There are some characters from movies and books, or even historical figures, destined to live forever in pop-culture references.
And the sheer number of actors who have played them is also testament to the character’s longevity.
Sherlock Holmes. Hamlet. James Bond. Dracula. King Henry VIII. Queen Elizabeth I. Superman. Batman.
Having the potential to join this list now is a man named Jack Ryan, a surprisingly low-key character from Tom Clancy's series of novels.
Jack, who? Hear this out.
American writer Clancy is not particularly known for deep characterisation. The readers of his books are more interested in the espionage plot and the military and political entanglements.
Yet, here is a character that went from being a marine to a broker, then a CIA agent, and subsequently, the president of a country.
On screen, it is a role that has been played by very different actors – Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and soon, Chris Pine (‘Star Trek’) in ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’.
To followers of Clancy’s bestsellers, Jack Ryan is either a very interesting multi-dimensional guy, or he is someone with no distinguishable characteristics.
If you consider the type of stories Clancy was accustomed to telling, Jack was basically a blank slate, fit for the novelist and the actors to mould as they deem fit.
Jack Ryan, the glue of the stories, could become anything. Heck, even a pop culture icon one day.
1. Alec Baldwin in ‘The Hunt For Red October’ (1990)
Revisiting Alec Baldwin play Jack Ryan is nostalgic and fun, simply because most people would not be able to recall a non-pudgy, non-middle-aged pre-Jack-Donaghy Alec Baldwin.
Baldwin looks debonair in the movie. He does not exhibit any of the comic talents viewers see in his later ‘30 Rock’ TV days.
In this movie, Jack Ryan tracks down Red October, the super awesome, stealth nuclear submarine heading towards America's east coast, under the command of Captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery). Jack theorises that Red October is really planning to defect, and the troopers need to get to them before the US Navy torpedoes the whole thing.
Baldwin holds his own as the keen-minded military analyst in this gripping thriller, sparring with Connery who plays the only Russian in the world with a Scottish accent.
2. Harrison Ford in ‘Patriot Games’ (1992) and ‘Clear And Present Danger’ (1994)
For some strange reason, Paramount Pictures did not want to work with Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan anymore and tapped an even bigger name – Harrison Ford – to replace him.
In an odd situation, the two movies staring Ford seem to still share continuity with the one starring Baldwin, with James Earl Jones retaining his role as Vice Admiral Jim Greer.
Bonus points to ‘Clear And Present Danger’ for having such a cool movie title. However, Ford's casting also brought on a drastic shift in tone from ‘The Hunt For Red October’.
Ford’s portrayal gave Jack a macho everyman appeal, and he is more of a full-blown action hero than analyst. This is closer to Clancy's written version of Jack, the humourless, Superman-esque boy scout who can always be counted on to do the right thing. Without the humour though, Jack becomes a lot less entertaining, and we can’t say that is good.
3. Ben Affleck in ‘The Sum Of All Fears’ (2002)
With this movie, Hollywood rebooted the whole shebang and departed from the timeline of the three films before it.
Ben Affleck was cast as Jack Ryan and suddenly, viewers had to adjust from a more mature (Harrison Ford-type) agent in the previous films to a younger, inexperienced one.
The script paired a fresh Jack Ryan with the wisest of all sagely actors: Morgan Freeman. And it gave Jack someone to chase – a love interest, that is.
The plot rehashed Cold War-era tension that is almost impossible to follow at times, so the result leaves much to be desired. And Affleck's performance does not shine.
The film seems incomplete, as if the studio was sequel-baiting and waiting for Affleck to return to finish the job.
Definitely the lowest-ranked Jack Ryan vehicle.
4. Chris Pine in ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ (2014)
This year, Paramount Pictures decided to re-reboot the whole Jack Ryan franchise and start from a clean slate, with the fresh-faced Chris Pine.
Director Kenneth Branagh starts the Jack Ryan canon right at the beginning: He is a promising young student at the London School of Economics until the events of 9/11 changes everything. Jack joins the Marines and almost loses body parts.
While recovering from injuries, a CIA elder (played by Kevin Costner) recruits him to be a plant at a Wall Street firm, keeping an eye out for shady funds transfers that may signal terrorist activity.
This Jack Ryan sounds like one for the new generation. Pine seems to excel at characters with a hint of arrogance as in the ‘Star Trek’ movies.
With this new face, Hollywood takes yet another shot at reinventing the wheel to prolong the life of a likely movie staple, just as it did for Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Batman.