By: By Aidan Clarke, Contributor
34 years ago, Tom Clancy shattered the techno-thriller/spy novel world with his release of “The Hunt for Red October,” which introduced Clancy’s signature protagonist, Jack Ryan. Since then, 21 books and five movies have been added to story of Jack Ryan. On Aug. 30, Amazon and John Krasinski (“The Office,” “13 Hours” and “A Quiet Place”) became the latest to take up of the challenge of bringing Jack Ryan to the screen.
Clancy’s attention to detail, his ability to merge diverse storylines, and most of all, his meticulous research, made his books enormously popular for readers ranging from the White House (President Reagan was an avid fan) to middle America. Amazon took a risk here, in that any “Jack Ryan” TV series must remain faithful to Clancy’s characters and style, while also updating the books into our post-Cold War world.
The good news is, they succeeded.
“Jack Ryan” features action sequences that blow most other TV series out of the water. The climactic battle in the first episode is one of the most exhilarating sequences of the entire season, setting a dramatic tone that demonstrates the cunning and ferocity of the enemy Ryan will be facing.
It is of no surprise that Ryan’s adversary, Suleiman, is an Islamic extremist based in Syria. His methods, however, are extremely unpredictable and he is given enough screen time to develop a powerful backstory. His first major attack utilizes a truly horrifying weapon, and the scene is filmed in a way that is uniquely captivating, as the victims desperately try to fight for life. In the aftermath, the target area is filled with bodies and the sound of cell phones ringing, as family members desperately try to reach their loved ones. It is a horrifying and moving sequence, and a fitting reminder of the dangers of our modern world.
While remaining above petty politics, “Jack Ryan” examines the morality of interventions in the Middle East, the moral ramifications of fighting a war with drones from thousands of miles away and the way that society in Europe and the United States has a role in the radicalization of youth, with no hope of future success or prosperity.
That said, the show also reminds us that there is a right and wrong in this fight. Jack’s stubborn refusal to betray his principles are held in stark contrast to those of his cunning enemy, who betrays himself and the things he holds most dearly over the course of the events of the season.
“Jack Ryan” is more than just a spy thriller. It also features the flight of a woman and her daughters attempting to escape their home and family in Syria. This storyline takes viewers through refugee camps, illegal human trafficking rings and eventually to the Mediterranean coast. In fact, the show holds multiple divergent plotlines, while gradually tying each one into the enthralling finale, giving it a unique breadth that could previously be found only in Clancy’s expansive novels.
Krasinski is a fantastic choice for the part of Ryan. Taking a role that has previously been held by the likes of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck is no easy feat, but Krasinski is able to make the character his own. The same can be said for the casting of Abbie Cornish (“Geostorm,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing,” “Missouri”) as Cathy Ryan, who remains a strong-willed and extremely intelligent doctor, who becomes critical to the development of the plot.
The biggest character change comes in the form of Ryan’s boss, Jim Greer. His sometimes hostile relationship with Ryan is radically different from the paternal kindness Clancy readers will be familiar with. There are other noteworthy tweaks that add real depth to Greer’s character. Wendell Pierce (“The Wire,” “Suits”) does an admirable job tackling this difficult role and includes subtle references to James Earl Jones’ previous performances. He isn’t quite able to escape Jones’ shadow, but as his character continues to develop, the role becomes more his own.
This is an excellent series, managing the difficult act of appeasing loyal fans of Clancy, while also remaining open to new viewers. While perhaps a bit formulaic, the series is a thoroughly bingeable experience. Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” brings a Cold War classic into our modern world, and does so brilliantly. With Ryan and Greer off to Moscow in the next season, there is no telling where this journey will go next.
This most likely is going to need to be cut down. Good review though