Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – 2014

Director Kenneth Branagh
Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley
Screenplay Adam Cozad, David Koepp based on characters created by Tom Clancy

Once upon a time, this was a good series looking to become great.  About the moment Harrison Ford offered up a check from the U.S. Government to purchase a used Helicopter, it didn’t seem like Jack Ryan could get any cooler.  That was 1994.  Then, they released The Sum of All Fears.  Jack Ryan was younger, dumber (Affleck) and could not keep a dirty bomb from going off in the U.S.  That should have killed the franchise.

Twelve years later Jack Ryan is even younger (Pine), and supposedly smarter.  He’s some sort of financial guru now.  He’s done a tour in Afghanistan and a decade on Wall Street.  He can recognize interesting flight patterns as well as unnamed Russian bank accounts.  Thomas Harper (Costner) recognized his greatness though, and recruits him to join the CIA, and go to Russia to confront some bad guy (Branagh)  who is a Russian patriot.  Add to this Cathy Muller (Knightley), a “brilliant” doctor who fell for Ryan Florence Nightingale style and us there mainly to be a distraction in the second and third act.

Elements of all the spy junk is present here.  Sleeper cells, financial terrorism, Russians, bombs, Napoleon’s Waterloo and well intentioned but clueless agents.  There is only one person who will save the day, of course.

When The Hunt for Red October came out, there was pretty much James Bond and Jack McClane.  Since then, we’ve had too many more heroes to count.  Bond and McLane are still making films, but so are Bourne, Ethan Hunt, and even Agent Cody Banks got 2 films.  At the point where it takes several re-writes and there is no original source material to go off of, perhaps it’s time to retire the character.

There is nothing technically wrong with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.  Branagh directs this film with a minimal amount of flair, no doubt a natural reaction to his last film, Thor.  Whereas that film had the benefit of a magnificent turn by Tom Hiddleston as the bad guy, Branagh himself adds very little to the proceedings as an antagonist.  There would seem ample motivation for his character, but it’s hard to feel on the screen.

Costner and Pine are pretty low key in their roles as mentor and recruit.  There is a minimal amount of screen time dedicated to what his specialty is, and even less time dedicated to explaining what they are trying to prevent.  You know they’ve given up when they spend the last 20 minutes trying to prevent something from going “boom.”

The saddest part about the Ryanverse is that there was never a concerted effort to keep the same guy playing the character.  Even though his films were the best of the series, they backed themselves into a corner when they replaced Baldwin with Harrison Ford.  They were backed into a corner at that point, age wise.  When they moved the series from Ford to Affleck, it was like the raising of  a white flag.

This film just feels like they are waving the flag a little.

(*** out of *****)

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