It is nearly quarter of a century since the first Jack Ryan movie The Hunt for Red October (1990) with Ryan played by Alec Baldwin, and more than a decade since the most recent The Sum of All Fears (2002) played by Ben Affleck. For many people the actor most associated with the role is Harrison Ford having played the character twice; Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994). Back in 2010 when talking about the best versions of a few iconic characters I suggested that Alec Baldwin was the best Jack Ryan. Appearing in just one film, The Hunt For Red October Baldwin had the right balance of swagger and cynicism. Made in the aftermath of Die Hard (1988) Baldwin’s Jack Ryan was in the wisecracking mode of Bruce Willis’ John McClane, no (great surprise, the two movies share a director, John McTiernan), but backs it up as you always get a sence that he is the cleverest person in the room. Like McClane, Ryan finds himself in the middle of a situation that forces him to adapt to survive. Ryan also conforms to the standard movie trope of a fish out of water, her keeps reminding us “ I’m not an agent, I just write books for the CIA”.
Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger were both decent films, and Ford made a decent Jack Ryan, but whenever I see one of them I cant help thinking I would rather be watching Alec Baldwin. Retaining James Earl Jones in the role of Admiral Greer, the Ford films are direct sequels to The Hunt for Red October with an older more world weary character. The Sum of All Fears is a reboot, taking the story back to a young Ryan (Ben Affleck) but also bringing it into the 21st century. Just like bond who had been conceived in the cold war Ryan had to find a new relevance, he finds it in a post 9-11 world were terrorism is the new global enemy. Although I seem to remember enjoying the film I can actually remember very little about it.
When I read “Kevin Costner confirmed for Jack Ryan reboot” on IMDB I thought it was great casting. I then read the full story and realised that he wasn’t going to be playing Ryan. That part had already gone to Chris Pine. Costner’s Thomas Harper takes on the boss/mentor role of James Greer (James Earl Jones) from the first three movies and William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) from The Sum of All Fears. Although not greatly used he is actually the best character in the movie and perfectly played. Keira Knightley gives a spirited performance as Cathy Muller (not yet married to Ryan) and is given a larger part than previous incarnations. Director Kenneth Branagh also takes on the part of the movies villain, Russian oligarch Viktor Cheverin.
Given the story arcs of Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games and the grandeur of the plots of The Hunt for Red October and The Sum of All Fears, the Shadow Recruit plot seems a little thin and simple. However it is also very timely, a combination of terrorism and economic collapse is both relevant and realistic and more grounded and believable than GoldenEye (1995). It also has a toe in the truth, being reminiscent of irregular trading that was reported after 9-11. But relevance and believability doesn’t necessarily equal good. A true reboot, the film has lost a lot of the character that has been developed over previous movies, but with that, it also sheds the baggage that comes with a franchise. There are couple of action set pieces including a couple of car chases and fight, however the heart of the film and the best scene centres around Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) having dinner with Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) while Ryan tries to break into his office to hack a computer. Along with meetings on park benches and dark cinemas give the film an old fashioned feel to it. It may not have the tension of Notorious (1946) or the action of Mission: Impossible (1998) but it is a welcome return to a cold war style movie. With all baggage that has been shed, it does feel like an introduction to franchise. As a reboot is isn’t as successful as Casino Royale (2006), but does show enough promise to deserve a another film or two. That is something that will be decided by the box-office.