By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist March 5, 2012 at 9:17AM
In the decade since "The Sum Of All Fears" hit theaters, becoming a modest success, Paramount have been keen to continue to mine the works of Tom Clancy that they've had success with on "The Hunt For Red October," "Patriot Games" and "Clear And Present Danger." Soon after that film's release, John Woo was signed to direct a movie version of "Rainbow Six," while in 2006, Joaquin Phoenix signed on to star in "Without Remorse" for director John Singleton. Neither came to pass, and a few years later, Sam Raimi came on to tackle a new take on Jack Ryan, Clancy's best known character, with reports that Ryan Gosling was being sought for the lead, but Raimi left almost as soon as he came on board.
Nevertheless, Paramount have pressed on, picking up a spec script by Adam Cozad entitled "Dubai," a one-time Eric Bana project, and retooling it with the name "Moscow" to serve as a new introduction to Wall Street broker-turned-CIA analyst Ryan, who's been previously played on screen by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. They soon found a star, in "Star Trek" captain Chris Pine, and a director, in "Lost" veteran Jack Bender, but what they couldn't seem to get right was a script, with writers including Hossein Amini ("Drive"), Anthony Peckham ("Sherlock Holmes," "Invictus"), Steve Zaillian ("The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo") and David Koepp ("Spider-Man") all linked to the project over the years. But when push came to shove, the studio never pulled the trigger, with the film taking the back-burner in favor of "Star Trek 2" on Pine's schedule.
According to Moviehole, there's some good news, in that a new script, reportedly again by Peckham, has won approval from the company. The bad news is that the studio don't seem to be any closer to pulling the trigger, with the increasingly-popular problem of budget issues being the main culprit here. All over town, studios are proving gun-shy on green-lighting expensive tentpoles unless they're absolute sure things, and supposedly the current script is too expensive. Will Bender be able to follow in Gore Verbinski's footsteps on "The Lone Ranger" and trim the cost down to an acceptable level?
Which brings us to our main question: does anyone really care if he does? Because the Jack Ryan quote-unquote franchise is one that seems to exist purely for the sake of being a franchise, rather than any compelling reason to carry on the franchise. Clancy has his fans, of course; decades of best-selling airport novels demonstrate that. And the films to date have all done well, each one grossing betweeen $175-225 million worldwide.
But with an entirely new story, and the fourth Ryan in twenty years, this new film doesn't seem designed to appeal to fans, particularly as the character long ago became President of the United States in the continuity of the novels (don't ask...), handing over the action mantle to his son. But perhaps more importantly, Jack Ryan has never been particularly compelling in the first place.
Think of the other super-spy franchises, and you're at least able to come up with some distinguishing features. Bond? British, drinks martinis, beds everything in sight. Bourne? Amnesiac, on the run, good with hand-to-hand combat. Ethan Hunt, the lead in the "Mission: Impossible" films, is a cypher, but at least that film has had Tom Cruise as a constant, and a pin-pointable appeal: Cruise doing crazy-ass stunts that would make the Jackass crew consider taking on an office job.
But who is Jack Ryan? After four movies, we're yet to find any characteristics that make him interesting enough to set the series apart from any rivals. It's not that we don't like the films -- "Hunt From Red October" is one of the best examples of the genre. But they're firmly middle-brow programmers, and we don't see what value calling your lead character 'Jack Ryan,' rather than any other name, lends, particularly when you're going with an original story in the first place.
We can't help but think that part of the reason for Paramount delaying the green light is the yet-to-be cemented A-list status of Pine. Since "Star Trek," he's had a bona-fide hit in "Unstoppable," but it's more likely that Denzel Washington was the draw there, particularly as "This Means War," with the added star power of Reese Witherspoon and Tom Hardy, underperformed in recent weeks. Considering that the franchise has always skewed older, going young, as they did with Affleck and are doing with Pine (who's 31), may actually be a little counterproductive: teens aren't going to want to see Pine in a Tom Clancy adaptation, and older crowds aren't really sure who the hell he is.
This isn't to say that a new Clancy film couldn't work -- for the right price, say $50 million or so, it could be a decent little programmer not unlike "Safe House" or "Contraband" -- but the idea of it being one of Paramount's tentpole franchises, with nine-figure budgets and key summer release dates, seems doomed to failure to us, and holding fire on that greenlight seems like a smart move. But what about you? Are you chomping at the bit to see Pine take up the Jack Ryan mantle? Or are you as apathetic as we are about this series? Weigh in below.