REVIEW: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit [2014]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 105 minutes | Release Date: January 17th, 2014 (USA)
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director(s): Kenneth Branagh
Writer(s): Adam Cozad and David Koepp / Tom Clancy (based on characters created by)

“No. This is geopolitics, not couples therapy.”

Even though The Sum of All Fears made a boatload of cash with Ben Affleck at its center, you can’t help but know his Gigli demise played a big role in the Jack Ryan saga not continuing. Why let Tom Clancy‘s cinematic legacy go down with the ship? So a few years passed, Chris Pine started rising through the ranks as an A-list action star, and Adam Cozad‘s script Moscow seemed ripe for a makeover to reboot Ryan and see where his ex-Marine, current CIA operative could go unencumbered by the late Clancy’s published works. It was time to see the beginning with an actor proven able to helm a franchise. This would be how he became our favorite Shadow Recruit. And by our I mean your since I’ve never even seen Harrison Ford‘s installments.

That could be the reason why I found myself enjoying David Koepp‘s rewrite—I don’t have an affinity for the character and therefore can view this iteration as just another action thriller. While that works for myself as well as a majority of moviegoers, the die-hard fans may scream foul because “generic” shouldn’t be in anyone’s vocabulary when speaking about this literary American hero. Sadly for them, it can and does. I actually liked this better than Affleck’s go, not from any fault of his but because that one seemed generic too. You can’t knock them all out of the park and sometimes you must temper your expectations to allow yourself to have a good time. Will I be thinking about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit after completing this review? No. But I had fun while watching.

I liked how they handled Ryan’s (Pine) origins as an ex-pat co-ed in London helplessly viewing the Twin Towers fall on television before finding a patriotism he may not have known existed. Fast-forward to Afghanistan and he’s a Lieutenant in a helicopter joking with his men to keep them loose. His Marine days don’t last long and the reasoning’s tragic circumstances may be hard to swallow as far as his recovery goes, but it gets him in the sightlines of Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) and the CIA’s new division working to ensure no more terrorist attacks happen on American soil. Ryan’s heroics play a big part in his appeal but the nearly completed Ph.D. and genius economic skills are what really get his foot in the door as an analyst on Wall Street covertly siphoning info to Langley.

He’s a little too good at his job, though, writing papers and compiling intelligence no one else understands. So when red flags go off amidst strained US and Russian relations flooding the news, he’s the one to go in the field and find out what Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh double-dipping as director and villain) is doing with his extensive overseas assets. A fight to the death in Moscow with an assassin later and Ryan graduates from computer jockey to full-fledged man with a gun. His hands may shake now, but we know the pedigree that lies before him. That sense of guilt and fear is necessary, though, to prove he’s a good guy with a moral compass we can proudly rally behind. Unfortunately, what follows is sadly another paint-by-numbers case of counter-terrorism “24” has already rendered innocuous.

The film was a January release, so don’t think Paramount or critics in cities without a press screening thought it was going to be some fresh new take on the genre. No, Cozad wrote a respectable script that Koepp gave the ol’ Hollywood polish to reintroduce a well-known character in hopes Clancy’s magnum opus could live on. Pine is a great casting coup with heart on his sleeve emotions and goofy smile when excited like a kid in a candy store; Costner is perfectly suited to his stiff as a board handler; Keira Knightley adds A-list strength to a romantic interest role I’m surprised she’d take unless knowing there’s more complexity in store with forthcoming installments; and Branagh chews the scenery just enough with his calmly menacing stare to believe he’s a major threat to fear.

The plot tries to play with espionage tropes from sleeper cells, thinly veiled familial connections, and Ryan’s propensity to see through money trails like Sherlock Holmes reading a crime scene, but it all alternatingly comes off as not smart enough or trying too hard. Thankfully, however, this is the first of a planned many so you can forgive its growing pains especially considering Ryan’s creator wasn’t involved in the story. To that end Shadow Recruit contains a serviceable genesis trajectory to familiarize us with the world and witness the character’s aptitude for a career he never believed possible fifteen years prior. Bring another smarmy Euro baddie into the mix a couple years from now, rinse, and repeat. It’s not rocket science—heck it doesn’t even have to be Jack Ryan. The name merely sells tickets.

[1] Photo credit: Larry Horricks. Chris Pine is Jack Ryan in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions. (c) MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Photo credit: Larry Horricks. Kenneth Branagh (right) is Viktor Cherevin in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions. (c) MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Photo credit: Larry Horricks. Left to right: Chris Pine is Jack Ryan and Keira Knightley is Cathy Muller in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions. (c) MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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