Despite his character appearing in four films between 1990 and 2002, Jack Ryan is not a household name – but that’s all about to change.
Alec Baldwin was the first to play the genius analyst in The Hunt for Red October. Harrison Ford then claimed the character in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. And Ben Affleck was the last to don the name in The Sum of All Fears. As if reinventing Star Trek‘s iconic Captain Kirk character wasn’t enough for him, Chris Pine has now taken over the mantle – and he’s great at it! Being such a big fan of Jack Ryan, I was worried that Pine would play put too much Kirk into his performance – as he’s been known to do with other roles – but I’m pleased that he’s restrained here, acting the part and truly playing the character.
The author who created Jack Ryan hasn’t always been pleased with the way that his novels were adapted. It’s rumored that he completely washed his hands of Patriot Games and openly shredded The Sum of All Fears, which is possibly why it took more than a decade to get another Jack Ryan film. Shadow Recruit does something with the character that hasn’t been done in the films yet – he’s given an origin, a backstory, that we haven’t seen yet. Shadow Recruit is the first film of the franchise to not be based on a Tom Clancy book. Instead, we’re getting an original story featuring Clancy’s character.
The film opens with short, somewhat episodic scenes that establish a foundation for Jack. He’s an English-educated American who became involved with the military because he’s a patriot at heart. We see how he and Cathy (played by Keira Knightley in this prequel/reboot) first met. Playing second fiddle to Jack’s heroic attempt to save the United States, Shadow Recruit spends a great deal of time establishing Jack’s relationship with Cathy. We know from the previous films (and the books) that they’re a complimenting, devoted and perfect couple. Shadow Recruit gives us strong examples of how and why that is. Personally, I thought it was nice to see the creation of their relationship. It’s like the anti-James Bond model.
As far as the plot goes, Shadow Recruit‘s is easily the least complex of the series – but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining nor worthwhile. Like any origins tale, the purpose of Shadow Recruit is to build the characters, and it does just that while placing our characters in some wildly intense scenarios.
Kevin Costner plays the CIA agent who sees something in Jack’s analytical mind. Recognizing Jack as the stalwart defender of truth that he is, he recruit’s Jack a few years after 9/11 to work as a financial auditor for a major global banking establishment in New York City. His secret mission is to analyze the accounts and look for potential terrorist attacks in the making. Being great at what he does, if something’s awry, Jack will notice it. And after a few years, he does. Jack comes across a red flag that sends him to Russia to investigate a high-profile investment tycoon with a shady background (director Kenneth Branagh) – and that’s when the fun really gets started.
The amount of stylized action that Jack finds himself in is definitely higher than we’re used to seeing in the previous Jack Ryan films. Ryan isn’t a field agent, so he’s not the most trained nor strong when it comes to physical altercations – he’s like a fish out of water when it comes to combat – but because of his tactical abilities, he’s good enough to carry his own. As much fun as the action scenes are, the tense ones are even better. There are two fantastic nerve-wracking moments that left my heart thumping for several minutes. I can’t remember the last time such a thing happened. Branagh plays an unpredictable villain who’s capable of anything, so he carries with him a deep intensity that never leaves.
I love Jack Ryan and I’m very pleased with Shadow Recruit. Although Pine is Ryan 4.0, the character is still the same. Watching him do his thing is just as much fun as it has ever been. I highly recommend seeing Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit this weekend because, one, you won’t be disappointed and, two, the better it performs, the sooner we’ll get a sequel. I can’t handle waiting another decade for the next incarnation.
(Photo credit: Paramount)