Amazon’s New Jack Ryan Series: Everything You Need To Know

One of the few consolations of Labor Day Weekend marking the unofficial end of summer is that many of our favorite television shows are about to return. This year, Amazon Prime is introducing a familiar face to its growing lineup over the holiday weekend. The new action series: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.

This post includes important facts about the Amazon Prime series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan and has no-spoiler reviews of the Jack Ryan movies you should and should not watch to prepare for the new show.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Is Huge For Amazon Prime

The show premieres on August 31. It is a significant program for the streaming service. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is the first time that Amazon Studios has taken a major pre-existing character and adapted it to television.  The company also has plans to re-purpose The Lord Of The Rings and A League Of Their Own for Amazon Prime. The success of the series will indicate the willingness of audiences to stream blockbuster properties at home.

The name power of the Jack Ryan character comes as Amazon is primed to continue an impressive run of success. Productions Manchester By The Sea, The Big Sick, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and The Salesman have all won high-profile awards. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is engineered to bring in huge ratings.

Who Is Jack Ryan?

Jack Ryan is a character created by author Tom Clancy. Ryan has appeared in 21 novels, starting with 1984’s The Hunt For Red October.

Ryan has been featured in five different movies. Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine have all portrayed the character. John Krasinski plays Jack Ryan in Amazon Prime’s television series. It is the first time that Jack Ryan appears on a TV show.

Throughout the film versions of the series, Ryan has been a CIA analyst, naval academy instructor, and financial analyst. His character has a knack for acting with honor and courage while becoming entangled in high-octane international crises.

Prior to working for the CIA, Ryan was a Marine who became injured in a helicopter accident. Depending on which variation of the series you are watching, Ryan is either married or engaged to Dr. Caroline “Cathy” Muller.

The Sum Of All Jack Ryan Movies

The Jack Ryan movies you should watch and the ones that you can skip.

The Hunt For Red October (1990) – The first movie of the series is the best way to pick up everything you need to know about Jack Ryan. There is enough biographical information and action in The Hunt For Red October that it is easy to pick up who Jack Ryan is and what the series is about. If this is the one movie you watch before checking out the Amazon Prime series, you will have a feel for the Ryanverse.

Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan in The Hunt For Red October
Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan in The Hunt For Red October

In The Hunt For Red October, Ryan is a London-based CIA analyst who flies into action after a Soviet stealth submarine departs from Russia on its maiden voyage. As the film unfolds, Ryan surmises that the submarine captain (played by Sean Connery) is trying to defect to the United States. The Soviets posture that he is trying to launch nuclear missiles. Ryan races to beat the clock as two powerful navies search for the submarine.

The film is the only time that Alec Baldwin portrays Ryan. James Earl Jones makes the first of his three appearances as Ryan’s CIA boss James Greer. Much of the The Hunt For Red October is set inside a submarine, making the movie more of a geopolitical thriller than a traditional action flick.

Patriot Games (1992) The movie is a sterling example of how a dynamic villain elevates a film. Sean Bean plays IRA terrorist Patrick Miller. A vacationing Ryan intercepts Miller as he attacks a British politician in London. Ryan kills Miller’s brother during the incident, causing the enraged dissident to go after Ryan and his family in the United States.

Bean is phenomenal as Patrick Miller. Outside of Sean Connery, he is the only actor to match the protagonist’s screen presence in the series. Harrison Ford is amazing in his first turn as Jack Ryan. He channels his greatest strengths as an actor to create a believable hero.

Sean Bean as Jack Ryan's nemesis Patrick Miller in Patriot Games
Sean Bean as Jack Ryan’s nemesis Patrick Miller in Patriot Games

Patriot Games is my favorite of the Jack Ryan movies. The complex nature of The Troubles and Sean Bean’s acting fosters the most compelling Jack Ryan film to date.

Clear and Present Danger (1994) The second film staring Harrison Ford was the most political of the series. Ryan is now acting Deputy Director of Intelligence of the CIA. He finds that colleagues and the White House are waging a deceitful covert war against drug cartels. Ryan becomes caught in the crossfire alongside American soldiers who are betrayed by unethical Presidential politics.

Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan in Clear and Present Danger
Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan in Clear and Present Danger

Clear and Present Danger is an excellent thriller. It contains a great balance of action, political intrigue, and acting. The bad guys lack the depth of Sean Bean’s Patriot Games character, but the drama moves at a constant pace and the politics of the War on Drugs provide a narrative that remains relevant two decades later.

The Sum Of All Fears (2002) – This is where the series begins to decline. It is also Ben Affleck’s one shot at playing Jack Ryan. He fails to measure up to Ford and Baldwin’s magnetic screen presence. They were tough shoes to fill, but Affleck is only at his best when he relays his natural smugness. That quality does not align itself with Tom Clancy’s character.

