She’s Followed

Watcher is a spiritual successor to It Follows. I never even heard of the movie since it was made by the very independent horror themed streaming service Shudder. Someone special recommended I watch Watcher after she saw it in theaters. My immediate thought was It Follows, because Maika Monroe once again plays an increasingly paranoid woman who gets the feeling she’s being watched and/or followed. She just can’t avoid people following her can she?

Monroe plays former actress Julia who moves to Bucharest with Karl Glusman as her Romanian speaking husband Francis. The language barrier alone gives Julia a sense of isolation. The only other person she can talk to is the English speaking Irina who lives in her apartment. Watcher isn’t supernatural, but it is just as effective with a serial killer on the loose. Julia grows suspicious when she notices a silhouette watching her from an apartment across the street at night.

It gets worse when the strategically hidden man follows Julia to the movie theater and grocery store. Though Watcher is about female paranoia, the suspense is enough to creep anyone out. Much like It Follows, not even Julia’s husband believes her until the situation gets real. Whether he’s the killer or not, Burn Gorman looks like a creep regardless. The ending is abrupt, but an “I told you so” look is all we need. Watcher is simple suspense at its most effective.

Watcher

Julia thinks she’s being watched

Justice is Coming

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back gave Tom Cruise an excuse to run. At this point, Cruise continued to push the boundaries with the Mission: Impossible franchise. He never needed to go back to Jack Reacher, but it is a long-running book series. Never Go Back is the 18th book written by Lee Child. Edward Zwick replaced Christopher McQuarrie as director since the latter was busy with Mission: Impossible. The story isn’t controversial like the first Jack Reacher, but it is cliché.

After years of drifting, Reacher returns to Army headquarters only to find himself caught in a Military conspiracy. Major Susan Turner joins Reacher on the run when her life is threatened. Cobie Smulders is a suitable replacement love interest, but she is very similar to Agent Maria Hill. Since none of the original cast returns, Aldis Hodge is the latest Military captain out to find Reacher and Turner. They’re joined by Danika Yarosh who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter Samantha. I like Reacher’s sarcasm, but his possible daughter is more annoying.

The conspiracy involves the usual drug trafficking and/or illegal weapons transfer. Patrick Heusinger is the nameless ex-Military hunter out to kill them. The action is consistent with Reacher continuing to take out several adversaries and ruthlessly killing his last enemy. It wasn’t enough to keep it going since Reacher was rebooted as a TV series with the more size appropriate Alan Ritchson. After the failure of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, it’s safe to say Tom Cruise will never go back to the franchise.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Jack Reacher fights off criminals

Preceded by: Jack Reacher

One Shot

Jack Reacher gave Tom Cruise another major action role. Though casting the 5’7″ actor as the 6’5″ Reacher was a bit of a reach. Even though Cruise is more than capable of being intimidating. This was his first directing collaboration with Christopher McQuarrie and it made for a pretty good Mission: Impossible audition. I wrongly assumed Jack Reacher was another spy, but he’s actually an ex-Army police investigator turned drifter. The long-running Jack Reacher book series was written by Lee Child. Jack Reacher is specifically based on the 9th book One Shot.

It begins with a sniper killing 5 random civilians that Reacher is chosen to investigate. Choosing that book was bad timing since the movie was pushed back one week after the Sandy Hook school shooting. There’s even a character named Sandy in the movie. Though uncomfortable, it doesn’t hurt the adaptation since Cruise gives his usual dedicated performance. Since he’s a drifter, Reacher is an efficient fighter and a smartass who doesn’t care what he has to do. His attitude is surprisingly humorous. Reacher is joined by Rosamund Pike as sexy defense attorney Helen Rodin.

Richard Jenkins plays her District Attorney father and David Oyelowo plays the top police detective. The top suspect is James Barr, but the real culprit is a sniper played by Jai Courtney in his first major role. Though the true big bad is the always menacing Werner Herzog as a Zek who survived a Soviet prison. Reacher takes out several low level criminals until he needs help from Robert Duvall who plays a gun shop owner. Jack Reacher strikes the right balance between blockbuster action and gritty realism.

Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher sneaks around

Followed by: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

They Made it Personal

Without Remorse is not without some merit. Tom Clancy may have passed away, but Jack Ryan continues to live on in the Amazon Prime series starring John Krasinski. Without Remorse was always an origin story for Ryan’s darker half John Clark. The role was previously portrayed by Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. A movie adaptation didn’t get off the ground for over 20 years. Several high profile actors were considered before Michael B. Jordan was cast as the younger Navy SEAL John Kelly.

Aside from race, the biggest change was removing Kelly’s status as a Vietnam veteran. The story mostly works even if the war is different. It’s just the Cold War element that feels the same in every movie. This time seperate conflicts in America and Russia are meant to fuel a conflict. Without Remorse feels generic, but Jordan is very dedicated to the role. He’s joined by Jodie Turner-Smith as James Greer’s niece Karen and Guy Pearce as one of his superiors. There’s also a Fant4stic reunion between Jordan and Jamie Bell that nobody wanted. When Kelly’s wife and unborn child are murdered, he vows revenge without remorse.

The book sounds a lot more graphic, but Without Remorse is the second adaptation after Patriot Games to have an R rating. Of course Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is TV-MA. There’s a lot more action that centers around Kelly’s mission. As a trained Navy SEAL, Kelly has shooting skills and can hold his breath underwater for extended periods of time. Kelly gets his revenge and the name “John Clark” near the end, but it was all to set up the more interesting sounding sequel Rainbow Six. Without Remorse is only worth it for the leading star.

6. Without Remorse

John Kelly strangles Robert Ritter

Sleeper Agent

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the second failed attempt at a Jack Ryan reboot. The Sum of All Fears similarly recast Jack Ryan with a younger actor set in modern day. When Ben Affleck was dropped, no sequels were made in over a decade. Although Tom Clancy wrote over 17 Jack Ryan books, Shadow Recruit is 100% original. Clancy passed away before he had a chance to see it. Although I was alive when The Sum of All Fears came out, I didn’t take notice of Jack Ryan until his name was used in a title.

Chris Pine is another younger Jack Ryan who does just fine on his own. Shadow Recruit depicts his early days of enlisting in the Marines after 9/11, becoming a CIA analyst, and meeting his future wife Dr. Cathy Muller. An American Keira Knightley has a large role since their relationship is a big part of the story. Ryan is recruited by Kevin Costner as another high level CIA agent Thomas Harper. There aren’t too many familiar faces aside from Colm Feore as a completely different character than the one he played in The Sum of All Fears.

This time the Russians are definitely the villains. Kenneth Branagh is both the director and Russian oligarch Viktor Cherevin. Once again I found myself lost, but I understood Cherevin sought to topple the nation’s economy. Ryan is still primarily an analyst, but he does see more action. There’s a bathroom brawl, shoot outs, and a motorcycle chase. Unfortunately, most of the action is cut with intense shaky cam. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit does the hero justice, but his movie making days are over.

5. Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan on a motorcycle

The Price of Our Vitality

The Sum of All Fears is a victim of bad timing. Though Tom Clancy’s fifth book was written in 1991, the movie was released in summer 2002. Which makes The Sum of All Fears the first major release about terrorism since 9/11. There were multiple changes that may or may not have been affected by the tragic event. In the book, the villains are Arabian terrorists, but the movie changes them to Neo-Nazis. The only surviving element is the war in Israel. The Sum of All Fears was a bit confusing at the beginning, but it all made sense as the conflict developed. The plot is a little derivative of The Hunt for Red October.

