film review – Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Generic. That’s the word best used to describe the new Jack Ryan film Shadow Recruit. Last time we saw Ryan on screen, in 2002’s The Sum Of All Fears, he was portrayed by Ben Affleck, who was the third actor to play Tom Clancy’s CIA man after Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford. Now it’s Chris Pine’s turn and he does his best with the material he’s been given, but strangely enough this take doesn’t capitalize on the cerebral nature of the Jack Ryan character. We get a bland action hero instead.

Shadow Recruit starts out promisingly enough. Because of 9/11 Ryan drops out of the London School of Economics to become a Marine. Injured in the line of duty, Jack has to go through a lengthy rehab, during which he’s noticed by future girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley) and CIA official William Harper (Kevin Costner). Harper selects Ryan to become a covert CIA analyst and it’s in this capacity that Jack visits Russia, where he uncovers a shadowy plot against the US. From this moment on the movie falls apart. The script’s Jack doesn’t use his head to think but just his legs to run a lot, effectively eliminating the quality that sets the character apart from many other spy heroes. The potential for a clever movie with a smart lead is squandered, but the creators do try very hard to cover it up with nonsensical terminology and technobabble. It’s a shame, especially because the action is nothing to write home about either: choppy editing, shaky-cam and no memorable setpieces.

The bad guy Cherevin, played by Shadow Recruit‘s director Kenneth Branagh, is another one of the film’s weaknesses: he’s an 80’s action movie caricature with a thick Russian accent and an underdeveloped backstory. Actually, the whole US vs. Russia plot is a bore: it just revisits old territory and doesn’t add anything unique or interesting. There are no clever twists, no smoke and mirrors, just a straightforward, dull and sub-par affair. The movie also has a habit of dropping the few elements that are engaging: Jack Ryan’s trouble dealing with his first kill, Cherevin’s views on his own mortality and purpose, Harper’s mentor mentality. These points are introduced and then cast aside, leaving the audience to wonder what the purpose of these moments of exposition was.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was supposed to breathe new life into the character’s film existence, but instead slams the final nail into the coffin. Boring and forgettable, a good spy thriller this is not. 4/10

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