While Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt may be the more prominent names when it comes to fictional American spies, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is the equivalent of MI6’s James Bond. After five films over 24 years and four separate actors taking on the role, Amazon thought in this golden age of TV that these stories might fare better on a streaming service and surprisingly they are not wrong.
The main story of season one revolves around desk-bound CIA analyst Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) who discovers a string of suspicious bank transfers in the Middle East. Under his new boss James Greer (Wendell Pierce), Ryan is sent overseas where he comes face-to-face with rising Islamic terrorist Mousa Bin Suleiman (Ali Suliman). This encounter starts a game of cat-and-mouse between Ryan and Suleiman as he hopes to get into the mind of the terrorist and thwart his plans to save the world. With Suleiman always one step ahead, could a women in a refugee camp claiming to be his wife be the key to defeating him?
First off, it was surprising how high this show’s production value was. That along with the direction show a real investment into this series by Amazon and it certainly delivers the quality that is needed. It gives off the tone of spy thriller films like Body of Lies, The Kingdom and Green Zone while feeling most like the hit TV series Homeland. If those are up your alley, then this show is right for you. Beyond the actual production this series has a lot going for it thanks to some stellar performances and writing.
The show’s short first season finds itself standing above others in the genre thanks to a very compelling antagonist in Suleiman. The Islamic extremist who wants to destroy the West is the most overused trope in 21st century spy stories, but the showrunners are able to create an empathetic villain with an intriguing backstory. This storyline helps give a detailed perspective of Suleiman and his family beyond the bad guy that blurs the line between right and wrong, just and unjust. This is seen not only through the loving, yet menacing Suleiman, but his equally loving, yet terrified wife Hanin (Dina Shihabi).
Beyond the antagonist, the other characters that stand out are the two leads Jack Ryan and James Greer who have this fun buddy-cop dynamic throughout the season. They’re constantly budding heads on their intellect and decisions, but know when to put aside their differences and it will be exciting to see how this dynamic grows next season. Krasinski’s version of Ryan is most like Harrison Ford’s in being the realistic, vulnerable hero. Abbie Cornish as Jack Ryan’s love interest was fun to watch, but her chemistry with Krasinski was lacking believability. It was a tad stale.
The story is equally as brilliant as it delivers non-stop thrilling and emotional scenes that make it difficult not to binge the whole season in one sitting. The backstory of both Ryan and Suleiman help accent the struggles these men have faced and how it has shaped the men that they have become. By showing Suleiman as a flawed character, it creates an almost co-protagonist making it easy to understand his actions, despite if they are morally wrong.
Out of everything, the story does have the most issues as it could have dove more into Suleiman’s backstory and what motivated him or how he met Hanin showing more of his loving side. Instead, it decides to focus on a drone pilot subplot that never ties into the main story in a satisfying manner. If the showrunners were determined to create 8 episodes, it would have served the story better to focus on Suleiman more rather than this unnecessary subplot. And the last two episodes decide to fall into the common CIA good, terrorist bad trope which makes the empathy and backstory that the first episodes built completely disappear.
This season of Jack Ryan is an explosive and action-packed spy drama that proves this series was meant for the small screen. While it runs a little long with some filler storylines, the impeccable direction, engaging and charismatic cast, well-rounded and flawed characters and heart-pounding, thought-provoking story make for one of the best seasons of a spy thriller series in recent years. Jack Ryan is back. From its high quality production to its smart storytelling, this season feels like if Homeland and Body of Lies had a love child so it’s definitely worth the watch.
*Jack Ryan is now available to stream on Amazon Prime*
What did you think of Jack Ryan? Was it a decent spy thriller? Let me know in the comments!
On top of writing reviews for this site, I also post video reviews on my YouTube channel The Film Fanatic where we post other content like countdown videos, movie recommendations, script analyses and more.