For all his involvement in Scientology, high-profile divorces and weird personal intensity, audiences sure love Tom Cruise. You could throw that guy off a mountain, slap a Mission: Impossible title on the footage and make a cool $500 million before anyone realized he was actually dead. But something didn’t quite work when Cruise was cast as Jack Reacher, a former military cop who ends up a nomadic private investigator, in a 2012 film and 2016 sequel.
Trouble was, the character as written by novelist Lee Child in a series of thrillers is 6-foot-5, blond and hulking in every dimension. Cruise is very fit but none of those things. He is, in fact, small — and fans were angry about it. There is always some leeway in page-to-screen adaptations, but less so when your leading man is repeatedly described as a giant with hands the size of “dinner plates” or “frozen turkeys.” For Child’s readers, these details were a big selling point.
So, after the memory of some underwhelming blockbusters had faded, when Amazon Prime set about rebooting the franchise as a TV show, they did what any savvy creator would do: In Reacher, the hero is played by actor Alan Ritchson, a dude who has the mass for the part.
Not sure why any bad guy would try to fight this dude, but okay! Fan service it is. Even Lee Child breathed a sigh of relief at Amazon casting someone closer to his frankly preposterous descriptions of god’s perfect meathead. “‘It just became a different proposition and I guess the opportunity of thinking alright, we can get a much bigger guy” in order to win back the Cruise-haters, he explained in an interview. And they’re certainly grateful, it seems.
The first friends to recommend the show to me were a married couple, Drew and Andrea, who happen to have assembled their own home gym for weightlifting, sometimes referred to as the “Swole Shed.” I asked for their reviews of Ritchson’s physique. “He’s not big enough,” Andrea said, noting that the actor is 6-foot-2, while Reacher is supposed to be 6-foot-5. Still, it’s a marked improvement, she added, because “by Hollywood standards that’s massive.” Drew, who stands at an impressive 6-foot-6 himself (perhaps one of the reasons Andrea is so exacting about Reacher’s height), remarked, “I’m just happy I can watch a show where a character being 6-foot-5 is constantly mentioned.”
Proof that representation matters. Also, is Ritchson wearing 3-inch heels?
But while the size queens are taking a victory lap, and a few are swearing up and down that it’s not just the “physical look” they like about this Reacher, there are a few haters. On Reddit’s r/nattyorjuice, there’s speculation that Ritchson has used dubious supplements to pack on muscle. Over at r/jackreacher, one viewer complained that the series had “whitefaced the Hulk,” asking how anyone could see this “grotesque” body without laughing. (He was rebuffed by other Reacher fans who accused him of being insecure.)
My favorite complaint, however, is that the new, mega-jacked Reacher isn’t handing out enough concussions: “Pet peeves: weight classes,” reads the post. “Reacher is 270, 300 easy? How the hell is he not knocking out any of these tiny ‘hitman’ fools who come after him? No matter how well trained you are, if a 6’5 280 lbs giant comes after you, you’re done for.” Another redditor agreed: “This was my only criticism of the show. Everything else was pretty spot on. Reacher should be absolutely destroying these henchmen.” Such is the risk of super-sizing your protagonist, I suppose.
One hopes, if they refuse to show Jack Reacher literally explode a guy’s head with his right hook, they’ll at least dial up the realism in other situations. Will he fit in an economy plane seat? Where does he buy shirts to accommodate his biceps and 50-inch chest? Has he ever gotten stuck walking through a door? All scenarios ripe for drama. It could be years before we see another TV tough guy of this stature, and we cannot waste the opportunity.
Reach for the stars, big boy.