Unlike the previous films, the recasting of Jack Ryan is an excuse to reboot the entire franchise. Along with Phil Alden Robinson as the latest replacement director. Ben Affleck is another young CIA analyst version of Ryan who doesn’t see much combat. Bridget Moynahan is the new Cathy who hasn’t married Ryan yet. The cast is still very respectable with Morgan Freeman taking over as CIA director Bill Cabot who takes interest in Ryan’s personal life. Together they try to locate a missing nuclear bomb that could lead to war between Russia and the United States.

James Cromwell and Ciarán Hinds play the morally questionable President of the United States and Russia respectively. Meanwhile, Colm Feore orchestrates events as the only notable Neo-Nazi. Although Affleck can do action just fine, it’s mostly Liev Schreiber as a more level headed John Clark who pushes him into battle. The most shocking incident is a bomb that detonates in a populated area. Aside from that, The Sum of All Fears tries to make the fight as smart as its predecessors, and mostly succeeds.

4. The Sum of All Fears

Jack Ryan works alongside Bill Cabot

Truth Needs a Soldier

Clear and Present Danger strikes a balance between the previous Jack Ryan movies. Tom Clancy once again distanced himself from the adaptation to his fourth book. The Cardinal of the Kremlin was technically next, but it was deemed too difficult to adapt. John McTernan initially wanted to direct Clear and Present Danger, but Phillip Noyce stuck around instead. One of the changes Clancy didn’t like was how much attention Jack Ryan received since he’s not always the lead. Clear and Present Danger is the only Jack Ryan movie to have a returning actor in the lead role. Harrison Ford returns alongside Anne Archer, Thora Birch, and James Earl Jones who appeared in all three movies.

When Admiral James Greer is diagnosed with cancer, Ryan is appointed Deputy Director of Intelligence at the CIA. Kathy, Sally, and Jack Ryan Jr. aren’t part of the action like they were before. Clear and Present Danger may be the hardest installment to follow since there is a lot of analytics and Government cover-ups. The titular clear and present danger is the war on drugs. It’s a harsh subject, but the rating is PG-13 this time around. A Colombian cartel follows the Soviet Union and Irish terrorists as the latest threat. Joaquim de Almeida is Colonel Félix Cortez, a “Latin Jack Ryan” who seizes control of the cartel from Ernesto Escobedo.

Aside from an intense SUV ambush, Ryan spends most of his time learning who’s behind a covert Military operation. Willem Dafoe leads the team as important CIA Operative John Clark. Clark seems more ruthless than Ryan, but they end up working together. The climax is an explosive gun fight that makes up for the more limited action sequences. The lines of patriotism are blurred when Ryan realizes the entire incident leads directly to the President. Clear and Present Danger is a clear sign that Ford made the most of his time as Jack Ryan.

3. Clear and Present Danger

Jack Ryan teams up with John Clark

Preceded by: Patriot Games

Let the Games Begin

Patriot Games is even more patriotic than The Hunt for Red October. Tom Clancy’s second book in the Jack Ryan series was not his favorite adaptation. Apparently there were many changes that he couldn’t support. I could follow Patriot Games a little better, but only because there was more action to keep me invested. It’s actually rated R unlike its PG predecessor. Jack Ryan became similar to James Bond after the original actor was recast. Alec Baldwin was phased out in favor of action star Harrison Ford. John McTernan prefered Ford, but didn’t want to direct Patriot Games. Phillip Noyce replaced him as well. Ford is a much more hands on Jack Ryan.

Unlike The Hunt for Red October, the Soviet Union is replaced by the Irish Republican Army. Depicting the controversial Troubles in Northern Ireland was a big reason for McTernan’s exit. Ryan is now a former CIA analyst who encounters a terrorist attack in London. He kills the brother of IRA radical Sean Miller played by Sean Bean in a breakout villain role. Patrick Bergin plays his patriotic superior and Polly Walker plays a deadly redhead assassin. The only neutral Irishman is played by Richard Harris. Ryan’s family plays a much larger role when Miller seeks revenge.

