By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Jack Ryan, the intrepid CIA agent dreamed up by novelist Tom Clancy, never crossed paths with the Mission: Impossible team. His movie franchise just borrows one of their signature identity switcheroos every decade or so.
In his 1990 screen debut The Hunt for Red October, Ryan looks a lot like Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock, only younger and slimmer. Tugging upward a latex flap beneath his chin, Ryan rips off a full mask to reveal Indiana Jones for Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Another tug in 2002 and he's half of Bennifer, the original pop celebrity pairing that truly was The Sum of All Fears.
One more reveal and Ryan is the spitting image of another swapped-out action figure, Capt. James T. Kirk, in the franchise reboot Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which opens Friday. And his co-star is Kevin Costner, who turned down The Hunt for Red October to make Dances With Wolves. It's a Hollywood web even a strategist like Clancy might have trouble untangling.
We're here to help, with a dossier — not classified but classy — on each actor playing Ryan over five movies, and how his espionage style changed with each casting.
Alec Baldwin, The Hunt for Red October (1990)
The mission: Assist a Soviet nuclear submarine commander (Sean Connery) in defecting to the U.S., with naval forces from both nations in pursuit.
Ryan's style: Baldwin plays him cerebral and in over his head. Roger Ebert wrote that Baldwin "has the looks of a leading man, but he dials down his personality. He presents himself as a deck-bound bureaucrat who can't believe he has actually gotten himself into this field exercise."
Top secret: At the climax, Ryan heads home with a teddy bear for his child. It's the same plush toy director John McTiernan sent home with Bruce Willis at the end of Die Hard.
Harrison Ford, Patriot Games (1992), Clear and Present Danger (1994)
The missions: The first movie has Ryan defending his family against Irish revolutionaries upset that he spoiled their political assassination plans. The second plunges Ryan into an illegal covert war against a Colombian drug cartel.
Ryan's style: Less talk, more action. That didn't sit well with Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, who wrote of Ford: "He's the rare action star who's witty enough to thrive on good dialogue, yet playing Jack Ryan … he doesn't get much of it."
Top secret: Not much of a secret, really. Clancy was clear (and present) with publicly disowning the movie, feeling Ford was too old to play the Ryan he envisioned.
Ben Affleck, The Sum of All Fears (2002)
The mission: Prevent neo-fascists from sparking war between the U.S. and Russia, after a dirty bomb is detonated at a Super Bowl in Baltimore.
Ryan's style: Rebooting the franchise to Ryan's CIA roots, plus the release's poor timing after the 9/11 attacks, didn't impress many. Rolling Stone's Peter Travers believed Affleck "merely creates an outline for a role he still needs to grow into, a role that Harrison Ford effortlessly filled with authority."
Top secret: Affleck's best buddy Matt Damon filmed a cameo as a waiter, but the scene ended up on the cutting room floor.
Chris Pine, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
The mission: Stop Russian terrorists from crashing the U.S. economy, with a Ryan younger and greener than ever in CIA operations.
Ryan's style: We'll see, since Paramount hadn't shown the movie to local critics before Weekend deadline. But if Pine handles this role as well as his Star Trek gig we're in good shape. Look for a review of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit at tampabay.com and on Etc, Page 2B.
Top secret: Adam Cozad's screenplay originally had nothing to do with Clancy's hero but Paramount had him tailor it to the franchise. This is the first Ryan movie for which Clancy didn't write a book.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.