Chris Pine assumes the spy mantle of the late Tom Clancy's most enduring hero in the movie Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit in theatres Friday.
So where does Pine's entry fit into the Jack Ryan universe? Since Paramount recently released a DVD collection of all four Jack Ryan movies, let's indulge the irresistible opportunity to put the character into context.
THE MOVIE: The Hunt for Red October (1990)
JACK: Alec Baldwin
- THE STORY: CIA analyst Jack Ryan, an expert in naval intelligence, makes his screen debut in John McTiernan's seagoing thriller. He is enlisted by Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones) to investigate the activities of the Red October, a Russian nuclear sub capable of entering American waters undetected to launch a deadly array of nuclear missiles.The commander of the sub, Captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) has gone rogue. Does he intend to launch an unsanctioned assault on the U.S.? Or is he, as Ryan believes, a defector?
- THE UPSHOT: This is a pretty good grown-up movie, if a problematic starter for the Jack Ryan franchise. For one thing, Ryan is very much eclipsed by Ramius, an altogether more fascinating and enigmatic character, which the Scottish-burred Connery plays with admirable aplomb. In the Ryan role, the young Alec Baldwin offers a serviceable performance, whether sassing an American general or fatally contending with a Russian saboteur. Director McTiernan has a sure hand, whether mapping out the action with typically scrupulous attention to detail or glorying in the high-tech tools of the trade.
THE MOVIE: Patriot Games (1992)
JACK: Harrison Ford
- THE STORY: Retired from the CIA, Jack is in London with his doctor-wife Cathy (Anne Archer) and daughter Sally (Thora Birch) when he intervenes on a kidnapping attempt of royal relative Lord Holmes (James Fox). In the process, Jack kills the younger brother of terrorist Sean Miller (Sean Bean), who vows revenge. Jack is compelled back into the CIA fold after Miller comes close to killing Cathy and Sally. He employs his smarts and all the CIA's resources to find Miller and his cohorts, all comprising "an ultra-violent wing of the IRA."
- The upshot: This is a gripping thriller, conjoining Ryan's professional gifts with his personal interests -- his family. Ford was a canny choice to take over the role from Baldwin, choosing real-world thrills over the fantasy-based franchises of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. His Ryan is smart and sensitive but dangerous when riled. Director Phillip Noyce expertly builds tension, employing a talented cast including a young Samuel L. Jackson as Ryan's deadly pal Lt.-Cmdr. Robby Jackson.
The Movie: Clear and Present Danger (1994)
Jack: Harrison Ford, again
- THE STORY: When his mentor Admiral Greer is stricken with cancer, Ryan is temporarily given directorship of the CIA. That puts him in a dangerous mix when the hot-headed President Bennett (Donald Moffat) launches a secret war on Colombian drug cartels after one of his best friends is murdered. The president's slimy CIA operative (Henry Czerny) enlists John Clark (Willem Dafoe) to recruit a deadly force of soldiers to sabotage the cocaine industry.
Felix Cortez (Joaquim de Almeida), a former Cuban security agent now working for the cartels, launches his own self-serving counter-attack that almost kills Ryan. Faced with a deadly combo of White House treachery and cartel ruthlessness, Ryan's best home is to team with Clark to rescue soldiers left to die in the wilds of Colombia.
- THE UPSHOT: In his second go-round, Ford cements his place as the best of the movie Ryans. In a climactic scene in which Ryan essentially tells off the president, Ford displays hitherto untapped resources of gravitas. ("I'm sorry, Mr. President, I don't dance.")
Inspired by the underhanded exploits of the Iran-Contra affair -- note how Donald Moffat's President Bennett delicately suggests Ronald Reagan -- Clear and Present Danger is a perfect potboiler blend of fact and fiction, demonstrating the franchise was never in better hands than it was with Ford and director Noyce.
Jack: Ben Affleck
The Movie: The Sum of All Fears (2002)
- THE STORY:Like Shadow Recruit, The Sum of All fears was an attempt at a go-back-in-time reboot of the Jack Ryan character with a younger actor. With Affleck in the role, we see CIA analyst Jack before he was even engaged to Cathy (Bridget Moynahan) and uneasily submitting his research to CIA director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman, essentially taking over the wise mentor role from James Earl Jones in the last three films). As in Red October, Jack goes to bat for a suspicious Russian (Ciaran Hinds as newly installed Russian president Nemerov) whom American bigwigs believe to be a dangerous hardliner. A sinister European Nazi (Alan Bates) arranges a nuclear explosion on American soil and puts the blame on Russia. Thus it falls on Ryan and can-do operative John Clark (Liev Schreiber) to get the goods on the true culprits before Nemerov and the American president (James Cromwell) engage in all-out nuclear war.
- THE UPSHOT: Releasing a movie about an act of devastating terrorism in 2002 was just plain bad timing, especially since it posits a Nazi threat instead of, say, al-Qaida.
But even when taking that point out of consideration, the movie just never gains thriller traction. Affleck is bland, and his voice lacks the low-timbre moral authority of either Baldwin or Ford. Schreiber, who registers as both tougher and smarter as Clark, is a far more compelling hero. For his part, Ryan is tossed around a lot in blasted helicopters and speeding cars, but only engages in a single fight scene with a Nazi assassin.
One is left with the conclusion that it's a dangerous game making Jack Ryan younger. It may play to the 20-something movie-going demographic -- The Sum of All Fears scored better at the box office than it did with critics -- but it also made for the weakest movie in the franchise.