REVIEW: 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit'


In Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the main weapon wielded by the villain is not nukes or some sort of pathogen, but an economic crisis. The evil Russian industrialist played by the film’s director Kenneth Branagh explains that he’s getting revenge for the United States’ inaction during Russia’s own economic struggle. To do so, he’s engineered a plot to sell off huge amounts of American currency and send the U.S. into a “Second Great Depression”.

Whether this idea makes any sense to you may determine how much you enjoy this latest entry in the loose series of Jack Ryan movies. Bear in mind, I only have a shaky understanding of how Wall Street works, and even I found the idea silly. Still, I’ve borne witness to stupider premises in action movies – and that actually helps sum up my feelings about Shadow Recruit: it could have been worse, but it also could have been much better.

The concept here is to re-introduce Jack Ryan to a generation of movie goers who don’t really remember the earlier incarnations of the character. Actors as diverse as Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck have taken on the role over the years, and now Ryan’s storyline is rebooted with Chris Pine in the lead.

The film's director, Kenneth Branagh, as Viktor Cherevin.

In Branagh’s film, Ryan’s background as a scholar of economics is intact, but now his service as a Marine is depicted in the context of the war in Afghanistan. After surviving a helicopter crash, Ryan goes undercover for the CIA as an investment broker, where he digs up the scheme by Branagh’s industrialist Viktor Cherevin to devalue the American dollar with a terrorist attack in New York. Suddenly, Ryan is made an “operational” field agent by his boss Harper (Kevin Costner), and becomes the only man capable of stopping the financial catastrophe.

In the lead role, Pine is obviously in command of the character. His best work comes after Ryan’s first kill, when the prospect of becoming a full-blown spy terrifies him, and we see his hands shake and his mind going in a million directions. Even so, Pine doesn’t capture my attention in the way that Matt Damon did in the Bourne series - and what's worse, once Ryan finds his groove, he transforms into a completely generic action hero. Even then, the script doesn’t provide Ryan with nearly enough quips or light-hearted moments to balance out the serious stuff.

Branagh’s work as the villain, by contrast, exceeded my expectations. Trailers for Shadow Recruit make Viktor Cherevin out to be a stoic megalomaniac, a man who appears all-powerful until a fatal flaw brings him down. Instead, Cherevin has many vulnerabilities, and he's outsmarted surprisingly often. Compared to more cartoonish action-movie villains, Cherevin might seem like a loser, but I found him to be a slightly more realistic alternative to your typical baddie.

That being said, as soon as the plot shifts to New York in the third act, and Cherevin is left to monitor the proceedings from Moscow, the film devolves into decidedly mediocre thriller. All the expected elements are here: extremely convenient puzzle-solving by Ryan and his allies, a vehicle packed with explosives on a five-minute timer, and a nice, clean ending. Thankfully, we’re not left with an obvious appeal for a sequel, but it’s clear that Paramount would be very happy to launch another franchise with Pine (to complement Star Trek).

Keira Knightley as Dr. Carol Muller, Ryan's fiancée.

What’s really missing here is a reason to care about Ryan, beyond his mastery of economics and his relatively minor disagreements with his fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley). The film takes a few stabs at exploring the trust problems in Jack and Cathy’s relationship, but inevitably the blame lies with the big, bad CIA for not letting Ryan tell her about his real job.

There’s no character flaws to ground these people, or cause much tension. The larger threat of an economic collapse, as “newsy” and mature as it sounds, certainly isn’t enough to grab my attention, and neither are the “been there, done that” action sequences.

If you’re lucky, none of this will matter to you. You’ll be willing to indulge in the latest attempt to inject some life into the onscreen Jack Ryan. Who knows – if Pine is brought back for another installment, maybe the series will find its feet. Until then, there are far better espionage stories (both on TV and at the movies) that are worth more of your time. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit gets two stars out of four.

Two Stars

What did you think of Shadow Recruit? Could a potential sequel with Pine bring this series back to life, or is Jack Ryan doomed to be reborn in the future with a different face? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!