Move over, “Lost in Space” and “The Terminator,” because now there’s another once-great franchise struggling to get out of pop culture purgatory — and Jack Ryan is the kind of guy who typically wins the battle.
Amazon has greenlit a 10-episode series titled “Jack Ryan,” starring John Krasinski as a long-way-from-“The Office” CIA super agent. A prequel of sorts, the show will follow a modern Ryan thrust into his first life-threatening field assignment, one involving global terrorism.
But as exciting as that may seem, Tom Clancy fans can be forgiven for not re-upping their Prime memberships just yet. The character’s onetime can’t-miss status at the box office pretty much fizzled around 2002, when Ben Affleck took over the role for the highly-publicized, underperforming “The Sum of All Fears.” 2014’s wannabe-reboot “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” similarly tried to turn Chris Pine into the new Harrison Ford, but also didn’t do the franchise any favors.
So, with the understanding that one more failure could put Ryan down for good, what will it take to bring the character back for good? Here are a few things fans will be hoping to see.
Make his virtue relevant again
When you think about it, the makers of “Jack Ryan” face the same issue that Bryan Singer (and now, Zack Snyder) have faced with Superman. Decades ago, the notion of a 100 percent pure, virtuous, non-ironic hero was perfectly plausible. Nowadays, however, it is one of the most difficult things a storyteller could try to pull off.
Like Superman, Jack Ryan’s defining trait is that he is a hero guided by a conscience that always chooses right over wrong. There are no Jack Bauer-esque moments of stooping to the criminal’s level, no Jason Bourne-like questioning of himself, no Deadpool winks at the camera. Sure, he’ll drop a few F-bombs and engage in some gunplay, but Jack Ryan’s main weapon is the simple truth. So, can a modern-day audience relate to a hero who stays on his pedestal?
Go back to the books
There’s a very good reason why Tom Clancy sold 100 million copies of his books, and although he is no longer around to watch over his characters, any content creators who ignore his source materials do so at their own peril.
Since “Jack Ryan” will detail the character’s early days, the show is in luck. The books “Patriot Games” and “Red Rabbit” go into great detail explaining an origin story that has everything from his military service to his parents dying in a plane crash to his first heroics. Although it’s understandable to change some details to make the tale more modern (heck, “The Hunt For Red October” movie did the same thing), the key elements are a formula with a proven track record.
Get into real world affairs
Clancy was a very political guy, and was extremely well-researched. So, he never had to hide his prose behind generic villains, but instead chose political intrigue centered around real-life events. Right now in pop culture, nobody is doing that.
Could it be because the Cold War is over, and the world is less volatile? We wish. With Russia once again engaged in an icy relationship with the U.S. and all kinds of questions about the role (and limitations) of intelligence agencies in the modern era, “Jack Ryan” could find plenty of meat on the bone.
The ‘Junkyard Dog’ quote
Possibly the most iconic moment in all the Jack Ryan movies combined, 1994’s “Clear and Present Danger” had the CIA agent uncovering a presidential cover-up — then attempting to call out the big man himself. Although it is veteran character actor Donald Moffat who gets to deliver the line, it has become a classic. If the screenwriters want to throw the fans a bone, they’ll sneak a junkyard dog reference in there somewhere.