Amazon UK TV review: Jack Ryan Season 1 (spoilers)
Chris Bryant | On 08, Sep 2018
Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 3 to 8 of Jack Ryan Season 1. Not caught up with Amazon’s adaptation of Tom Clancy? Read our spoiler-free review here.
“Not bad… for an analyst.”
Amazon’s Jack Ryan continues as it began, with episodes filled with twisting countermoves punctuated by striking action, as Ryan plays a tense cat-and-mouse game with radical terrorist Mousa Suleiman around the globe. Suspenseful, efficient, and smartly modernised for the technology age, the eight-episode season is a solid adaptation of a character who isn’t your average action hero.
Focusing on the story rather than the character, the series gives equal screen time to Suleiman himself (brought to life by Ali Suliman), including an entire backstory and family dynamic. This is the show’s greatest strength by far – its patience and aversion to ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. It just sets up two different, equally matched sides and presses play, ensuring that everyone involved is a character rather than a prop.
Tom Clancy’s original Jack Ryan debuted in 1984, became a worldwide phenomenon and hasn’t slowed since. Audience recognition of the CIA analyst may boost Amazon’s viewing figures but also provides some problems for the streaming giant’s spy show. With such a swift and meaningful impact on the world of spy thrillers, a lot of ‘Jack Ryan’-esque stories have been produced since, which gives the series some stiff competition, from Netflix’s Shooter (based on novels by Stephen Hunter) to Sky One’s Strike Back (based on the works of Chris Ryan). While Jack Ryan’s 18-rating and star attraction in John Krasinski serve it well, the occasional lapse in pace and imagination could cause attention to drift before the next twist occurs. Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland’s intent to create three-dimensional characters isn’t necessarily flawed so much as misdirected towards angles that didn’t need exploring.
The ‘mystery/thriller’ aspect of the show that is readily available elsewhere doesn’t put a foot wrong, however. Rarely predictable, and always jaw-dropping, their ability to misdirect the audience with tension and drop in an explosion, shootout, or revelation is exactly what’s needed in a show with such an immersive style. One moment, the careful writing and expert direction from the likes of Daniel Sackheim (Game of Thrones, The Man in the High Castle) has the audience glued to a terrorist’s relationship with his brother, and the next, there’s the threat of widespread biological war, or a slick shootout in a packed hospital – it’s a marvel that Clancy has spawned such stereotypes with Ryan and yet this kind of gripping energy and edge can still be found within them.
Overall, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a strong success. Addictive and story-driven, it compensates for any lapse in momentum with action sequences that rival some big screen adaptations of Clancy’s work. Krasinski and Suliman pave the way for a strong but subtle cast, while the writing and direction ensure that Jack Ryan is a world-tour of smart and suspenseful storytelling.
Jack Ryan: Season 1 and 2 is available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.