Today: May 23, 2024

Jack Ryan Revisted

With lockdown giving us plenty of time for binging all the film franchises that passed us by over the years, I decided it was time to finally fill in the blanks in my Jack Ryan watchlist and delve into the five films that Tom Clancy’s iconic analyst found himself at the centre of. Played by four actors over his cinematic journeys, the series is certainly a mixed bag. With that in mind, I sat down with all five films in sparkling 4K UHD thanks to Paramount Home Entertainment and, on the whole, had a hell of a time.  


Kicking off with The Hunt for Red October, the Jack Ryan series got off to a very good start. The 1990 thriller, directed by Die Hard’s John McTiernan, certainly features the least amount of Ryan himself (here portrayed by Alec Baldwin) and focuses far more time on Sean Connery’s rogue Soviet naval captain. With a solid supporting cast including Sam Neill, James Earl Jones and Scott Glenn, the 1990s are strongly felt throughout – and as a result, the film feels now like comfortingly familiar Sunday afternoon thrills. Despite an often-convoluted narrative and deliberate pacing that can often feel rather slow – especially compared to the later more action-packed Ryan romps – The Hunt for Red October is a suspenseful and thought-provoking thriller that is so engrossing you will completely overlook the fact that Connery makes absolutely no effort to even remotely disguise his Scottish accent for his performance of Lithuanian-born Captain Marko Alexandrovich Ramius. 


Now we’re cooking. 1992’s Patriot Games and 1994’s Clear & Present Danger certainly present the best of the series thanks to the perfect casting of Harrison Ford in the role of Jack Ryan. Dropping the slow and intellectual thrills of the previous entry for more of an action/adventure approach, the films were met with great dissatisfaction from the evidently difficult-to-please Clancy but audiences – and, for the most part, critics – lapped ‘em up. With entertaining and thrilling set pieces, stellar direction from Phillip Noyce and, of course, a cracking performance from Ford, these films are certainly the best films in the series if you’re looking for exciting 90s thrillers. While certainly not as cerebral as The Hunt for Red October and arguably inferior on a technical level, the Ford outings are more downright enjoyable and entertaining. This was where the Jack Ryan series hit its peak – and sadly, there was nowhere to go from here but down. Which brings us to…


2002 saw filmmaker Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams, Sneakers) putting his spin on the Jack Ryan character which the first reboot of the series. Based on Clancy’s 1991 novel of the same name, the film portrayed Ryan as a younger and more fresh-faced agent with then-29-year-old Ben Affleck playing the role (supposedly Clancy’s favourite actor to portray the character), alongside a supporting cast that included Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, and Ciarán Hinds. While the film certainly struggled to hit the heights of the earlier films in the series – and a young Affleck is no match for Harrison Ford – it still holds up as a relatively solid early 2000s thriller, which was particularly resonant on release due to the rather charged political climate in the wake of 9/11. The film’s final act of Jack Ryan single-handedly thwarting World War III in a post-apocalyptic Baltimore is a little far-fetched and feels pulled from a completely different film, but The Sum of All Fears is still a surprisingly enjoyable 2000s thrill-ride that is worth watching just to see acclaimed Irish actor Ciarán Hinds deliver almost all of his dialogue in Russian – all of which he learned within two weeks before shooting.


Last – and certainly least – came Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, another reboot that focused on an original story rather than previous entries that adapted Clancy novels. Starring Chris Pine as the fourth and, as of today, final Jack Ryan seen on film, the film throws away the more thought-provoking and intellectual thrills of previous films instead focusing on an all-out blockbuster in the manner of a Mission: Impossible or James Bond adventure. Taken as that, it’s certainly an enjoyable slice of cinema cheese comfort food – Kenneth Branagh, who also directs, makes for a great Russian villain in a performance that he clearly refined for Tenet last year – but the film certainly ended the film series on something of a sour note. Clancy wasn’t around to see it, but the film was graciously dedicated in his honour following his death on October 1st, 2013, at the age of 66. Judging by his outspoken opinions on the previous entries in the film series, one suspects he turned in his grave to see his character at the heart of a rather soulless blockbuster romp.

And so ended my journey through the big-screen adventures of Jack Ryan. 

What does the future bring for the character? Well, he lives on currently in Amazon Prime’s eponymous TV series Jack Ryan which sees The Office’s John Krasinski take up the name, while the film series continues with spin-off Without Remorse starring Michael B. Jordan and based on the 1993 novel of the same name from the so-called Ryanverse. 37 years after Jack Ryan was first introduced in print, he’s showing no signs of disappearing.


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