Hey there Outposters, Drunken Yoda here with a discovery of sorts. Jack Ryan as a franchise has never really been on my radar. Sure I was very aware of the various stories but really never paid much attention until recently.

Ever have that thing that people talk about, seems to be pretty popular, but for whatever reason you just missed it? And then when you did finally start watching it, you wondered where the heck it’s been all your life? That’s Jack Ryan for me.

I only in the last month really started in on America’s James Bond. Not nearly as silly and over the top as Bond (that is in no way a criticism, it’s part of Bond’s charm,) Ryan has many of the same checkboxes. Specifically, he’s a spy, his movies seem to have no real continuity, and he’s played by 5 different actors so far.

Jack Ryan

Ok big difference. Bond has 6 actors.

The Ryan-verse (I promise never to use that silly term again) is much more grounded for the most part and like Bond, each actor brings a different style to the character. Jack Ryan gets into more of the mundane parts of the spy business as well as the action. There are no spy gadgets (well mostly) and it’s as much equal parts detective stories as it is spy thriller. Ryan also is not really a ladies’ man like Bond.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the other character that is a staple across the movies and show, James Greer. Jack’s superior and friend, played very well by only two different actors. More on that later.

So I’ll go through each movie/TV show in preparation for Season 3 of Jack Ryan on Amazon. Let’s get started with the first movie from way back in 1990:

The Hunt For Red October

Jack Ryan Hunt For Red October

The first of Jack Ryan’s adventures is arguably the best but not my favorite portrayal. Jack Ryan is portrayed in two different ways typically. Either very enthusiastic or more cynical and weary. Alec definitely chooses column A in this one. A soviet submarine with a caterpillar drive is taken by its commander and a mostly loyal crew to defect. But given the secrecy around such an action, it’s difficult to know if he’s a rogue captain ready to start a war or just a guy who wants to defect.

Add to that this new drive is whisper quiet and renders sonar nearly useless, allowing him to sneak this sub right up to the Potomac and we’d never know it. Sean Connery with his Russian brogue is great, Sam Neil as his first officer plays him loyal and tragic, and even a very young Stellan Skarsgard as a Soviet sub commander trying to track him down does well with a smaller part.

Ryan is the only one who, using his astute CIA Analyst skills, correctly deduces that Connery is looking to defect and is able to avoid a catastrophe. Baldwin plays him with a lot of enthusiasm and just a tiny bit of naivete when it comes to dealing with protocol, much to his boss’s equal parts chagrin and amusement, James Greer.

Greer is played here and in the next two movies by James Earl Jones, a portrayal not quite matched yet. He’s great in this series and his deep voice lends the kind of authority and competence you would expect from someone at his position.

I loved Red October but it’s also the least “Jack Ryan” of the Jack Ryan movies in a lot of ways. Ryan is key but almost not the protagonist of this, instead the movie is more focused on Connery and him trying walk the tightrope of avoiding nuclear war. It’s taut and done great. The sets are amazing and the underwater effects still work. There are a few shots that are a little too clean and bright, I would’ve liked a bit more haze and shadows but that’s really a nitpick. Everyone brings their “A” game and I can see why this is still a favorite over 30 years later.

4.75 stars.

Patriot Games

Patriot Games

Alec Baldwin hands the reigns over to Harrison Ford, who is my favorite portrayal of Ryan in the movies. He’s older and has stepped away from the CIA for his family. James Earl Jones continues his portrayal of Greer and the two have great chemistry together, something that wasn’t quite as good with Baldwin.

Ryan happens to be in the wrong place at the right time to wreck an IRA terrorist’s plan to kidnap and murder some British dignitaries. In the ensuing battle, the leader’s brother is killed and this kicks off a cat and mouse affair with the terrorists trying to accomplish their goals while Sean Bean as the leader of his cell wanting revenge on Ryan.

Ryan is dragged back into the CIA in an effort to protect his family and bring down Sean Bean. (Yes of course Sean Bean dies. It’s Sean Bean. Just casting him is a spoiler.)

Ford brings a world weariness to Ryan, a man who has already seen too much and now has too much to lose. Ryan’s sense of duty won’t let him walk away from a situation right in front of him, both to protect his family and right a wrong, and that gets him thrust back into this mess. The movie also doesn’t forget the analyst stuff either with Ford sitting in a cubicle or conference room just trying to put together the puzzle pieces with his team. It all comes across very credible and realistic and that kept me involved throughout.

I also liked the more subdued photography. Lots of dull grays and such as you would expect in Eastern Europe or the UK which seems to be eternally stuck in a cloudy day. It gives it a much better look than Red October which sometimes had obvious green screen or sets. This is just a preference for me, your mileage may vary.

There are sometimes that the pacing could pick up a bit but all the cast does a great job and overall you could do much worse (and will, more below) than Patriot Games.

4.25 Stars

Clear And Present Danger

Clear and Present Danger

This is what I would call the conclusion of the Jack Ryan trilogy as these three have the most continuity between them, especially the last two with the Anne Archer playing Ryan’s wife Cathy and Thora Birch playing his daughter. James Earl Jones comes back as Greer in a bittersweet role.

This time Jack is back in full Jack Ryan form, doing his CIA thing and attempting to find out a conspiracy starting with a South American drug cartel and leading all the way back to the white house. The details of the plot are a bit too convoluted to go through here but suffice to say that people in the government willing to hold those in power to account is sadly something I wish was still a thing these days.

