By Savannah Wood
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit revives the 90’s film series based on the novels of Tom Clancy, over ten years after the franchise’s last installment. The film falls more in vein with recent reboots than a normal piece in a series, voyaging back to Ryan’s origins and tinkering around with his canonical origin. The Jack Ryan series’ Cold War backdrop gives way to a more modern, although not too entirely dissimilar setting, and what the film lacks in the subtlety and nuance of Cold War espionage, it makes up for in sheer entertainment value.
The beginning of the film leads us through a decade in Jack Ryan’s (Chris Pine) life–we first encounter him as a grad student at the London School of Economics, but in the wake of 9/11 he puts his academic career on hold to serve. A helicopter crash and a broken back throw him out of the line of duty, however, and after a struggle to regain his footing, literally and figuratively, he’s approached by to Thomas Harper (Kevin Coster) with an offer to re-enter the fold as a Wall Street number cruncher, covertly working as an analyst for the CIA. Since a 2-hour film about Chris Pine sitting behind a computer reading numbers might be a tad boring, you can expect Ryan’s luck takes a turn for the [action-packed]–which it most certainly does. Contrary to what Americans are accustomed to in this day and age, Wall Street is the victim for once, of some super-secret ploy by its Russian bank partners with terroristic undertones. Ryan finds out too much, and gets thrown out of his desk chair and back into the line of fire.
Chris Pine’s all-American good looks and jolly rancher blue eyes are always a pleasure. He fills the shoes of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck, a daunting task, but he fulfills the handsome-white-male-protagonist standard well. Pine added a nice dash of uncertainty to what could have been a stunningly clichéd role–he’s in his element in the mental whirlwind of numbers and puzzles, and panicked mess when thrown into the guns n’ ammo scenes. Keira Knightley, sporting an American accent, was the standard love interest, but I genuinely liked her character. One conversation in particular between her and the unsettling Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) really stuck with me as one of the most profound scenes of the film; a conversation traipsing over Russian literature, death, and regret, overflowing with an emotional intelligence the movie could have held more of. Kenneth Branagh delivers as always, a villainous Russian tycoon dancing sinisterly around calmness, cleverness, and insanity.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit publicized itself as being awash with surprises and deceptions–supposedly you “think” you know what’s going on, only to be deceived, which was a little close to false advertising. While it was thrilling and did a great job of building up intensity and palpable stress through some good (albeit mildly formulaic) pacing and editing, it didn’t dupe me as much as it hoped to, and my unfulfilled anticipation of big plot twists took me out of the film a little bit. That being said, if you can rid yourself of that expectation I think you’ll be in for a fun ride. Jack Ryan played into a lot of the conventions of the political intrigue/action genre, but it played them almost too successfully. There was nothing ground-breaking or novel about it, but it does occupy one’s attention, provide a fun ride, and kick off a new cinematic year with a good dose of non-pretentious entertainment.