Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a hero that we have seen portrayed on screen by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. Chris Pine is the latest to pick up the mantle of the famous spy and proved to be a solid choice. He won’t get many more chances to play Ryan, however, if the missions don’t get more thrilling than in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”
Serving as an origin story, the film reintroduces the character not only to audiences but brings him into the 21st century and takes a page (or two) from previous entries in the franchise to make it a convincing tale. Outside of that though, director Kenneth Branagh brings nothing to the table other than a serviceable understanding of how to craft this story, and outside of Pine, the rest of the cast seems to be on cruise control.
When Clancy originally created Jack Ryan, America was in the middle of the Cold War and it naturally fit into a perfect enemy. Though the Cold War is now thirty years behind us, the team behind “Shadow Recruit” decided to stick with Ryan’s foremost antagonist. While there is motivation behind this in the villain Viktor Cherevin (Branagh), it is not explored deeply enough. It feels more like they filmmakers wanted to stick to tradition more than anything.
The weapon that Cherevin is using is also tragically under developed, the economy. Ryan explains that they look to send the U.S. into the second great depression, but it’s an abstract quantity and its threat can never be fully realized. They do eventually do have a ticking clock, appropriately strapped to a bomb, it’s just a McGuffin though and carries no weight.
Any real action sequences that do occur feel too contained and neat to reach their maximum impact either. While Paul Greengrass’ signature shaky cam isn’t something that needs to be used to keep a chase scene or fight captivating, Branagh’s choice of staying tight on his characters doesn’t create more intimacy with them and the moment, rather it creates a gap for the audience as it is hard to grasp all of what is going on in the situation.
Branagh’s acting is also disappointing for a two time Academy Award nominated actor playing a supposedly unpredictable evil mastermind. He is anything but unpredictable, and Branagh chooses to play this cold, calculating villain to what could be more appropriately described as a statue. The rest of the supporting cast isn’t much better; Kevin Costner is going through the motions, seemingly more bored than the audience with all that is going on. Meanwhile, Keira Knightley is not bad by any means; she just has next to nothing to work with.
Pine cements his status as an actor who can be the lead of a franchise, though whether he’ll get a chance with Jack Ryan remains to be seen. Though his role as Captain Kirk in “Star Trek” is supremely better, Pine proudly owns this new role. It is becoming clear that Pine is a movie star, but since the two franchises’ histories he has been a part of to date overshadow what he has done, he still needs to find that project that will more appropriately serve as a launching pad.
“Shadow Recruit” won’t have you rolling your eyes or shaking your head in angered disbelief, it just won’t have you gripping your seat arm or thinking that you haven’t seen anything like this before. It fulfills the stereotype that comes with any January movie release, utterly forgettable. Perhaps we should just be thankful it wasn’t atrocious on top of it.