Chris Pine (Star Trek Into Darkness) is the fourth actor to play Jack Ryan, joining the ranks of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. Ryan is, of course, the character created and made famous by the late Tom Clancy – the popular fiction author.
Sadly, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a fairly by-the-numbers thriller featuring a boilermaker plot that’s merely inspired by Clancy’s writing. Now, I’m not familiar with the Jack Ryan novels so I couldn’t care less about the faithfulness of the screenplay to the source material. What I do care about is whether the story presented can stand on its own as a slice of entertainment.
And while Shadow Recruit achieves this, it nonetheless fails to leave a lasting impression. It’s generic in look and feel, with unimaginative setpieces and fewer thrills than the four Jack Ryan pictures that preceded it: The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears (of which The Hunt for Red October is still by far the best).
Here we’re saddled with a second reboot (The Sum of All Fears was the first attempt at rebooting the series), in which Jack Ryan now occupies a post-9/11 world. An academic and former marine, Ryan is recruited by CIA Agent William Harper (Kevin Costner) to analyse money trails in order to uncover terrorist plots.
Ryan, a puppy-eyed boy scout whose weapon is his keen mind and derring-do patriotism, discovers a Russian plan to cause a second Great Depression and cripple America. In a flash, Ryan lands himself in Moscow and well out of his league. In his way is Viktor Cherevin, a smooth-talking but violent businessman played by Shakespearian actor Kenneth Branagh.
Branagh also directs Shadow Recruit, bringing to it the same attention to familial relationships that he brought to Marvel’s Thor. Ryan’s relationship with girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley) is a point of difference from past Jack Ryan films, as Cathy gets significant screen time without distracting from the primary espionage plot.
This, in retrospect, is probably the strength of Shadow Recruit’s story – as the movie is at its best when Cathy enters the firing line. If only the action and aesthetics weren’t so pedestrian! As it is, Shadow Recruit lacks the suave charm of Bond, the over-the-top fun of Mission: Impossible and the hard-hitting action of Bourne. That the thrills don’t reach or eclipse those of Ryan’s other adventures however is perhaps the greatest disappointment of this potential franchise re-igniter.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit would steal your attention if you stumbled across it channel surfing, but it isn’t original or exciting enough to recommend seeing on the big screen.