The latest chapter of the Prime Video series puts Ryan on the run but risks little.
As conceived in the 1987 Tom Clancy novel The Hunt for Red October, Jack Ryan was an antidote to the typical hypermasculine action hero that had gripped pop culture. Despite a tour in the Marines, he was an intellect-first guy who only ended up in the field because he outthinks everyone else. Unfortunately, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan season 3 is a reminder that that version of the character ceased to exist long ago.
However, one shouldn’t review the thing they wish they got. You can only evaluate the series as it exists. On that score, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is slightly above-average spy thriller fare.
Fans of the character via Clancy’s novels will likely have a bit of fun spotting moments pulled from the books to make the third season’s mix-and-match plot. In brief, a Soviet-era ploy to solidify power in the Eastern bloc by manufacturing chaos and blaming the West seems to have been resurrected for the oligarchs’ era. Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) has the intel, but it’s too vague to prove definitive. His mentor James Greer (Wendell Pierce) believes him. His boss Elizabeth Wright (Betty Gabriel) is skeptical.
We, as the audience, know that Ryan is right. Of course. Still, we must wade through eight episodes and multiple “twists” for all the players to catch up. It isn’t the worst way to spend a season of television, but now and then, it tests one’s patience. Sure, proof is important, but certainly, after saving the world several times, Ryan deserves a little wider birth than your average CIA analyst turned master in the field spy. Or, at the very least, the Agency shouldn’t declare him an enemy of the state immediately upon one thing going wrong?
What’s more frustrating than the show’s lack of season-to-season memory is its episode-to-episode amnesia. One character virtually writes Ryan’s death certificate one episode only to be a key player in his plan a few episodes later, all without any “oh damn, I messed up!” moment or even acknowledgment. Allegiances shift quickly in the world of fictional spycraft, but Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan season 3 should still make at least a small effort to give us a sense of how or why they change beyond “the plot demands it” mechanics.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is slightly above-average spy thriller fare.
What moves the series beyond boilerplate absurdity to something slightly better is the people on-screen. Krasinski has become something of a polarizing figure in the past few years—due in no small part to this show and concerns about CIA-aganda—but he’s good in the role. He’s every bit the action Jack of the Harrison Ford and Chris Pine interpretations. However, Krasinski also delivers on the too few moments in the script that ask Ryan to be crafty or thoughtful. He’s no Alec Baldwin in the film adaptation of Red October, but his on-screen intelligence plays at least as well as Ben Affleck’s bruiser intellectual incarnation in The Sum of All Fears. Maybe it’s a Boston boys thing?
The real casting firepower comes from the supporting players. Pierce gives the oft-portrayed as solemn Greer a bit more of a sly edge and something approaching humor. No one is having more fun, though, than Michael Kelly as Mike November, the former CIA agent gone freelance mercenary. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan season 3 doesn’t have much interest in humor, but Kelly consistently sneaks in levity without derailing the show’s tone.
The season’s MVP, however, goes to new to the series James Cosmo as Luka Goncharov. After years in Russia’s corridors of powers, he’s amassed all manner of sins. Cosmo plays them as a mix of a burden and a badge. Goncharov regrets his past but remains committed to his country. The show never quite manages to make his intentions as mysterious as they try, but that doesn’t stop Cosmo from making him the season’s most compelling figure.
Visually, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan season 3 feels just “almost like the movies” as its predecessors. It can and does nail an action scene, but you can often feel the budget constraints on the smaller moments. As a result, things feel just a little too underpopulated, a bit too static. For a television actioner, it’s great. It just so clearly wants to be more. Alas, sometimes it doesn’t deliver on the goal.
Thirty-five years after Jack Ryan stepped foot on the Red October, it’s clear that thinking man’s spy is long gone. Still, if more typical disposable spy thrills are what you seek, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan remains a reliable streaming destination.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan season 3 is protecting America’s interests now on Prime Video.