeuppance. Some of the dialogue is per the norm for this type of series but at this point, I’m pretty much just nit picking as the strengths certainly outweigh the weaknesses.
There are subtle differences to be had as Conklin and Finlay play larger roles here than they did in the book. Killing Floor was told through Reacher’s eyes so when they left to do something, they were gone until they returned. Here you get to see them play out more scenes as the narrative is different. Also, there is a character in the series that wasn’t in the book and that’s Reacher’s Army ally Neagley. Played by Maria Sten, her character doesn’t come into play until the novel Without Fail but here they introduce her early to help the narrative along and also set up future seasons. There is also more back story to Reacher here than we got in the novel which works because it gives our hero more layers.
The finale in the last episode is a crowd pleaser as well as the inevitable showdown is played out in a factory where Reacher and his crew take on the evil of the town. There’s plenty of standout fisticuffs and firepower to be had and once again it’s an ensemble effort as it’s just not Reacher who gets in on the action. I liked that the action throughout was spread out in little violent bursts which all led up to the fiery climax where bullets, fists and feet fly. It’s nothing short of throwback pleasure.
Overall, the first season of Reacher is the perfect antidote for a cancel culture society where everything is now deemed offensive and don’t tell me it isn’t. Alan Ritchson’s Reacher is the perfect return of the 80’s action hero that dishes out the humorous one liners along with the broken bones and this show is the near perfect merging of crime drama and full-on action extravaganza. To put it simply, Reacher is a new series wrapped in the body of an 80’s show on full auto and with season two officially announced, it can’t get here fast enough. Reacher lets his fists do the talking and shows us that he’s much more than a battering ram and I’m hoping that they give us some original material in the seasons to come so it won’t always be like the books. If they do adapt more books, I’ll be fine with it because Ritchson has given us our newest take no shit action hero this society so desperately needs. People say there’s no larger-than-life action heroes like in the 80’s. Well, here you go!