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So, by now you may have heard something about a picture called Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. You may have even seen the trailer or caught a TV spot. Jack Ryan is back and it would seem that this new film is yet another reboot (after the previous reboot, The Sum of All Fears (2002), starring Ben Affleck) in an attempt to revitalize the character and begin a new franchise. Will it be successful this time? If so, it might be due in part to the new Captain Kirk, fresh faced Chris Pine, and the charm he exudes. We know now, after two Star Trek films that he can carry his weight, but let’s remember thatTrek is an ensemble situation. Ryan will be his first attempt at carrying a franchise starter all on his own. It remains to be seen how he’ll hold up.
It’s been 20 plus years since Jack Ryan’s first appearance on the silver screen. How does he measure up in a post Cold War, post 9/11 world, if at all? Well, we first must look at who this guy is. Those familiar with Tom Clancy’s books, know that he has a long and storied career from managing portfolios as a civilian, to CIA work, to becoming president of the United States. He even has a son, Jack Ryan Jr., who follows dear old Dad’s footsteps. However, the film version of the character is a different animal.
Ryan has been uniquely portrayed by three other actors before Pine. The older, distinguished Harrison Ford, the sharp edged Alec Baldwin and the young, untested Ben Affleck. Each actor has brought various qualities to the character, but one thing seems constant, and that is the element of by-the-book-service to his country. He isn’t a super-hero. Rather, he fits the mold of the everyman, who happens to be more like a super-bureaucrat or a super-patriot. He works as an analyst for the CIA, so his job isn’t necessarily the most glamourous one, though it is an intellectual one. Yet, he somehow always seems to get pulled into the action reluctantly.
Is he still relevant today, especially when you put him against characters like James Bond or Jason Bourne, for instance? You could argue that he is just as relevant as Bond or Bourne. True, the Jack Ryan stories of Tom Clancy’s books might seem dated today, but as is the case with the Bond films, Jack Ryan’s stories are updated to fit the times. Is he as popular as Bond or Bourne, I would say no. Bond’s been around way too long and has a much broader appeal. Why? For one, there is a schoolboy fantasy charm and humorous element to Bond that isn’t really present for Jack Ryan or even Jason Bourne. The majority of the Bond films have historically been more about style over substance. The Daniel Craig films however, would be slight exceptions because they have been equal parts style and substance, which only adds to Bond’s popularity and gives him more depth.
With Bourne, I think his popularity can be attributed to a ‘right place, right time’ kind of thing. That film series also had the right people involved consistently. Bourne is still in the collective consciousness, so much so that you’ve got people comparing films like Taken (2009) or even Casino Royale (2006) to him. No doubt the new Jack Ryan film will draw its own comparisons to Jason Bourne. In Bourne we have a character who is very interesting because he doesn’t know who he is or how he can do the things he can do. We go on this journey, this quest for self-discovery with him and that can be endlessly engaging. You also have a more realistic look at the gritty and bleak world he lives in and you don’t want to be there. On the run and off the grid. Not fun.
Nearly a year after the attacks of 9/11, Bourne seemed right in line with the kind of hero we were comfortable being around. Sure his adventures were thrillingly entertaining, but they also presented a reality that we couldn’t forget and Jason Bourne was a great embodiment of that. Where does this leave Jack Ryan now, who like Bourne, lives in a similarly bleak world? He has been in and out of the collective consciousness over the course of a couple generations. Shadow Recruit, the first film in the series not to be based on a Tom Clancy book, aims to put him back and keep him there for a while.
There is obviously more than enough room for him to share the space with the likes of Bond, Bourne, Jack Reacher and others. Perhaps Jack Ryan has been out of the game for long enough. Perhaps it’s time to remind older audiences that he’s still out there. It’s time for the young’ns who’ve now come of age to meet him. Will he be as warmly welcomed as he was in 1990? We’ll see.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit hits theaters Friday, January 17th.