It’s the Same Ol’ Jack Ryan, and I Guess That’s OK

This new box set of all four Jack Ryan films features proves it's hard to resist everyone's favorite CIA analyst turned field agent.

As we approach yet another reboot of a long dormant and never that popular film franchise, we must be reminded of the new entry’s origins with a box set of previously released editions with absolutely zero new features. While it’s certainly convenient to have all your favorite Jack Ryan films packed and sold together, anyone who loves the series enough to own all four films most likely already does.

The question then becomes whether or not you would want all four entries with the three different actors to play CIA agent Jack Ryan. Are all four worthwhile? Does Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit have a lot to live up to when it hits theaters in January? Yes. It absolutely does.

The Hunt for Red October started things off in exemplary fashion with one of Alec Baldwin’s best performances, playing the young Mr. Ryan as suave young analyst with a cocky attitude toward just about everyone. He didn’t quite fit the role as perfectly as Harrison Ford would in the next two films, but Baldwin certainly brought his own brash demeanor to the table, making Ryan in The Hunt for Red October his own man.

Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October (1990)

The 1990 Oscar winner (Sound Effects Editing) is arguably the most revered entry in the Ryan franchise, and with good reason. Though Patriot Games is a personal favorite, The Hunt for Red October is a well-paced, tautly-told thriller with an icon at its center. Sean Connery is always innately watchable, and he finds the unwritten depth in his Russian submarine captain. He and Baldwin make a good pair, and The Hunt for Red October is thus a compelling and smart early ’90s action vehicle.

Many of the same kudos can be given to the Harrison Ford-starring follow up, despite a distinct change in tone and an obvious substitution in the lead role. Patriot Games is a revenge tale, through and through. It’s not our hero who does the seeking, but the personal nature of the story still leads to many an angry Ford moment.

Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan in Patriot Games (1992)

The man best known for playing reluctant heroes Han Solo and Indiana Jones has always been incredibly entertaining when upset, and Patriot Games gives him plenty of time to brood. Sure, it’s a carefully crafted political potboiler, but when it comes down to the mano y mano airboat showdown at film’s end, it works because of Harrison Ford and Sean Bean’s well established dynamic of vicious hatred.

Clear and Present Danger dials things back a bit with the series longest entry at two hours and 21 minutes. Featuring memorable turns from Willem Dafoe and Raymond Cruz, aka Tuco from Breaking Bad, the third entry in the Jack Ryan franchise gets slightly less physical and slightly more analyst-friendly as Ryan uses a lot of his behind-the-scenes smarts to help take down a Colombian drug cartel. It leaves less of an impression than the previous two entries, but is nonetheless an enjoyable if more loosely crafted spy thriller.

The latest interpretation of Jack Ryan was done by the man soon to be Batman in an intense, old-fashioned spy thriller. Functioning as a pseudo-origin story for our hero, The Sum of All Fears finds Ryan as the CIA’s resident expert on a senior Russian offiicial elevated to the presidency during a time of crisis for the country. Affleck’s Ryan is an intelligence officer and not a field agent, an interesting choice considering the franchise’s penchant for action. The Sum of All Fears is more focused on foreign relations and intelligence-based spy games. I can’t imagine this story getting a green light in post-Bourne 2014, but I’m glad it did back in 2002.

Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan in Clear and Present Danger (1994)

While it’s not on the same level as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, director Phil Alden Robinson finds a comparable level of tension in the decisions that define presidencies and alter lives. It’s helped along by a first rate cast including Morgan Freeman, Liev Schreiber, and James Cromwell as the US President. Affleck does a fine job as Ryan, supplying the notorious shit-starter with just enough playful energy and gentle ribbing of superiors to make his arrogance charming. He’s a lot closer to Baldwin’s version of Ryan than Ford’s, and that’s okay. He fits the story well and could have made a few more successful Ryan entries had things fallen his way.

To answer my earlier question, yes, I would argue all of these films are worth owning for most action fans and any devotee of spy stories. Do you have to own this special edition pack? All of these Blu-rays have been available in the same format for more than five years, and the special features on each one are average at best.

Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan in The Sum of All Fears (2002)

The Hunt for Red October has commentary from director John McTiernan and interviews with the cast and crew (5). Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger have cast and crew interviews paired with a theatrical trailer for each film (2), and The Sum of All Fears takes the cake with two commentary tracks (including one with novelist/Jack Ryan creator Tom Clancy), a making of doc, and a brief analysis of the visual effects used for the film.

None of this is going to spoil any Jack Ryan megafan, and more importantly, none of it is new to the set (which forces me to bump down the overall extras grade a tad). Still, if you don’t already own all the movies and you’re set on seeing the newest incarnation of our hero, picking up the pack with its free movie ticket to Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit won’t be your worst decision of the new year.

RATING 7 / 10