Shadow Recruit falls short of realizing the character's full franchise potential - resulting in a good but not particularly groundbreaking spy movie effort.
In Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Chris Pine steps into the titular shoes of Tom Clancy's famous leading man for a modern reboot story - chronicling the character's first active field mission as a CIA operative. After suffering a debilitating injury in military service, Ryan is contacted by CIA team lead William Harper (Kevin Costner), who seeks to put the former marine undercover as a financial analyst. To that end, Ryan leads a double-life, hunting for potential terrorist organizations via suspicious trades on Wall Street, before coming home to his former-physical therapist-turned-girlfriend, Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley).
However, when Ryan uncovers mysterious (and exorbitant) transactions from a Russian firm, Harper sends him to Moscow to investigate. An unsuccessful attempt on his life and a frosty reception from the firm's CEO, Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), forces Ryan to make a desperate play - putting his own safety directly in between malevolent Russian nationalists and a high-profile terrorist attack that would devastate the American economy.
The Jack Ryan character debuted in Clancy's 1984 novel "The Hunt for Red October" before appearing in (now) five films played by four different actors: Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October (1990), Harrison Ford in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994), Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears (2002), as well as Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit - a platform for rebooting the franchise with a more intimate story about the beloved character's early days in the CIA. As a result, whereas Shadow Recruit succeeds at providing a cerebral story about counterterrorism and geopolitics, with a likable turn from Pine, the actual onscreen experience (not to mention heavy focus on romantic entanglements) might be slightly underwhelming for moviegoers that were expecting a more straightforward and action-packed spy adventure.
In general, Shadow Recruit offers an adequate storyline, one that is par-for-the-course in the Jack Ryan series. It's not the smartest or most engaging premise and Branagh includes a few bizarre scenes that, while allowing for interesting character "moments," are somewhat at odds with the larger plot. Still, the film attempts to be more brainy than some of its modern spy contemporaries, prioritizing plot over improbable action sequences (of which there are few).
Screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp inject several key thematic callbacks that ensure Shadow Recruit is grounded in fallible characters and (mostly) believable drama - rather than cartoonish heroes and villains. A few minor twists keep the overarching plot from being entirely predictable; yet, despite pleas from Harper for Ryan to "dumb-down" any analyst speak, the narrative still leans heavily on heady exposition - some of which will, even to attentive moviegoers, become little more than white noise by the end.
Since Shadow Recruit isn't about nuclear warfare or a new doomsday technology, it's about manipulating fragile financial markets, it is important that viewers understand what's actually at stake. To his credit, Pine manages to ensure that any rumination on global economics, financial trading, or terrorist patterns is interesting - even if it's not always easy for the audience, along with some of the characters, to make the same connections. The actor is a solid as well as entertaining (although slightly generic) lead this time, conveying both Ryan's inexperience and inherent attention to detail, which gets the job done but isn't especially fresh or nuanced.
While Keira Knightley's performance as Cathy (Ryan's girlfriend) in the film is fine, the character's inclusion is mostly an unneeded distraction throughout the majority of the movie - falling into one contrived setup after another (suspicious girlfriend, distraction for the villain, or damsel in distress) without really adding any further understanding to the Jack Ryan character or the pair's relationship. Strangely, Cathy actually sheds more light on Branagh's Cherevin than she does Ryan.
In fact, Cherevin is easily one of the most captivating elements of Shadow Recruit. Branagh gives an engrossing performance in the role but he also ensures that the layered Cherevin is utilized in scenes that both reveal details about the villain and reflect larger ideological juxtapositions. Kevin Costner rounds-out the main cast as William Harper - a role that balances dry humor with no-nonsense authority. Aside from serving as a babysitter for Ryan, Costner isn't given a very wide range of material to explore, but the veteran actor's performance is still sharp.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is also playing as a 2D IMAX experience and there's absolutely no reason to spend extra money on a premium ticket. The film wasn't shot with IMAX cameras and takes very little advantage of the larger screen space or improved sound.
Ultimately, the film is an adequate and enjoyable spy drama - albeit one that will not deliver the same explosive action set-pieces and mind-bending plots that audiences will have enjoyed in competing modern espionage dramas. The story and villain succeed in setting-up Chris Pine's Jack Ryan for future adventures in the Tom Clancy universe but Shadow Recruit, as a standalone movie, is short on notable moments or characters. There's reason to believe that future filmmakers will be able to develop engrossing Jack Ryan adventures with the assembled cast but Shadow Recruit falls short of realizing the character's full franchise potential - resulting in a good but not particularly groundbreaking spy movie effort.
If you’re still on the fence about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, check out the trailer below:
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit runs 105 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language. Now playing in regular and IMAX theaters.
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