Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always
With stunning performances from two completely genuine young leads, this is a movie people will talk about all year.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the excellent Paramount releases of the first five “Mission: Impossible” films on 4K Blu-rays to coincide with the theatrical release of the best action movie of 2018, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout." Paramount continued the trend last week with the issue of a box set of 4K releases of the five Jack Ryan films, coinciding with this week's premiere of Amazon’s new series “Jack Ryan,” starring John Krasinski. We’ll have a review of that (as well as a story about working on the set from one of our Far-Flungers) later this week, but this seems like a good time to briefly look back at how we got here.
First things first, watching all five Jack Ryan films reveals a sad truth—Jack Ryan is no Ethan Hunt. Neither is he Jason Bourne, or even the modern James Bonds. The Tom Clancy character, first introduced in a book in 1984 that became uber-famous after the beloved Ronald Reagan said he liked it, has been a part of pop culture for over three decades, still going strong in book form (there are about two books released a year, even though Clancy died five years ago—others have taken up the character), but the truth is that most of the movies don’t work, some looking particularly dated and some feeling like they probably never worked.
The best of the films is still the first. In the Oscar-winning “The Hunt for Red October," Sean Connery plays a Russian submarine captain who Baldwin’s Ryan correctly discerns is not trying to launch nuclear weapons at the U.S., but actually trying to defect there. John McTiernan’s film holds up nearly three decades after its release, anchored by charismatic performances by Connery and Baldwin, and buoyed by a great story. The 4K transfer is solid—it’s surprisingly flat on the next three films—and the audio mix rocks. This movie still works.
The same can’t be said for “Patriot Games,” Harrison Ford’s first turn as the character, reimagined as a family man who has to defend his wife and daughter after he earns the ire of a wing of the IRA. This one is particularly dated, but Ford bounces back a bit with “Clear and Present Danger,” the much-better of his two films, in which Ryan becomes a power player in the CIA only to learn that the U.S. government has some pretty bloody skeletons in the closet. It’s the second-best of the Ryan films because Ford is more comfortable in the character and director Philip Noyce seems to be having some fun peeling back the layers of the onion of U.S. corruption.
Despite the success of those two films, Ford moved on and the character went dormant for eight years, emerging in May 2002 in its strangest iteration in the form of Ben Affleck in “The Sum of All Fears.” In our currently sensitive era, it’s hard to believe that a film in which a football stadium full of people was blown up by a nuclear bomb in Baltimore was released only nine months after 9/11. It must have been shocking to see in that climate, and probably somewhat disconcerting that Affleck was the man cinema sent to protect us. I generally defend Affleck more than most, but he looks completely lost here, despite the film having a few well-done action sequences (and a great supporting cast).
“The Sum of All Fears” may be strangely inconsistent but at least it’s not the boring slog that is Kenneth Branagh’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” a movie that came out only four years ago and yet you probably totally forgot exists. The kindest thing to say about the worst J.R. movie is that it looks fantastic in 4K, the only one of these films that feels like it really takes advantage of the technology (probably because it was made with equipment designed to look better in HDR). Well, here’s another kind thing—the fact that it didn’t work gave Carlton Cuse, John Krasinski, and Wendell Pierce the chance to tackle the character later this week. Time will tell if that was a good thing.
To order your copy of the Jack Ryan 5-Film Collection, click here
To read our review of the new "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan" series, click here
To read Omer Mozaffar's piece on working as a consultant on "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan," click here
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