‘Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan’ Season 3 Review: John Krasinski Can’t Run From This Tepid Action Thriller
Way back in the first season of Jack Ryan, there was a brief conversation that tested the titular agent’s loyalty to the CIA. As played by John Krasinski, Ryan was asked directly how he could work for an agency that had been responsible for such a long history of what can be generously referred to as rather shady activity. His answer, at least at the time (as this was largely forgotten since then) was that he believed he could fix it from the inside more than he could from the outside. It was, to put it lightly, a rather dubious answer that he didn’t even seem to believe. Still, he pressed on without much thought, earning the “Boy Scout” nickname that so many labeled him with. Now, going into a third season with even larger stakes than ever before that puts him in the crosshairs, perhaps Ryan should have reflected more on who he was working for and what might happen if he ran afoul of their interests. Perhaps that would have made this season’s focus on backstabbing and betrayal more engaging than the others that preceded it. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
This go-around, we pick back up with Ryan now working in Rome and getting up to his usual spy shenanigans. Part of this involves getting literally thrown out of a place he shouldn’t be, though he dusts himself off and gets ready to give a presentation about what he refers to as the “Sokol Project.” While it isn’t quite as forced as the one he gave to justify the plot back in Season 2, this one is also a bit hard to take seriously. Essentially, this term refers to what Ryan says is a plan to restore the Soviet Union. Obviously, to anyone who has even taken a brief perusal of a history book, this is not something that is real and is an invention of the show to give it some sort of tension. Wouldn’t you know it, just when Ryan is done with his presentation, he starts to get word that someone is trying to relaunch this project. With his fellow officer CIA Officer James Greer, played by an always solid Wendell Pierce, he will now have to try to piece together what is happening. However, after one of his missions ends in disaster, Ryan finds himself on the run after being wrongly accused of treason. Thus, he will have to operate underground in order to prevent what he fears may lead to global conflict.
The problem with a show like Jack Ryan that is made apparent in this third season is that it is never exciting enough in its action to hold your attention or, when that fails, willing to take that extra leap into being sharper in its attempt to be a political thriller. Stories like this needn’t reinvent the wheel by any means and can have a lot of fun in playing around with convention, though there has to be some sort of flair to it. Regardless of what you think of the Mission: Impossible movies, we do always get to see Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt getting up to stunts. Be they in the confines of a bathroom or leaping from increasingly higher points, there is always a sense of thrill in what he will get up to next. Obviously, this is television and not film, so it is understandable that they can’t operate on such a scale. With that being said, the recent series Reacher (also on Prime Video) showed that a willingness to get scrappy can go a long way to making up for any budgetary limitations. The standout bathroom brawl of that series alone surpasses anything taking place here. Even when we see Ryan getting up to nighttime infiltration missions, expansive car chases, and some shootouts, it all is staged in a way that is far too static. None of it feels as tense as it seems to think it is, and increasingly begins to blur together.
The scattered moments of intrigue we do get come from the various actors that have been assembled for this season. There is the aforementioned Pierce and also Michael Kelly as their former fellow officer Mike November, who would make for a fun buddy film on their own. Beyond them, there are a variety of additions who determinedly try to give the story something approaching an emotional heart. Foremost among them is the underutilized Nina Hoss as Alena Kovac, the President of the Czech Republic who becomes caught up in the crisis. Without giving away precisely what happens, there is a scene where she is able to convey vast emotion in a fleeting moment when Alena witnesses unexpected violence. Of course, any who has seen her understated performance in this year’s outstanding film TÁR knows that she can do a lot with very little. Still, one wishes she had actually been given more to work with.
On the flip side of this, Krasinski is still only able to do a little with quite a lot. It is a serviceable performance where he will occasionally crack jokes or show a hint of emotion when yelling into a phone. But again, when looking at a similar series like Reacher, the role is crying out for the more subtle and sly charisma of someone like Alan Ritchson. Krasinski just doesn’t have the chops to embody a compelling action hero or a quick-thinking adversary. A common refrain one hears with a show like this is that it will make for good background noise to watch while doing laundry or other things around the house. However, this is quite a low bar and requires grading on a curve that just strains one’s critical integrity too much. At its very best, there is some fun fluff that may occasionally make you sit up in your chair ever so slightly. Still, without any passion given to the details to carry it beyond that, it mostly just goes through a cycle of circling conspiracies. For all the ways the conclusion strives to say something more, it comes far too late. It isn’t that Jack Ryan was ever pulling any punches, more that it just never was actually attempting to swing that hard, to begin with.
You can see all eight episodes of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime starting December 21.