The hero of Tom Clancy’s iconic airport literature series makes the leap to the TV screen in the new eight-episode first season of Amazon’s Jack Ryan.
This isn’t the first time Ryan has been adapted to screen: Alec Baldwin starred as Ryan opposite Sean Connery in the submarine-based thriller The Hunt For Red October, Harrison Ford starred in the sleep inducing Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, and Ben Affleck took on the role in the middling The Sum of All Fears. Chris Pine most recently played Jack Ryan in 2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, but the film came and went with minimal attention paid to it.
So, now Jack Ryan is on TV, but is it worth watching?
Happily, the answer is yes. But with a few words of caution.
Taking on the role of Jack Ryan this time is John Krasinski, star of The Office and the director/star of this year’s surprise hit A Quiet Place.
As a character, Ryan is a dullard, but Krasinski’s natural charm brings a lot to the role. You can buy him as an ex-soldier, but also as a now desk-bound analyst. He’s got great chemistry with co-star Wendell Pierce, which really drives so much of what makes it a compelling watch.
It’s the lack of chemistry he has with Abbie Cornish as Cathy Mueller, the woman Jack Ryan will later marry (presumably in later seasons of the series), that comes close to sinking the series at several points across the first season of the show.
The series, like Shadow Recruit, is based on the characters from the ‘Ryanverse’ and not on a specific book. That said, each season of the show tells a complete story, like a Jack Ryan book does.
Season One has Ryan taking on an emerging Islamic terrorist cell. The story gives Ryan a contemporary feel, much needed for a character that has his roots in the cold war tension of the 80s. But, a lot of it does feel like it’s going through the motions. Quite often it just feels like one of the better seasons of 24.
The high point of the series comes with Jack Ryan trying to find the wife of the terrorist leader, caught amid the tension of a migrant smuggling operation. The entire sequence is exceptionally well-constructed – prescient and delivering an intensity that’s often difficult to realise on the small screen.
I was literally on the edge of my seat and I can’t remember many times at all that TV usually impacts me like that.
The low point, however, is a story-line they jettison halfway through the season, which focuses on a drone pilot facing a moral crisis of conscience. It’s essentially a much poorer version of the film Eye In The Sky (which you absolutely need to watch). It does feel like the story was supposed to dovetail into the main Jack Ryan story, but instead it sits adjacent with no real reason to exist as part of the series.
Should you watch it?
There’s a type of movie I desperately miss – the mid tier $40 million dollar movie. Usually these would have a big star in them surrounded by great character actors. They’d be legal thrillers, romantic comedies, spy dramas, etc. These days most of those stories are being handled by the rise of premium TV series. But, frankly, as much as I love TV, it’s not quite the same. The Firm, for example, didn’t need to be a 22-episode series. It was an interesting, taut 2-hour film and was good at being that.
Jack Ryan has the look and feel of one of these mid-range spy thrillers. Budgeted at about $10 million per episode, you’re watching what is akin to an $80 million movie, stretched out over 8 installments. It looks and feels like a better version of the show 24.
If you have a weekend to devote to it, split it across a Saturday and Sunday afternoon. It’s easily watchable and you’ll probably have a great time with the show.
I’m absolutely there for season two of the show.
Jack Ryan is streaming now at Amazon Prime Video.