Why Jack Ryan is the Action Hero We Need

Pop Culture

Why Jack Ryan is the Action Hero We Need

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

For the better part of Jack Ryan, the TV adaptation of Tom Clancy’s popular book series, its eponymous lead is an anomaly in the universe of action heroes. Played by John Krasinski, the modern-day CIA agent is a staid, moody protagonist, poles apart from the flashiness of Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne, the spies that cinema viewers are used to and idolise.

A far cry from the standard alpha-male action hero, Jack Ryan is a mild-mannered CIA “analyst” who rides to work on a bicycle. He is a troubled, desk-bound Everyman racking his brains over Yemeni financial transactions. Even Krasinski, the actor portraying Ryan, doesn’t inherently exude machismo the way his predecessors could — the role has been previously played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine. It helps that despite his turn as an intense hero in A Quiet Place, the actor doesn’t fail to charm, and is convincing as a post-modern Jack Ryan.

In the show, Jack Ryan makes one unassuming discovery about the show’s terrorist that has him hurtling from behind a desk to the forefront of the battle. And Krasinski’s evocative, trauma-ridden face underlines the fragility of Ryan’s personality in almost every fame, exposing how out of depth he really is for the task at hand.

One of Jack Ryan’s best confrontations comes in the second episode when it finally dawns on him that a tertiary character he was interrogating might be the antagonist he’s chasing. Although Ryan coolly manages to just about hold his own against the antagonist and his brother without a weapon, his guard drops the moment they escape the room. It’s a brief moment, but Krasinski’s face is awash with dread and the realisation that he could easily have been dead. To his credit, Krasinski serves the character and the plot well with his unsure gaze and occasional trembling. It’s almost as if the audience can sense his inner confidence-boosting monologues.

To his credit, Krasinski serves the character and the plot well with his unsure gaze and occasional trembling.

As a result, Krasinski’s Ryan is the kind of action hero who thrives in the background, allowing room for secondary characters and their motivations to grow. It’s also why his near-climactic transition into the all-out hero doesn’t seem so forced or resemble the standard American saviour trope. More than anything, it feels refreshing to see a show not giving in to the temptation to make its lead protagonist all-out elusive. Krasinski’s Ryan is aspirational in a relatable way.

The latest iteration of Jack Ryan is a spy who is not only aware of his own strengths but also of his weaknesses. The good thing is, he knows how to work around them.

One particular scene stuck with me – when a former boss mocks Ryan for turning down an insider trading offer and calls him a “Boy Scout”. Up until now, we’d been conditioned to assume that spies can’t be ordinary. But Jack Ryan on the other hand, insists that there’s nothing wrong with letting a Boy Scout save the world once in a while. In humanising its lead, Jack Ryan quietly conveys a pertinent point: Not all spies are born with it (even if they are former Marines).