Jack Ryan review: Amazon series favours exotic backdrops, CGI explosions over fresh storytelling

Mihir Fadnavis

Sep 02, 2018 16:07:04 IST

There are very few reasons to see the new Jack Ryan series. One is that it has the always likeable John Krasinski playing Ryan. Another is that it has the ludicrously underrated Abbie Cornish playing Ryan’s love interest. Beyond that, Jack Ryan is tedious and there is very little in the show that is original or fresh.

 Jack Ryan review: Amazon series favours exotic backdrops, CGI explosions over fresh storytelling

Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan promotional banner. Image via Amazon

The show is, of course, based on Tom Clancy’s book series which have already produced multiple action thrillers with mixed results. After Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine, Krasinski now steps into Ryan’s shoes as the CIA agent aka America’s Hero bursting with the aural colors of the star spangled banner. Ryan is a desk rat brought back into the field at the advent of a case where a Syrian financial analyst named Suleiman (Ali Suliman) comes into the agency’s crosshairs as a suspected terrorist. Ali may seem like a meek bloke but his wife Hanin (Dina Shihabi) suspects he may be up to something nefarious.

The problem is very simple: the CIA taking down a suspected terrorist is an extremely hackneyed concept. There have already been multiple TV shows associated with his plotline (some even borrowing from Clancy’s work). Jack Ryan, therefore, needed to mix things up and bring something at least visually new to the table aside from the CIA agent tropes and the explosions. Series creators Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland don’t succeed in making the formula work, and the show comes across as uninspired and transparent. One expects adventure but there is awkwardness, and the musty odor of an outdated TV show from the 90’s. Had the show embraced a throwback strategy – willingly being a love letter to potboilers from the 90’s, it could probably have been a much more interesting watch.

To compensate for the outdated nature of the narrative, the show relies on its glossy sheen and exotic backdrops but it further undoes the storytelling. Ryan was never meant to be a counter balance to James Bond or Jason Bourne, all three exist in totally separate universes so anything in Ryan reminiscent of Bond or Bourne only grates to the viewer. There’s also the unambiguous waft of celebrating the might of the American military, which is fine — if you humanise the characters enough to provide a balanced perspective on America’s arrogant foreign policy – but not in a show like this where the narrative does not bother sifting through any psychological underpinnings of a spy caught in a web where he’s chasing a villain who was made by the spy’s country. The other issue is the demonising of Islamic terrorism in the USA – which has long been used as a Boogeyman in the right wing media to sweep domestic terrorism under the carpet. With an orange-coloured white nationalist fascist currently in the White House, it’s hard to care about a show revitalising the 9/11 heydays of Islamic terror scaremongering.

John Krasinski in Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan

John Krasinski in Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan

Compare this show to the Israeli political thriller Fauda which brings so many important things to the table – like characters who seem real, action that seems to have a genuine impact on them, the ramifications of dealing with contrasting political leanings under the same nationality, repercussions that are felt through seasons and military tactics that are executed in grounded reality as opposed to CGI explosions seen everywhere in Jack Ryan. This is a tone deaf show in contrast – despite the showrunners’ attempt to make us empathise with the villain using flashbacks where you see his childhood town being ravaged by military jets. Even this year’s The Looming Tower served as a more impactful show simply because it was about characters who matter instead of putting us in a carnival ride of jagged editing and perfunctory action movie music.

A lot of money was clearly spent on Jack Ryan to make it look like an action blockbuster but when you’ve just recently seen the likes of Mission: Impossible — Fallout on the big screen, stuff like this show absolutely does not satisfy on a purely escapist visual level. You cannot reproduce big screen thrills on a small screen – the streaming format needs to focus on interesting storytelling instead of Michael Bay-style wham-bam frivolity. One wishes Krasinski and the rest of the interesting supporting cast including Noomi Rapace and Timothy Hutton were given better material here with more serious political nuance instead of what is ultimately a goofy mass market spy cliché bubblegum that stretches till it snaps apart repeatedly.

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Updated Date: Sep 02, 2018 16:07:04 IST