Having been a devoted reader of the Tom Clancy Jack Ryan novels since their original release, I’ve also been a fan of the films. Alec Baldwin and then Harrison Ford both did a great job of recreating the character from the novels and added the usual Hollywood touch.
When the Amazon Prime series with John Krasinski was released last year I was immediately intrigued, mainly because I thought that Krasinski would bring realism to the character that was just a bit missing from the big screen. Ryan, in the Clancy novels, was a classic gray man, an analyst who was a former Marine grunt officer who was hurt just a few years into his career. So, while he wasn’t a super soldier or SOF badass (like Geo), he knew enough to be able to function when the shit hit the fan.
And in the original film, Baldwin (in his younger days) was just a bit too movie star pretty-boy. Harrison Ford was just too big a star; but when making big-budget studio films you need that box office draw — and Harry is exactly that.
But Krasinski? I thought he’d be the perfect Jack Ryan, an analyst geek who works in a cubicle at Langley but has the background to be a grunt’s grunt. Essentially an everyman — something that Krasinski pulled off extremely well in The Office. What makes Jack Ryan such a great character, after all, is his normality. He’s a guy who totally believes in what he’s doing and feels like he can make a difference. He’s willing to risk his career and his own ass in doing so. And that’s what resonates with the audience.
Krasinski/Ryan is what every red-blooded guy sees when he reads the novels, goes to the films and sees a version of himself in the story. We all want to be the guy that goes out on a limb and can do all that secret agent shit.
Jack Ryan isn’t the suave, debonair James Bond who always seems to look good no matter what escapade he’s involved in. But as much as we want to be that tuxedo-wearing, vodka martini drinking badass, who plops himself down at a baccarat table and utters, “banco” whatever the hell that means, that isn’t Ryan.
And Ryan isn’t the genetically engineered Jason Bourne, who can jump across buildings and beat another assassin’s ass with a dictionary. No. Ryan is one of us. He’s the geek in the cubicle down the hall who wears those Metallica shirts as he heads out the door for the weekend. He’s an average guy who is involved in extraordinary circumstances.
Season 1 was a blast. Krasinski played it perfectly: the subordinate who isn’t afraid of stepping over the line with just that hint of being a Boston smartass (which he is BTW). He nailed the character. His interactions with Jim Greer, outstandingly played by Wendell Pierce, were the best part of the episodes. (Greer was played by James Earl Jones in the original films.)
All of the characters were three dimensional. Even the terrorist that they were pursuing was done excellently as the series delved into what made him who he was and showed us a very human side of him, thus presenting a very sympathetic side to the “bad guy” character.
All this made me excited as all creation when Season 2 was slated for release. I didn’t want to watch the episodes piecemeal here and there: I wanted to binge-watch the entire season in one go. Due to circumstances beyond my control, that didn’t happen for two weeks. But finally, with nearly an entire day at my disposal, I settled down to spend it with Ryan and Greer. And they didn’t disappoint.
Season 2 overall improves on the series — but with a couple of small caveats, which we’ll get to in a bit.
Krasinski’s Ryan is a bit more of a smartass, and even more confident this year, as Ryan is growing into his role as an analyst/field agent. Krasinski sells himself even better this season as he takes on a much bigger role as a paramilitary guy than analyst. He’s still on the paper trail, but this season he’s also on the hunt as an action guy.
The writers did a magnificent job of creating both Ryan and Greer as they follow a paper trail that leads them to Venezuela in search of what the corrupt government is up to. There in the jungle is a shell company up to nefarious stuff. The company is protected by some badass South African mercs led by Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy) that always plays it just cool enough to be believable.
Noomi Rapace plays Ryan’s brief love interest — who also happens to be a shadowy operative. Here is a hole between Season 1 and 2, and the first of the aforementioned caveats. In the first season, we were introduced to Dr. Kathy Mueller (Abbie Cornish), whom Ryan meets and quickly starts a relationship with. In the books she becomes Ryan’s wife. But in Season 2, Cornish/Mueller is conspicuously absent.
Michael Kelly is excellent as Mike November (what a great CIA nom de guerre) the CIA Station Chief. Tom Wlaschila is the bad guy European assassin, who is a cold-blooded killer but is undone by the love he has for his daughter. John Hoogenakker shines as Matice, the CIA Special Activities Center operative, who is kind of the John Clark of this series. (Most will recognize him as the King in the Bud Light commercials.)
All of them are involved with the goings-on in Venezuela.
Since the series portrays the current state of the U.S.-Venezuela relationship, I can’t see Maduro’s regime allowing a U.S. company to film a series, which features a corrupt Venezuelan regime, in the country. So Venezuela on screen looks too much like Colombia.
The action and suspense are non-stop. Krasinski and Pierce are electric whenever they’re on screen together. This leads to a climax in which Ryan, November and a few paramilitary guys rescue Greer from the Presidential Palace. That part of the show is patently ridiculous, but it still provides roaring great fun, just like a Bond film.
Look, everyone who’s ever been in Special Operations or has had a background in clandestine work will always tell you those war films and Bond adventures are total fiction. No one is arguing that here. This is just entertainment.
Which brings us to the second of the caveats that I mentioned earlier. In Season 2 Jack Ryan is being turned into this superhero spy guy, who storms Presidential Palaces. He now resembles less the everyman analyst type who is buckled to an office cubicle’s seat, and whom we had come to identify so strongly with in Season 1.
But this series still does a superb job in portraying its characters. These fully fledged characters are real people, like the ones actually performing these jobs out there. They all have their strong and weak points. They all show their scars. After all, living a life as a clandestine service operative is very hard, both for the agent and for his family.
The series is fun and entertaining. And isn’t that why we watch a show to begin with?
If you haven’t checked out Jack Ryan on Amazon yet do so and you’ll be glad you did.
“Andre you’ll have to forgive me but I have to pass the shoe…”
Photos: Jack Ryan via Amazon Prime