This entire film baffles me.
When “The Hunt For Red October” was published, what turned that book from a small press specialty fetish item into an international blockbuster was the dense wall of technospeak that Tom Clancy threw at readers.
I’ve always loved the way Clancy’s story unfolded in real life. He couldn’t get anyone to see past the curtain of detail that made it feel like he lived and breathed military technology, and so he ended up publishing the book through The Naval Institute Press. Ronald Reagan was the one who mentioned it during a press conference, immediately sending it onto reading lists around the world, and it launched Clancy’s career in a major way as a result, eventually spawning a movie franchise. It was like when JFK admitted that he was a fan of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. It was the ultimate dream of what an endorsement can do, and the entire industry that was built around Clancy wouldn’t have happened if Reagan had not read the book.
Even in that first book, though, the thing that stands out about it is not that Jack Ryan is a particularly great or interesting character. He’s a stock type, and he’s fine. Alec Baldwin made a solid Ryan in the first film, and I liked that they played up just how unfamiliar he was with field work, which seems like a totally different continuity than we’ll see in these new films. As they filled in his background, he became more interesting, and Harrison Ford ended up playing the character twice times before handing off the franchise to Ben Affleck. Since the release of “The Sum Of All Fears” eleven years ago, there hasn’t been a new Jack Ryan film. This new movie that is set for Christmas, though? That’s meant to be ground zero for a whole new series, with Chris Pine stepping in to play the part, and it’s going to reset the entire continuity and tell the story a different way.
I get it when it’s a character like Batman or Superman or Sherlock Holmes, a character whose every trait has become iconic and mannered at this point. You want to mix it up. You want to bend the details to see what happens. You can do something like the way they handled Batman in “The Flashpoint Paradox,” one of the recent DC animated films, a spin I hadn’t seen before that I thought was really well-explored. You can have two totally different TV shows based on Sherlock doing two very different things on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and it’s fine. People get it.
But Jack Ryan has always seemed to me to be a bland central character. The story has to be great, because I don’t really care about Ryan as the recurring lead. He’s not Jack Reacher. He’s not Travis McGee. He’s not what I want to read. It’s the political and military nightmare scenarios that Clancy created that made him such a giant name.
I have nothing but respect for the empire he managed to build and manage as an author, but I don’t know anyone who is clamoring for brand-new Jack Ryan movie stories. It feels more like Paramount pushing forward with something simply because it’s a recognizable brand, not because anyone specifically wants to see this.
Maybe I’m wrong. I would love to be wrong. I would love for Kenneth Branagh to turn in a final cut that makes Ryan compelling, that nails all the big action beats in the script, and that makes the Cold War setting feel more interesting than it does in the script. I think financial thrillers are tough because there’s no real rooting interest. It tends to be rich people fighting other rich people over who has more money, and that’s hard to do if you expect the audience to feel any sympathy at all.
Here’s the full-size one-sheet:
The trailer should make an appearance on Yahoo! later today, and we’ll make sure to bring that to you just as soon as it goes live.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is in theaters Christmas Day.