As the leaves turn to red, so our thoughts naturally turn to Communism and, of course, a Scottish man pretending to be a Russian who is in fact Lithuanian. In a submarine. The Hunt for Red October is our obvious jumping off point for a discussion on the cinematic outings of Jack Ryan; CIA analyst extraordinaire, and spanner in the works of many an American enemy’s dastardly plotting.

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The Hunt for Red October

Often recalled as “that submarine movie with Connery in it”, Red October is actually an engrossing thriller that remains surprisingly effective and, perhaps, relevant given Vladimir Putin’s recent haranguing of the West. A startlingly young-looking Alec Baldwin is here seen in his pre-Alpha Male pupae stage as the “still slightly wet” incarnation of Jack Ryan, using his skill and judgement in character analysis to avert a potential war with Russia over their devastating new submarine and its commander, who may be rogue or, just maybe, may be defecting.

It’s perhaps surprising to see how well this movie holds up and, even more so, just how clearly Baldwin’s performance remains the strongest incarnation of Ryan some 25 years down the line. October is not without its flaws, but assured direction and powerful cinematography from John McTiernan and Jan De Bont (both fresh from 1988’s Die Hard) mean it stands the test of time and remains a thoroughly recommended watch.

Patriot Games

If only the same could be said of Phillip Noyce’s Patriot Games, which sees Harrison Ford replace Baldwin as Ryan, bumbling into an IRA plot to assassinate members of the British Royal Family and kicking off a chain of events that sees a very angry Sean Bean coming after him with some night vision goggles and a bad attitude.

Ford, an undeniably charismatic actor when operating at his best, resolutely brings his B-game to this one, and Noyce’s plodding direction lacks thrill or invention. Perhaps most bafflingly the movie sheds itself of its IRA sub-plot within minutes, begging the question “why bother prodding such an incendiary political hot potato with such a huge, shitty Hollywood stick?” Unlike its predecessor, Patriot Games has not stood the test of time well, and we might recommend that you give it a body swerve.

Clear and Present Danger

Or, as we prefer to call it, Clear and Present Clanger. Noyce and Ford’s second outing (who’s writing these cheques?) is almost as bland as Patriot Games and, for the most part, completely interchangeable with it. Some extra credit is earned by a stronger supporting cast of actors that includes Willem “gets chicken and C4 mixed up” Dafoe, Henry “you’ll only ever see me again in Mission: Impossible” Czerny, and Joaquim de Almeida.

Unfortunately those three quality thesps can do nothing to save Ford from continuing his muddled portrayal of Jack Ryan as a man who has by this point a) intercepted a Russian nuclear sub and averted World War III, b) shot some people dead, c) taken on the IRA and d) killed a man with an anchor, and yet remains resolutely like a startled foal in the headlights of oncoming traffic every time the slightest hint of excrement hits the fan.

The Sum of All Fears

Praise be, then, for Ben Affleck as he takes up the Ryan mantle in this 2002 refresh of the franchise. Yes, that’s right. Ben Affleck. The guy you hated on for a long time there, and you’re not entirely sure why. Him.

Sum is a much-maligned and crucially overlooked thriller that returns Ryan from his lunatic embroilment in the field of the Ford era to a more fitting role as the guy who’s smart enough to see things everyone else has overlooked. Much as in Red October Ryan’s function here is to advance the tension of plot while action duties largely get sub-contracted out to Liev Schreiber. This is a film that maintains suspense even after a nuclear weapon is detonated in a major US city halfway through, and it does so using pretty much just a keyboard. Kudos to Affleck and to director Phil Alden Robinson.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

It was 12 years after The Sum Of All Fears under-performed before Tinseltown decided it ought to shake Jack awake and give him a noughties threeboot (TM), but is a fresh-faced Chris Pine in the lead and a colon in the title enough for this franchise to finally make bank?

Shadow Recruit is certainly an entertaining couple of hours, and if it’s on TV of a rainy Sunday afternoon you could certainly do worse than pull up a blanket and a glass of wine. Director and chief bad guy Kenneth Brannagh does just enough to make this watchable in a way that the Noyce entries struggled to achieve, even if there is a strong whiff of the now tired “post Bourne” aesthetic about it all. Pine certainly cuts a dashing hero, however he could perhaps use a touch more of the Captain Kirk charisma that we’ve seen evidenced in the Trek movies to really set the screen alight. Keira Knightley is sufficient as Jack’s eventually-to-be wife Cathy, however it’s our old chum Kevin Costner who lends a dash of gravitas as nebulous mentor Harper, and if nothing else this movie cements the suspicion that we’ve had since Man of Steel: it’s high time we saw more Kevin.

Summation and that

Jack Ryan has been hard done by. In some cases he’s been let down by the studios, but in others he’s been let down by audiences. Fortunately for you Jack is a great guy and he forgives you. However, the future of the franchise is unclear. Has Shadow Recruit made enough of that phat kash to secure a second outing for Pine? We certainly wouldn’t advise another reboot, unless of course the studio wants to hire Craig and Drew to deliver first draft on their proposed script with Baldwin as an older Ryan, now mentor to a young Turk out in the field.

(Prior art, by the way.)

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