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Jack Ryan is a hero who has made his way from the page to the screen to be played by no fewer than five actors. The latest to tackle the role is John Krasinski for the first TV adaptation of Tom Clancy's iconic action hero. The floppy-haired goofball from The Office isn't who many envisioned for Tom Clancy, especially after seeing the likes of Alec Baldwin and then Harrison Ford tackle the role. Amazon's Jack Ryan is something brand new, however, and it's only fitting that a different sort of actor lead the way.
Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan follows CIA analyst and former Marine Jack Ryan who happens upon some suspicious bank transfers that kick off a series of events that pulls him from his safe desk job and forces him into a deadly chase throughout Europe and the Middle East on the mission to take down a terrorist figurehead before a massive attack on the United States. The series releases on Amazon Prime on August 31 at 12:01 a.m. PT, and critics have already sat down and watched what the new series has to offer. Opinions are mixed so far, but they all seem to agree on one thing: Jack Ryan is an intense ride. Let's start with Merrill Barr of Forbes, who summed up his feelings about Jack Ryan in a few straightforward sentences:
To sum it up in a sentence, Jack Ryan gets everything right. It gets the human element right. It gets the tension right. It gets the drama right. It gets the action right. It nails everything anyone could want out of an espionage thriller right now.
John Anderson of The Wall Street Journal was less gushing in his praise of Jack Ryan, but he was impressed by John Krasinski's performance in a project that could have been just another adaptation of Tom Clancy's character:
Clancy fans will find that they have to adjust. What the rest of us will find is an eight-part reimagining of Jack Ryan that hews closely to the conventions of the terrorism-themed, action-thriller genre, with a couple of exceptions, notably the casting--the strategy of which seems obvious. Mr. Krasinski--a star of NBC's 'The Office' and, much more recently, of the horror hit 'A Quiet Place'--exudes introspection, intelligence and sensitivity. As such, he will appeal to a viewership outside the circle of hardcore, Cold War-nostalgic Clancy fans and action junkies. All that's required is reinventing history. Or, at least, the history of Jack Ryan.
Although CNN's Brian Lowry also had praise for John Krasinski, he wasn't quite wowed by the finished product:
After five movies featuring the character at various stages of his career, 'Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan' shrinks him down to fit on Amazon, in more ways than one. John Krasinski is a strong choice to capture the terrorist-battling hero in his formative years, but the resulting series feels a bit too much like 'Homeland' meets 'The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.'
Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone acknowledged that Jack Ryan felt familiar rather than anything revolutionary. Nevertheless, he praised the series for standing out from its fellows on the small screen:
Competent storytelling isn't something that should need praising for a TV show in 2018, yet Jack Ryan -- adapted by Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, with early directors including Morten Tyldum, Daniel Sackheim and Patricia Riggen -- stands in striking contrast to so many sluggishly-paced, poorly-lit streaming drama wallows of recent vintage. It moves briskly and offers up at least one big action set piece per episode -- though nothing as impressive as in the Ryan films, nor even TV shows like Strike Back or Daredevil.
Over at Vulture, Kathryn VanArendonk felt that Jack Ryan had its selling points but some issues with tone:
It's hard not to see the appeal of a show about a world full of terrifying things that's also ready-stocked with a man like Jack Ryan, whose mere presence is a promise that the scary thing will be neutralized. But it's exhausting to live in that world all the time. I wish Jack Ryan were less focused on the fear, and more of it could be like that one glorious moment when a helicopter materializes out of nowhere and gives Ryan the chance to be debonair.
And the show's initial sensitivity dwindles in the face of jingoistic excess. Mysterious brown people kill innocent white people on the streets of Paris. In Syria, a Muslim character describes an American drone attack as an act of God. Moments like that make Jack Bauer look subtle. And I worry that some intention of this first season is to provide Jack Ryan with an origin story -- which makes all the other character work feel extraneous, like all the citizens of this very globalized world are just thematic signposts on Jack's journey to self-realization.
The full first season of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan will be available on Amazon Prime beginning on August 31 at 12:01 a.m. PT. The series has already been renewed for a second season, so you don't need to worry that the story will be done for good at the end of the season finale. There are plenty of other Amazon Prime options in the works, as well as some intriguing broadcast TV offerings worth checking out.