The Sum Of All Fears has odd timing unrelated to the movie itself. The first post-9/11 Jack Ryan film deals with Neo-Nazis and the threat of atomic warfare between the United States and Russia. It has an additional first in the series: an easy villain.

Morgan Freeman and Ben Affleck in The Sum Of All Fears, Affleck's only turn as Jack Ryan
Morgan Freeman and Ben Affleck in The Sum Of All Fears, Affleck’s only turn as Jack Ryan

A strength of the first three films is that Jack Ryan always faces a complex enemy. Unlike Patriot Games or Clear And Present Danger, this waters down the overall film because the antagonist is an easy-to-understand monster instead of a villain with depth.

You can pass on this movie. The only reason to watch The Sum Of All Fears is to contrast the greatness of Harrison Ford with a replacement-level star.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) Chris Pine is solid in his one-off as Jack Ryan. Shadow Recruit itself is a mediocre movie. It is unsurprising that the best scenes in a movie that Kenneth Branagh directs and acts in focus on Kenneth Branagh.

The movie did little more than give the Branagh a chance to direct himself. Branagh does out-act both Pine and co-stars Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley, but that does not result in a good final product.

Kevin Costner and Chris Pine in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Kevin Costner and Chris Pine in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Shadow Recruit reintroduces a new Jack Ryan to audiences for the second straight movie. The character is updated to reflect the post-9/11 climate. Ryan enlists in the Marines following the World Trade Center attacks and is injured in an Afghan helicopter crash. Bizarrely, the movie pivots from terrorism and focuses on a Russian plot to induce financial collapse.

The dialogue is so basic that the potential plight is explained as “the Second Great Depression” (as if preceding analogies like bread lines are not plain enough for the audience). Unlike other Jack Ryan films where human analysis uncovers plots, the film also uses computers as quick detectives with the same boring convenience as a CSI episode. This generic style results in a forgettable movie.

You can also skip this movie. Shadow Recruit is by far the worst in the series.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (2018)

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is Amazon Prime’s television adaptation of the action franchise. There are eight episodes in Season One. The first episode airs on August 31. The series has already been renewed for a second season.

John Krasinksi stars as the title character. Jack Ryan is Krasinki’s first major role on television since The Office. He has come a long way after playing Jim Halpert. Since his spot on the beloved sitcom, Krasinski has become an action star and director.

Wendell Pierce is cast as his CIA boss, James Greer. Abbie Cornish plays his fiancée, Cathy Muller. Peter Fonda and Timothy Hutton are also in the first season.

The series is created by Carlton Cruse (Lost, Bates Motel) and Graham Roland (Prison Break, Lost). Roland is also an Iraq War veteran. Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi created the music for Jack Ryan. 

The first season will feature terrorism-related stories in the Middle East and Europe.

Because Ryan is not yet married, this indicates that the Amazon Prime series will be another reboot of the character. In the first three films Ryan is married and has a family. In each of the last two movies Ryan was re-introduced and had yet to marry Cathy Muller.

For fans of the movies it could be tough to watch yet another reboot of the character, although television’s ability to gradually introduce stories makes it easier to endure the third consecutive character retread in a way that movies cannot.

John Krasinski Can Make Jack Ryan A Star Again

Since Clear And Present Danger, Ryan has become a less engrossing character. The frequent change of actors has weighed down the series.  Neither Chris Pine, Ben Affleck, or their movies brought out the qualities of the character that made their predecessors so iconic. John Krasinki has the chance to restore an underrated trait of the CIA employee: the reluctant hero.

Alec Baldwin displays these qualities in The Hunt For Red October. He hates turbulence, looks like hell, and is“just an analyst.”

Harrison Ford was the best at bringing out this aspect of Jack Ryan. Like Han Solo and Indiana Jones, many of Ford’s roles are not a typical hard-charging hero. They are realistic everyman characters. They become iconic by carrying out actions they are not predisposed to performing.

john-krasinski-wendell-pierce-jack-ryan-01-600x350
John Krasinski stars as Jack Ryan in the new Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

That is one of Ford’s strengths as an actor. It is also Jack Ryan’s grounding character trait that makes him a relatable figure.

The boy scout nature of Jack Ryan makes it easy to write him off as a neo-con stereotype. His hesitancy to be the man of action or enjoy warfare makes the character sympathetic. Ben Affleck does not have this quality as an actor. Chris Pine did the best he could in Shadow Recruit, but the film itself did not do well with this concept.

Krasinki’s easygoing nature makes him a natural candidate to succeed like Baldwin and Ford. If Krasinski sticks to his usual demeanor and employs the same reluctant tact as Ford and Baldwin, his character can restore Jack Ryan to being a character that audiences become invested in. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan also gives Krasinksi a chance to carve out a second iconic television role.

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