Armed with an unflappable understanding of justice and a haircut you can set your watch to, Jack Ryan was already a movie hero the second the late Tom Clancy committed him to paper. Given its easy appeal, the successful Clancy-inspired film franchise, inactive since 2002’s The Sum of All Fears, has been overdue for a reup. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit takes very few risks with the patriot and the formula, but its action serves as an ass-kicking reprieve from all that awards-season indigestion.
A book-smart Baltimore boy just like his creator (go Ravens!), Clancy’s guy has always been one of the more relatable protagonists in the patently unbelievable action-thriller genre. As intellectually sharp as he is swift with a sidearm, Ryan is a role most associated with Harrison Ford — precisely why director Kenneth Branagh‘s entry had to go younger and prettier. Chris Pine, who’s already been tapped as the great hope of J.J. Abrams‘ Star Trek franchise, plays Ryan as a boy scout with a cherry bomb in his pocket — cleancut and studious, with an edge that doesn’t see the light until something needs to be sliced. The primary flaw of Shadow Recruit is that there’s not much that requires slicing.
Though this reboot stays true to Ryan’s origins (wounded-in-action Marine, shrewd stockbroker, then professor who catches the eye of government spooks), it strays away from Clancy-penned inspiration, spinning the intrigue into the economic world. Ryan, working publicly as a Wall Street desk jockey and covertly as a CIA financial analyst, takes evidence of suspicious Russian banking activity to his icy handler, Harper (Kevin Costner).
He’s shipped off to Moscow to vet the books of Cherevin (director Branagh), a surly financier with a little something to hide. It doesn’t take Ryan long to uncover proof of the massive conspiracy he predicted — but he doesn’t count on his curious wife (Keira Knightley) showing up asking a battery of questions about his work day.
As vintage as it might be to single out the Russians as the bad guys — Branagh’s ridiculous accent is about a quarter-step removed from Boris Badenov — this is a contemporary treatment of the Jack Ryan brand, throwing blows within a post-9/11 narrative. It’s just that the intrigue is presented a little too tidily to make a lasting impression.
Though followups will lessen this effect, Pine, Knightley and Costner end up coming off a bit like trading cards, shiny but flat HD renditions of the characters Clancy created 30 years ago. That’s not to say Pine’s not the man for the job — as long as he stays sincere, Jack Ryan will be safe to spy another day.
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