Jack Ryan is something of an anomaly in the realms of cinematic returning characters due to the fact that Hollywood seems to be utterly incapable of settling on just one. Unlike other iconic faces such as your Batmen, your Spider-Men and your James Bonds, most of the actors who have portrayed the impossibly virtuous CIA agent – save Harrison Ford double duty and John Krasinski’s current TV era – have strictly ended up being a one and done sort of deal, which has had the result of Ryan changing his face more than Jason Bourne changes his jockey shorts. It’s doubley weird when you consider that none of the Ryan entries thus far have actually been flops with even the rather dreary The Sum Of All Fears making a nice profit – nevertheless, after an unfathomable gap of 12 years, yet another variant of Tom Clancy’s most famous creations popped up in the form of Chris Pine, but where all the other movies were based on existing novels, Shadow Recruit attempts to tell it’s own tale and opts for – surprise, surprise – yet another origin story.
After being visibly moved by the 9/11 attacks while studying at the London School of Economics, a young Ryan decides to serve his country and enlist in the marines; an act that ultimately ends with him obtaining a nasty spinal injury while serving in Afghanistan. Back in the States, Jack manages to painfully get back on his feet with the aid of medical student Cathy Muller who helps him through the ordeal and, before you can say Florence Nightingale syndrome, she eventually becomes his girlfriend.
However, while their relationship gradually takes off, Jack is approached by veteran CIA official Thomas Harper in order to recruit him due to his impressive resume – before the broken back business, of course.
Ten years pass and Ryan is working among the suits and expensive haircuts of Wall Street as a covert CIA agent whose job is to sniff out any financial transactions that smell immensely suspicious and that could lead back to terrorist shenanigans, but due to the secrets he has to keep from Cathy (they aren’t married, after all), their relationship has grown noticably stormy. Things get even more tense when some suspicious happenings on the stock market lead back to sinister Russian businessman Viktor Cherevin and Harper sends Ryan into the field to meet with him – something that arises yet more suspicion in Cathy who has now become convinced that her fella is having an affair.
While juggling all this, plus a surprise visit from Cathy to find out what’s going on between them once and for all, Ryan figures out that all the financial jiggery pokery is in order to make the United States vunerable to a compete financial collapse in the wake of a planned terrorist attack and suddenly people are trying to kill him – can Ryan save the country when the love of his life is also in the firing line?
So, there’s quite a few things this latest (and to date, last) cinematic crack at Jack Ryan has going for it and front and center is the likeable presence of Chris Pine stepping into the Ben Affleck shaped hole to yet again portray the character as the incredibly noble being that he is. On top of that, keeping up with his string of glossy, Hollywood movies that followed Thor and continued with Cinderella, is director Kenneth Branagh who lends his dependably crisp direction to multiple scenes of frantic keyboard tapping and sweaty getaways and taking things merely on a one film basis, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a competent, if incredibly derivative, entry into the spy genre.
However, if we take things on purely a series basis and examine it as part of the Jack Ryan cannon, the movie seems extraordinarily unnecessary, especially considering that the last Jack Ryan movie was also something of a clumsy reboot that saw Affleck’s version similarly hoisted out of desk work to desperately try and save the world with his supernaturally accurate hunches. As a result, both Branagh and Pine have precious little that’s original to add to the character or the spy genre as a whole which unwittingly plunders from other, better movies such as Tony Scott’s Spy Game and the final mad dash through New York in a police vehicle seen in The Bourne Supremacy.
While Pine is fine and Kevin Costner shows that he can do the whole the gravelly teacher thing in his sleep, Kera Knightley goes all out to further prove that her American accent is comparable to nails down a blackboard and her version of Cathy turns out to be quite naggy, especially considering that her beau to be is working his arse off to keep the world safe. On the flip side, Kenneth Branagh is obviously having huge fun pulling double duty as both director and the deeply serious villain of the piece Cherevin and goes hard at producing a Russian accent while emoting as little as he possibly can – in fact, you suspect he enjoyed it so much, he transplanted his entire performance almost verbatim into playing the big bad in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. In fact the only scenes where Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit ever feels remotely original involves a legitimately uncomfortable moment where Cherevin inserts a lightbulb into Cathy’s mouth with the intent of slamming her jaw shut if Ryan doesn’t comply to his demands. Apart from that, even though the fights are well planned, the car chases slick and the general tone is relatively tense, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit simply blends into the background to be one of the more forgettable spy movies out there – something that’s invaluable if you were an actual spy, but a disastrous result for a spy movie.
If nothing else, at least Ryan has since moved to a medium that supports him far better and where he doesn’t have to have a complete Doctor Who style face-lift everytime he goes off on a new adventure.