Believe it or not Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan is the fifth screen incarnation of Tom Clancy’s iconic CIA operative. From Alec Baldwin’s Hunt For Red October, Harrison Ford’s double wammy of Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger through to Ben Affleck’s Sum Of All Fears, Ryan has repeatedly tried to be the closest thing to James Bond the USA has to offer. The reality is that Ryan is arguably more human than Bond, he’s rarely a killing machine and much more of an intellect.
On the day of 9/11 Jack Ryan (Pine) drops out of the London School of Economics and joins the marines. Wounded in action Ryan is getting physio therapy from Cathy Muller (Keira Knightely) when he is recruited into the CIA by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). Ten years later Ryan is putting that economics degree to good use by working as a compliance officer in a global stock exchange but secretly acting as a CIA analyst and keeping an eye on Russian companies. What he soon learns is that Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) is planning on crashing the US economy via a terrorist attack. Passing the information on to his superiors Ryan is informed that he has to go to Russia in order to fix this despite not being a field agent and having never told his now fiancé Cathy what he does for a living.
Hollywood’s current tactic seems to be; when bringing an otherwise defunct franchise back to life go for the reboot. So Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit sticks firmly to the Batman Begins come Casino Royale methodology. Royale in particular is paid lip-service here with Ryan’s first on-the-job bad guy encounter turning into an all too familiar re-tread of 007’s opening black and white bathroom killing.
Branagh’s direction is typically kinetic bringing with it all the staples of the modern day spy thriller complete with Jason Bourne shakey cam during the set pieces. Thankfully there are not many set pieces on offer, Shadow Recruit preferring to aim for the more ‘70s conspiracy thriller but never really throwing up enough of a mystery to keep you intrigued.
As such the film often flounders between pillar and post without settling on what it really wants to be. The climatic chase sequence through New York is reminicent to George Clooney starrer The Peacemaker and therein lies Shadow Recruits biggest failing; it feels like a film of the mid ‘90s, a film more than happy to never really worry about grabbing your attention but merely occasionally peaking it. Hell it even has a pantomime Russian villain as the big bad, even if Russia’s current behaviour is making them the Cold War enemy of choice it still feels clichéd, especially in Branagh’s slightly hammy hands.
That said the film works when dealing with the more True Lies style set up of having Ryan lie to Cathy about what he really does for a living. If anything it’s Pine and Knightley’s quite warm relationship that keeps the film going. Both of them play their characters with enough humanity, not unlike Harrison Ford and his on screen Cathy Anne Archer, to make you believe in their relationship and make you wish it was a more central plot concept rather than one that is easily dispatched for the third act. Throw-in Costner’s moody, but always likeable, Harper to the mix and beneath all the nonsense are enough interesting characters to make you wonder why they needed to bother with all the Russian guff in the first place.
As franchise reboots go Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is hardly going to sully past outings but it’s unclear whether it will spawn more. Thankfully, due to Pine, Costner and Knightley, you suspect there might just be enough character based spy thrills to bring about more Ryan.