Tom Clancy’s infamous CIA agent, Jack Ryan, has been around for some time now, having been the main character of an entire series of books, with many film adaptations along the way. Now, for the first time, we leave behind Clancy’s original stories and venture into one that presents the origin of the character, in addition to providing an updated version for a post-9/11 world. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” takes us to the early days of the titular agent (Chris Pine) back when he was at school in London. When the attack on the World Trade Center occurs, he is motivated to join the Marines, but during a mission in which his helicopter is shot down, he is badly injured and requires physical training to regain his mobility. During his recuperation, not only does he meet his future fiancée, Cathy (Keira Knightley), but he is also recruited into the CIA by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) as a financial analyst in search of terrorist funds. Several years later, he notices several suspicious transfers from a Russian, Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), prompting him to visit Moscow to ascertain what’s going on. From his very first night in Russia, Ryan finds that he might in over his head after the first person he meets tries to kill him. However, he soon finds himself embroiled in a plot that will lead to the collapse of the US economy. As these things often do, it becomes a race against the clock to thwart Cherevin and prevent a second Great Depression.
When most people think about Jack Ryan, they think of thrilling adventures, such as when he assisted a Soviet Captain in his defection to the United States in “The Hunt for Red October” or when a renegade faction of the IRA targeted him and his family in “Patriot Games.” What they don’t think of is an attempt to elicit thrills through financial ruin. Sure, the consequences would be terrible should it be allowed to occur, but on the way, it simply doesn’t provide much in the way of entertainment. This leads to a film that is rather dull throughout most of its 100-minute runtime. In fact, I had to stop about halfway through and check just to make sure that I was really watching a Jack Ryan adventure, because it seemed like that’s the kind of film the writers (Adam Cozad and David Koepp) had forgotten to craft.
Where was the excitement that had been such a large part of the previous films? Why was the great Sir Kenneth Branagh, veteran of several excellent Shakespeare adaptations, sleepwalking through his villainous role? Had anyone involved even read the books or seen any of the previous films? All these questions and more popped up as the film continued on, but the answers remain a mystery. Luckily, in the final 20 minutes, we do get a few thrills as Ryan actively fights to bring down the threat, but it’s simply far too late at that point to make up for what we’ve had to slog through to get there. In the end, it appears that Ryan wasn’t the only one in over his head as these writers seemed clueless as to how to utilize the character. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” was a film with so much potential, which only makes it all the more disappointing that it was ultimately squandered.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” arrives on Blu-ray in a 2.35:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of decent quality. There’s a little blurriness to the picture, but not enough to affect the viewing experience. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is on the softer side, so you’ll more than likely need to turn it up a bit to hear all of the dialogue clearly, but after this slight adjustment, the track presents all audio in good quality. Overall, there was a little room for improvement, but there’s nothing major to hinder either area.
Commentary with Kenneth Branagh and Lorenzo di Bonaventura: A decent commentary track featuring director/co-star Branagh and producer Bonaventura giving their thoughts on the film. It’s worth listening to if you want to learn more about the film and their approach to the material.
Deleted & Extended Scenes (with optional commentary by Kenneth Branagh and Lorenzo di Bonaventura): A handful of scenes that were cut for a good reason, so they’re not particularly worth watching.
Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in the Room: This featurette is a sort of retrospective on the Jack Ryan character that features interviews with the crew. There’s not a lot to be learned here, but it’s still interesting to watch.
Sir Kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit: A featurette about the great Sir Kenneth Branagh, featuring cast and crew discussing how he works. Worth checking out.
Jack Ryan: A Thinking Man of Action: A featurette that focuses on the fight Ryan has when he first arrives in his room in Moscow. It provides a neat look behind the scenes, making it worth the few minutes.
Old Enemies Return: This featurette focuses on the relationship between the US and Russia over the past several decades. It’s not one that I fully recommend watching, but perhaps history buffs will find it a little more interesting than most.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is not the kind of film that Jack Ryan fans would expect, nor is it the kind of film that they or the character deserve. With all of the truly exciting adventures we’ve seen Ryan go through prior to this, it’s a very big disappointment to see the character put through a plot that’s this dull and uninvolving. The writers should have taken a lesson from what came before and delivered a story that had the thrills we’ve come to expect from this franchise. Granted, the quality of Tom Clancy’s stories is a lofty goal for any writer to achieve, but it still should have been painfully obvious that what they were turning in was nowhere near it. Instead, what we get is a film that people will instantly forget about while waiting for the next, and hopefully better, installment.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: RoboCop (2014), Alexander: The Ultimate Cut, Ravenous, Son of God, The Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection, Stalingrad, The Monuments Men, Pompeii, 3 Days to Kill, Grand Piano, Her, Orange is the New Black: Season One, I, Frankenstein, Final Exam, Evilspeak, Star Trek: Enterprise - Season Four, The Legend of Hercules, Dead Shadows, Sorcerer, Copperhead, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Best of Bogart Collection, Beneath, American Hustle
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