In the wake of Tom Clancy’s death earlier this week at 66, it could seem mercenary that Paramount is releasing the first poster and trailer for the latest cinematic iteration of Clancy’s popular character Jack Ryan, which is creatively titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (sounds like a video game). But Paramount already had this stuff queued up to release this week and it’s just a really sad coincidence that the poster is so…funereal.
Shadow Recruit goes back to Jack Ryan’s beginning, rebooting the character after previously being portrayed first by Alec Baldwin (in The Hunt for the Red October), then by Harrison Ford (everyone’s favorite to date), and lastly by Ben Affleck, whom everyone hated. So that’s actually two beloved franchise characters Affleck has ruined—looking good, Batman! Ugh, anyway. The role is now being played by Chris Pine, as a younger, just-starting-out version. Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh (who also directed) and Kevin Costner co-star, and if this works out, Costner could get his own franchise out of it.
The question is, how well is this working? The trailer is generic, offering nothing we haven’t seen already in a dozen other post-9/11 spy movies, and if you aren’t a pre-existing Jack Ryan/Tom Clancy fan, this isn’t doing much to distinguish itself. Partly it’s Chris Pine—he’s so vanilla. But a big part is also Paramount – they’ve fallen into the habit of releasing a spy-themed action movie every Christmas. It’s one thing if you have a proper franchise that you put out at a specific time every year—I always associate Thanksgiving with Harry Potter—but using the same spot for similarly themed movies makes them feel interchangeable. They could call this movie Holiday Spies and no one would blink.
But Jack Ryan might not be coming out in December. The advertising says “coming soon”, and though it was originally slated for a Christmas Day release, there’s been some talk that it’s getting pushed back to January. The party line is that this in some way would accommodate Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, which is having its own release date crisis because it’s either not done or may not be strong enough to hold up in this already ultra-competitive award season, depending on who you talk to, but if Jack Ryan is kicked to January, it will have nothing to do with anything but Jack Ryan.
January and February are a graveyard where studios send projects to die. If there is even the slightest bit of faith in a project and it needs to be held up for whatever reason, you reschedule it for March at the earliest. If it is sent to January or February, it means the movie isn’t any good. (The guys at Red Letter Media have brilliantly dubbed this phenomenon “F*ck you, it’s January”.) As is, Holiday Spies looks like a bland, paint-by-numbers action flick that is going to get buried by an extremely crowded and strong December slate. The Hobbit looks boring as sh*t but at least it has dragons. Maybe that’s what Jack Ryan needs. After all, everything is better with dragons.