Like Baldwin, Gates McFadden was replaced by Anne Archer as his wife Cathy Ryan. Up-and-coming child actress Thora Birch now plays his daughter Sally. The only returning actor is James Earl Jones as Admiral James Greer. Samuel L. Jackson is also brought in as a friend of the Naval Academy. So Han Solo, Darth Vader, and Mace Windu all attempt to track down the Irish terrorists. The climax is very different compared to The Hunt for Red October since it takes place inside Ryan’s invaded house. Though spared in the novel, Bean needed another violent death for his character. Patriot Games does just fine as a more conventional action thriller.

2. Patriot Games

Jack Ryan takes aim

Preceded by: The Hunt for Red October & Followed by: Clear and Present Danger

The Hunt is On

The Hunt for Red October did for the Navy what Top Gun did for the Air Force. Tom Clancy was an author known for his Cold War themes and respect for the Military. The Hunt for Red October was his first book that earned him admiration from the United States Navy despite his lack of service. My only knowledge of the film came from The Simpsons and SpongeBob of all places. I’ve never been that interested in movies set on a submarine, but I knew The Hunt for Red October was a modern classic that I had to see. It helps that John McTiernan directed it after Predator and Die Hard. The movie takes place in 1984 since the Cold War ended by 1990.

The Hunt for Red October is the first movie with CIA analyst Jack Ryan. Alec Baldwin was the first actor cast, but he wasn’t a big name just yet. Sean Connery gets prominent top-billing as Soviet Red October Captain Marko Ramius. He’s Russian, but Connery continues to use his trademark Scottish accent. I can’t pretend I fully understand the plot, but I know Ramius may or may not be a threat to the Navy. Ramius is joined by a crew that includes Sam Neill and Tim Curry. Scott Glenn and Courtney B. Vance lead the USS Dallas in an effort to track the sub.

The Hunt for Red October is about Military strategy more than conventional action. Jack Ryan isn’t as hands on as I thought he was. He spends more time studying his enemy and trying to convince superiors like James Earl Jones as Admiral James Greer. Ryan is also a family man married to Gates McFadden who makes a rare non-Star Trek movie appearance. Only in the climax does Ryan meet Ramius and the action ramps up. Torpedoes are launched and bullets start flying with Ryan taking a more active role. The Hunt for Red October is an intelligent techno thriller.

The Hunt for Red October

Captain Ramius talks Jack Ryan through Red October controls

Followed by: Patriot Games

This Girl is on Fire!

Firestarter (2022) should be thrown in the fire. Stephen King remakes have become more common in recent memory. It was successful, but Carrie (2013) and Pet Semetery (2019) failed. Firestarter (1984) is already one of the weaker Stephen King movies. It was mostly a Drew Barrymore starring vehicle that didn’t have enough firestarting. A Blumhouse remake sounded promising, but somehow it ended up worse with a pathetic 10% on Rotten Tomatoes. My brother and I avoided seeing it in theaters.

Firestarter (2022) spends more time with the pyrokinetic Charlie, her telepathic father Andy, and telekinetic mother Vicky before she dies. Ryan Kiera Armstrong looks like a young Drew Barrymore, but she’s too emotionless. I know Zac Efron is in his 30’s, but I just don’t buy him as a father figure. Sydney Lemmon doesn’t leave much of an impression. Kurtwood Smith is barely in the movie as the doctor who started the Lot-6 superhuman program.

Gloria Reuben plays a gender-swapped Captain Hollister, but that doesn’t make her anymore interesting. John Beasley is a little too rough as the farmer who gives Charlie and Andy shelter. The only character who feels like a slight improvement is Michael Greyeyes as bounty hunter John Rainbird since the actor is actually Indigenous. Charlie’s firestarting is more frequent and chaotic, but it’s ruined by cringy one-liners. Somehow Charlie burning Lot-6 to the ground feels empty and pointless. Firestarter (2022) should never have been green-lit.

Firestarter 2022

Charlie starts fires

Remake of: Firestarter (1984)