This week, I went to the cinema to check out the new movie Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit with some friends. Now, this group of friends and I have seen some really great movies like Pacific Rim and some really terrible films such as the in-grown hair on the taint of cinema history that was The Covenant. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit falls somewhere in the middle.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a reboot/prequel to the popular Jack Ryan series of novels/movies/games by the late Tom Clancy. Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is a normal grad student who enlists in the marines after 9/11. After being discharged following a horrific injury, he is recruited into the CIA by Kevin Costner as a covert analyst at a bank. There, he discovers a dastardly plot by the Russians to collapse the United States economy.
Now, I have a real soft spot in my heart for this series, because I used to watch The Hunt For Red October every single time it was on TV. And at that age, it wasn’t totally unrealistic to believe that Sean Connery was a Russian sub commander.
It also wasn’t unrealistic to believe that Alec Baldwin was cool.
The really cool thing about Jack Ryan was that he wasn’t an action star–yeah, he fought and killed dudes, but he wasn’t really a soldier or a tough guy. Jack Ryan was a badass because of how smart he was–sorry, I should say Dr. Jack Ryan. It’s so rare to have movie heroes with PhD’s, and it’s even rarer that films celebrate intellect. In this respect, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit shines. Chris Pine, despite coming from action roots, does well as the protagonist. His moments come from his analysis and his planning. Yeah, he fights and in the climax he chases down a bomb on a motor cycle–but the action moments aren’t dramatized or fancy and most of the action doesn’t directly involve Jack Ryan. He kills his first person in this film and is absolutely horrified by it. I’m very excited to see Chris Pine do such a wonderful job with a non-action character. I’m also excited to see him sing in the upcoming adaptation of Into the Woods.
I’m also glad to see that the film has gone back to the cold-war era espionage that marked the Jack Ryan series. Part of the reason I loved the novels so much was that they weren’t about action or gun-play or big fight scenes, they were about subtle cloak and dagger operations. And this really does that well.
Keira Knightly horrified and bewildered me with her impressive American accent, but outside of that, she also does a stunning job as Ryan’s girlfriend who gets roped into an operation in Moscow. Her character is very similar to Ryan in that her awesomeness is via analysis. She’s a medical doctor who manages to hold her own (and get the upper hand) on Kenneth Branagh’s villainous Russian.
Now, on to some things I didn’t like. Kenneth Branagh’s villainous Russian. He’s boring, stereotypical, and hammy (a dangerous combination). He originally claims to want to destroy America because they caused the death of his son but (SPOILERS! HIGHLIGHT TO READ) his son is alive and a sleeper agent in America, in fact he’s the one that Branagh’s character uses to execute his attack (END SPOILER). So, then why does he want to destroy America? In fact, he’s really not shown a lot in the film at all. There is one confrontation between Chris Pine, Keira Knightly, and Kenneth Branagh. And while I respect that it’s not a physical confrontation (it’s an intellectual one over dinner), it just doesn’t deliver anything or have any real suspense. Really, Jack Ryan is combating the plan and not the man.
Kevin Costner plays a sort of mentor figure to Jack Ryan. He’s grizzled, cold, and professional, and it’s an interesting dynamic that the two have. In fact, Costner’s character is the real action hero of the movie. He’s the guy who shoots people and blows things up. I really enjoyed this angle. Unfortunately, I feel they underutilized him and downplay this relationship in favor of the Chris Pine/Keira Knightly romance.
About that…now, Keira’s character is reasonably good. She’s an excellent match for Jack Ryan and is a strong female character who uses her intellect to win. She does get a few seconds as a damsel in distress, but even then manages to use her smarts to help Jack find her–she’s not helpless. But the relationship…ugh…I swear to God no one in Hollywood has ever been in one. It just feels forced- you know what? It feels like the two are spies who are only in a relationship as a cover story. And just after showing her stuff as a strong, independent female character, she spends a third of the movie worrying and pouting over whether or not Jack Ryan is having an affair.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, it’s a decent addition to the Jack Ryan mythos and not a bad way to attempt a reboot. There are some flaws, none of them were devastating, but I feel that they may cover up a lot of the good aspects of the movie. Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, and Keira Knightly all perform very well, and I personally would look forward to a sequel.
Be sure to check out my science column: Trope-ic Thunder
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