Jack Reacher

Right before The Dark Knight Rises was released I saw an article on a comics website that was attempting to explain who Bane was to people that had never read a single issue of Batman. It was, quite frankly, one of the more insane things I've ever read on the internet. You see, Bane wasn't just a strong man - although of course he was strong - he was also a brilliant detective and military strategist. Also, he was completely invulnerable to pain. Also, he was Hugh Hefner levels of suave, and women everywhere loved him even though he was a steroidal terrorist who never took off his creepy face mask. Also, he was six other things that I forget. Basically, he was what you would get if you unleashed a genie from it's bottle and told it "I want every trait that the manliest of men would have, and I want them all at once, even if most of them don't go together."

Before I was halfway done watching Jack Reacher I realized that the titular character was basically the good guy version of Bane. You see, Jack Reacher isn't just tough - although of course he's tough - he's also so well composed that when random dudes at a bar hassle him he doesn't have to use his impeccable martial arts skills on them to prove how tough he is. (Although of course he does singlehandedly take out all six of them when he has no other choice.) Also, women find him sexy but he's such a cool customer that he doesn't take the bait - he seems to have evolved beyond mere physical desires. Also, he's a crackerjack investigator, a Sherlock Holmes level sleuth who can see through any web of bullshit, because he knows that a cover story that seems perfect is probably too good to be true. The pre-release chatter about this movie focused on how absurd it was to cast the notoriously short Tom Cruise as a character who is supposed to be six foot seven, but casting a physically imposing giant in the role would just be gilding the lily - Jack Reacher is already too much of an ubermensch to be totally believable even when he's only of average height.

The fact that the Jack Reacher character is nothing but wish fulfillment made flesh is not necessarily a dealbreaker - there are a lot of good action movies that are built around impossibly manly men. However, it is a problem that the rest of the movie around Reacher is pretty weak, and for the same reason, too. The film starts with a grim scene of a man driving into a parking garage and then picking five random people off with a sniper rifle. Before the bodies are even cold the police have arrested a local loner who was court martialed out of the military for committing random acts of violence with a sniper rifle. The cop's case against the loner is pretty air tight - they even have his finger prints on the coin that he used to feed the parking meter. The accused man tells his lawyers that the only person who can prove his innocence is Jack Reacher, and sure enough, once Reacher arrives he immediately justifies the man's faith in him by instantly seeing through the police's case. After all, why would a man who was about to kill five people bother to pay the parking meter?

In other words, this movie is conspiracy theorist catnip - it's designed to encourage the idea that there is a way to explain away every random act of violence but the government is keeping it away from us, either because they're corrupt or because they're incompetent. This movie is saying that if we just had a few Jack Reachers - men who are capable of solving any crime, and who can't be bought because they are total straight shooters - then we could finally get to the bottom of all those seemingly senseless crimes that are always popping up on the news. I understand why that's an appealing notion, and I understand that this is just a movie and it's just trying to entertain people - but that's bullshit. Sometimes crazy is just crazy.

In general, I don't like this sort of conspiracy plot because I think it trivializes real suffering - which Jack Reacher definitely does; it uses and reuses footage of the sniper attack in a way that was viscerally upsetting, particularly since it's such a plausible attack and it's depicted in a tone deaf way that suggests that these traumatic images are supposed to be exciting. But this movie goes above and beyond your normal conspiracy thriller because Reacher isn't a cop - he's an outsider who is coming in and cleaning up after the cops, who are (of course) corrupt, and because he dismantles a too-perfect official story perfectly. The combination of those two factors gives this movie a disgusting feel. It wants to open Pandora's Box and show us the worst sort of nihilistic crime, but then it invents some magic solution that waves that crime away without really reckoning with the darkness it's just displayed. This movie places far too much emphasis on random details like parking meter coins and not enough emphasis on how reality doesn't always make sense. (Actually, this movie completely ignores the idea that reality might not make sense. As far as it's concerned, Jack Reacher is so smart he can explain away any problem, no matter how large it is.)

The biggest difference between Bane and Jack Reacher is not that one of them is bad and one of them is good - it's that one of those strong-tough-fast-super-smart dudes obviously lives in a fictional world and one of them is supposed to live in our world. I don't like it when movies suggest that a real human could have Jack Reacher's level of psychic insight, because when people see that often enough, they start to internalize that message and then they expect real life to live up to the magic of the movies. Wish fulfillment is fine - up until it turns into actual delusion, and Jack Reacher is the product of some real delusional thinking.

Winner: The Cat

Jack Reacher on IMDB