Dislcaimer: This review contains minor — though not dealbreaking — spoilers for Season 1 of Jack Ryan.
Jack Ryan has been called America’s more cerebral answer to James Bond, the character has been the focus of most stories in the career of author Tom Clancy. Clancy who sadly passed away in 2013, had written 14 novels since 1984 starring Jack Ryan, his last novel being Dead or Alive in 2010. The book universe carries on with Mark Greaney and Grant Blackwood taking over duties on the Jack Ryan Jr. novels, however, both of these writers have now been replaced by Mark Cameron and Mike Madden.
The majority of the Jack Ryan novels center on CIA analyst Jack Ryan during the Cold War between NATO and the USSR. Obviously, after the collapse of the USSR, the novels took a turn in some different directions, with the most recent novels focussing on terror groups. Hollywood has adapted several of these Jack Ryan novels into movies, the first being the Alec Baldwin led The Hunt for Red October. This was then followed by Patriot Games, which was written afterward but acts as a prequel to that movie/novel. The decision was made to recast Ryan with Harrison Ford replacing Alec Baldwin, a decision that didn’t go down too well with author Tom Clancy. Clancy felt Ford was too old to play the role, and whilst I am a fan of Ford as Ryan, I agree that Patriot Games should not have been his first outing.
That being said I think that The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger are the best Jack Ryan movies. They rebooted the series and the cast in The Sum of All Fears starring Ben Affleck as Ryan, but again they picked the wrong story to do this with. The Sum of All Fears is one of Clancy’s best novels, but the decision to go younger for Ryan and the rest of the cast for this particular story didn’t make any sense given the events of that story. The Sum of All Fears story required a very senior version of Jack Ryan that had the power to go up against the POTUS in the movie and as such it’s a shame it wasn’t Harrisons Ford’s final Jack Ryan movie. I won’t say much about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit other than, ignore it, miss it, it’s awful and it has nothing to do with the Jack Ryan universe, but as that movie bombed hard, it has allowed Amazon to pick up the rights and create a TV show from the license.
Jack Ryan from Amazon released on August 31, and as a huge fan of the source novels, I was extremely skeptical about this show. The main concern was the decision to modernize the setting to be set in current day. The reason I say this is because by doing so the showrunners immediately lock-out being able to use any of Clancy’s actual work on the early life of Jack Ryan, and there are some excellent novels in there. Instead, the decision was made to bring Jack Ryan into the 21st Century and start again effectively, this decision puts a lot of extra pressure on the writer’s room to create stories that are as interesting as the Novels which made Jack Ryan big in the first place.
I figured I would watch the first couple of episodes to get a feel for the show late last week and I ended up finishing the whole of Season 1 by last night. That in itself should read as a good sign, because I tend to move through shows much slower when I am less engaged with them. The best thing I can say about Jack Ryan is that it feels like a Clancy book, even though it’s not perfect ( I will get to that), the story drew me in and had me excited to see what happens next like I would with a good book. This show, if nothing else, proves how stories like Jack Ryan are far better served on streaming platforms than as Hollywood movies. Jack Ryan does a good job of telling one story across eight hour-long episodes, and that length of time really allows the secondary characters to develop in ways they simply don’t have time for in the movies. I really enjoyed that it came across like a Clancy book in the slow build up, escalating events and also viewing events from the bad guy’s point of view.
There are some big wins in Season 1 of this show, most of the cast was excellent with a few exceptions. John Krasinski proved to be a great Jack Ryan and I enjoyed the relationship between Krasinski and Wendell Pierce as Ryan’s mentor Jim Greer. Both of these characters are the central focus of the story other than the protagonist role played fantastically by Ali Suliman as Suleiman (I didn’t make a mistake here, that’s the villain’s name). The show is also well-paced, it’s not slow at all and yet the level of threat and the stakes are escalating throughout the first season to the climax. If I had one criticism of the overarching plot it would be that the finale was a little too predictable and standard, but I feel that’s a small gripe for an entire season of a show.
Honestly, I was very engaged from start to finish and actually fairly pleased with how they handled the main roles of Ryan and Greer. Here they have given Jim Greer a far bigger role than he played in the novels, Greer is not as senior as he was in the books, but it allows the relationship to begin between Ryan and Greer in a more timely fashion. My one concern about Jim Greer was the decision to make him a Muslim, whilst I have nothing against that in principle (why would I?), it didn’t feel like it had any real purpose within the show itself other than 1-2 throwaway scenes. I was expecting something far less structured and far more clichéd that we got here and for that reason alone I heartily recommend Season 1 of Jack Ryan to anyone out there with Amazon Prime.
Click over to Page 2, for some criticisms and suggestions for the future!
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