There’s nothing really wrong with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, everything’s in the right place, but that’s sort of the problem. It isn’t just average but, on top of that, generic. Any potential personal engagement is robbed from the experience by the paint-by-numbers narrative and plot progression. It looks and sounds like a slick big-budget Hollywood action thriller, promising something original and exciting with its impressive opening sequence but thereafter things steadily get worse. Chris Pine does his valiant best to progress the seen-it-before storyline and it’s through no fault of his that the film doesn’t work, as he delivers another solid performance as the eponymous hero.
Kenneth Branagh convinces as clichéd Russian super-baddy Cherevin but perhaps should’ve left it at that and not opted to don his director’s cap as well. Although he did admirably with his previous big budget directorial outing, Thor, any of that film’s spark is missing here. It’s unoriginal and quite frankly boring as a result, unacceptable in an era when cinema should really be pushing forward and reinventing itself, not churning out regurgitated formulaic duds like this. Maybe if they’d cast a real actress as Ryan’s wife instead of Keira Knightley, who only manages in turns to look either hungry or constipated, then their relationship (which is central to the story) may have been more believable and resulted in some genuine jeopardy.
Kevin Costner is decent enough as the steely Harper but, again, his character doesn’t really ring true. He’s the mysterious and powerful CIA man in the shadows but then also the hitman sniper out in the field, perhaps believable as one or the other but unfortunately not as both. The climactic finale, like the film as a whole, lacks any sense of suspense and is so crushingly unoriginal it actually elicits outrage.
Trying to position itself somewhere between James Bond (Branagh’s Cherevin certainly has more than a waft of a Bond villain to him) and Mission Impossible, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit lacks any of the big action set pieces of the former and could have done with some of the intelligent tension of the latter. It may be the re-launching of a lucrative franchise for the studio but if you’re looking for a superior spy thriller and a far better Jack then look no further than Jack Reacher. Hopefully the next installment in that franchise should help wash away the sour taste left in the mouth by Ryan. Sadly, this is one recruit who should’ve stayed in the shadows.