How Dare You, Sir.

Everyone brings their A-game once again and it’s a great last movie to a very strong string of movies. The only reason these movies aren’t as well remembered is that none of them really have a through line that ties them together. You could say the same about Indiana Jones I suppose but I still feel like there’s something tying them together with that last entry. This is just another Jack Ryan adventure, much like another Bond adventure.

That being said, this is a great movie and I wish they had kept going with these and Ford at the helm.

4.5 Stars

The Sum Of All Fears

Sum Of All Fears

It would be another 8 years before we get another Jack Ryan adventure. In this one, we go back in time, so to speak, to a much younger Jack Ryan before he was married and early in his career in the CIA. Played once again with the enthusiasm that Alec Baldwin brought to the role is Ben Affleck. This movie shows him dating Claire, his future wife and mother of his children. Greer is nowhere to be found in this, instead Morgan Freeman plays John Cabot. Why he didn’t play Greer is anyone’s guess.

The story involves setting off a nuke so German Nazi’s can bring back their power or something. Not nearly as tight as the previous installments and changes to the book really worked towards its detriment. Changing the terrorists from Arabs to the Nazi’s comes across silly and even though they deny it, it appears it was changed because of 9/11 to avoid Muslim backlash or political correctness or something.

Then there’s Affleck who does fine but really is not Harrison Ford. Too much golly gee whiz to his performance, he feels a little out of his league given the events around him. The plan really doesn’t make a lot of sense for the bad guys unless you’re a religious nut who believes in rewards in the afterlife.

Overall I enjoyed it for what it was, a bog standard action movie but not nearly up to the same standards as the first three.

2.5 Stars

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Shadow Recruit

Whoof. Now we have a 14 year gap and a real disappointment. Chris Pine takes over the role and Kiera Knightly takes the Claire role. Kevin Costner is cast as the CIA boss Thomas Harper. This is the first movie that isn’t based on an actual Tom Clancy novel and boy it shows.

It starts off well enough. We see Ryan enlisting in the marines after 9/11, dropping out of college. He gets injured in a helicopter crash and has physical therapy with Claire. It’s there he’s recruited into the CIA.

Cut to years later, he’s been in finance trying to find possible issues with money going to the wrong people and reporting to his superiors. It’s there he uncovers a plot by Kenneth Branagh to crash the dollar and destroy the economy alongside a terrorist plot. It’s all nonsense and devolves into an action movie that would be more at home in the excess of the 90s like Face/Off or Broken Arrow. While those movies are quite fun for what they are, they do not work as a Jack Ryan movie.

Chris Pine is fine as Ryan and might be ok in a better movie but it’s hard to tell since he doesn’t have much to work with. I get the feeling everyone kind of realizes they are in a shit movie and the acting goes accordingly. I can’t recommend this at all other than for completists or the morbidly curious.

1 Star

Jack Ryan

Jack Ryan

This brings us to John Krasinski as Jack Ryan in Jack Ryan. The Amazon series. I really think this where we have brought Ryan into his element. The longer format gives the intrigue time to breathe and allows for more complex storylines as well as giving the villains a lot more character growth. I’ve really enjoyed both seasons and Krasinski gives us a great combination of a somewhat younger Ryan but also the gravitas that Ford brought to the role.

In point of fact, I can say he’s definitely made the role his own and is the gold standard as far as I’m concerned. There’s a charm he turns on as needed but also a quiet competence that really adds a lot of depth to his portrayal. I do wish there was a bit more continuity between season 1 and 2 but that’s a nitpick.

Season 1 follow Ryan on his first real mission. While he’s been an analyst for many years, he’s never been out in the field. He is on the case of Mousa bin Suleiman, a terrorist who is a true believer and comes by his anger legitimately. We see how this affects his family and how much he’s willing to destroy for sake of the cause.

There is a lot of tense moments and I actually found myself on the edge of my seat wondering if this was going to go the way it needed to. Ryan is a conflicted guy who is very much against bending his morals to serve a greater good and you can understand why he reacts the way he does to getting help from an obvious criminal to save a mother and her daughters and ultimately thousands of people. He can’t save everyone and that grates on him.

On the other hand, he’s resilient. He’s never over emotional and continues doing the job at hand. It’s definitely a great series in showcasing the benefits of stoicism.

Season 2 has him in Venezuelan politics, working against a dictator who murdered his friend and US Senator. The dictator is in presidential race against an honest woman who’s husband disappeared and she may win. While I doubt that a country like Venezuela would even get that far in having a legit election, it’s a still a well told story. With lots of cat and mouse games with a German hitman, his ex-lover, a secret seal squad, jungle warfare, and more.

Mention also must be made of Wendall Pierce as James Greer, the first time we’ve seen him since James Earl Jones and he does not disappoint. A little more hard edged than Jones, he fits the part very well at this stage of Greer’s career.

So season 3 is coming on the 21st and I would definitely recommend watching the first two seasons if you haven’t yet. The rest of the movies are not required but if you can’t get enough, then I can heartily recommend the first 3 movies, but I would stay away from Sum of All Fears and Shadow Recruit.

Jack Ryan has fast become a lot of fun for me and I’m hoping he grows more with Krasinski in the role. I don’t know if there will ever be any more movies but quite frankly I think he does better with the long form storytelling much like Jack Reacher did. And much like that show, great casting has helped this property really spread its wings.

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