The late Tom Clancy’s literary works chronicling the dynamic adventures of his beloved spy-hero Jack Ryan certainly has been decent espionage escapism for diehard fans of the big screen adaptations throughout the years. Any Clancy enthusiast can readily name the previous Jack Ryan vehicles off the cuff that include the ditties ‘The Hunt For Red October’, ‘Patriot Games’, ‘Clear And Present Danger’ and ‘The Sum Of All Fears’. Also, for extra brownie points they can recite the lead actors that partook in these on-screen Clancy classics without breaking a single sweat: Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford (twice) and Ben Affleck.
So the question remains: will the Clancy crowd gravitate to the latest Jack Ryan vehicle with ‘Star Trek’ stud Chris Pine in the shoes of the adventurous operative? Importantly, how will this newest feature stack up to previous celebrated installments? Do predecessors Baldwin, Ford and Affleck need to worry about losing any sleep to Pine’s fresh interpretation of the resilient spy?
In ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ something needs to be clarified up front as director Kenneth Branagh’s narrative is not based upon any of Clancy’s previous novels. Instead, it is solely developed for the character of CIA analyst Jack Ryan although still a Clancy-inspired blueprint. Anyway, ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ sadly lacks the edginess and excitable energy that one would expect to stimulate the nerves in a day and age where percolating spy honchos such as the iconic James Bond and hyperactive Jason Bourne have the genre recharged with action-packed impishness. The refreshing dependence of the techno-tactics in ‘Shadow Recruit’ are a revelation for those that maintain a cerebral fetish for flashy electronics and other governmental sophisticated gadgetry in the arena of watchdog international politics. Pine’s turn as Jack Ryan does not necessarily bring anything bouncy to the role other than being reminiscent of a GQ model with a patriotic bookworm mentality. Despite Pine’s flimsy take as Ryan not being saucy enough to generate any characterisation complexity, ‘Shadow Recruit’ is still serviceable as a viable actioner that embraces its manufactured intrigue with ambitious gusto.
The backstory to Jack Ryan in ‘Shadow Recruit’ has some engaging mileage that includes a brilliant short-lived collegiate career, a notable stint in the U.S. Marines and a helicopter-related injury in Afghanistan that signifies his commitment to duty and honor. It is not long before Ryan is approached by a veteran CIA figurehead, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), who recognises the young man as quite talented and resourceful. Harper dutifully recruits Ryan into the agency for some vital undercover work. The assignment at hand is to infiltrate a Wall Street firm where Ryan will pose as a compliance officer in a mission to sniff out potential financial gain for promoting terrorism. Furthermore, the collapse of the world economy is at stake with the Americans and Russians taking the brutal brunt of the devastating hit. Ryan, with his commanding father figure Harper as a guide, must prevent another epic-sized 9/11 terrorist development from ruining the critical funding on the aforementioned Wall Street.
As if Ryan does not have enough to worry about, in terms of Harper entrusting him with this risky undercover operation, he must keep his cover from his girlfriend in Dr. Cathy Mullen (Keira Knightley) whose suspicions about her man’s noticeable distractions has her wondering if Jack is really committed to her faithfully.
Eventually, Jack Ryan’s dealings will take him to Moscow where he ends up tangling with a twisted Russian businessman named Viktor Cherevin (as played by the film’s director Branagh). Viktor is not a fan of the United States and will stop it at nothing to see that his hatred for the country results in the mayhem that he has planned to ensure that the American economical landscape is completely demolished courtesy of his diabolical agenda. Oh, let us not forget Viktor’s dastardly deed in wanting to explode a deadly bomb in busy downtown Manhattan. What a breath of fresh air he is, huh?
Soon after Ryan touches Russian soil, it is not long before Viktor unleashes his henchmen in a fury to eradicate the American super-snooper. Naturally, when Dr. Cathy shows up in Moscow and reunites with Jack, the danger factor picks up to the point of orchestrated confusion that invites the obligatory displays of ducking and dodging various Viktor-associated cohorts not to mention shady Kremlin cutthroats. When Ryan returns to the Big Apple to hunt for the bomb that the wicked Viktor threatens to detonate the kinetic showcase of fights, car chases, gunplay and panicky platitudes are reinforced to compliment the techie aspects of the film’s mounting tension.
‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ is conventional at best and plays it rather safe by never offering anything distinctive or defining beyond the countless spy thrillers that currently saturate the big screen. Still, in the Clancy universe ‘Shadow Recruit’ has its moments of spirited substance where laptops, big screen monitors and other gizmos are as relevant as the selective action sequences. Pine is passable as the harried Ryan but, more often than not, comes off as a charismatic stiff. Knightley is radiant as Ryan’s leading lady and surprisingly masters a competent American accent. Plus it is nice to see Costner back in front of the camera as the experienced CIA handler getting his feet wet in chaos via his mentoring skills for the robotic Ryan. Branagh’s villainous Viktor is inspired in devilish madness for the most part.
Word to the wise: hopefully in the next ‘Jack Ryan’ sequels, the filmmakers will recruit more convincing titillating suspense that will not seem as shadowy under the Clancy cloud.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
1 hr. 46 mins.
Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Hannah Taylor-Gordon, Colm Fiore and Hulisita Salcedo
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action & Adventure/Spy Drama
Critic’s rating: ** ½ stars (out of 4 stars)