Chris Pine was too busy breaking into Russian fortresses and running away from a very scary Kenneth Branagh to screen his new movie, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, in time for WW press deadlines. Critic AP Kryza caught up with all the neck-punching.
Critic's Grade: C+
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
exists in a strange world of hybridized espionage cliches. At its core, it stays loyal to the roots of Tom Clancy's enduringly popular title character, pitting a younger version of Ryan against Russians who exist in a sort of Cold War vacuum and hate America as much as they hate the letter "W." But this is a post-9/11 Jack Ryan as well, so those very same Russians also operate a sleeper terrorist cell bent on blowing up Manhattan with homemade bombs. And since they hate the letter "W" so much, they're especially pissed at Wall Street.
And because the series hasn't had any action since 2002's horridly Ben Affleckized The Sum of All Fears, and since every franchise that's more than three years old must be so, the new Jack Ryan is an origin story, wherein a college-age Jack (Chris Pine, the go-to for college-age versions of iconic heroes) heeds the call of duty when the Twin Towers go down. He first serves as a Marine and then becomes a brilliant analyst enlisted by the CIA to infiltrate Wall Street and monitor the financial sector in order to discover who might be funding terror.
And because this is a post-Bourne Jack Ryan, there's some neck-punching paired with fights in bathrooms, motorcycle chases and aggressive Googling, with our hero pensively staring at a computer while his fingers fly, electronic music pulses and extreme close-ups of his typed words hammer the screen ("Google faster," says nobody).
But despite all its cliches and generic tropes, Jack Ryan kinda, sorta works by throwing in an element almost always absent in these sorts of spy games: restraint.
Pulling double duty as the film's director and its slinky villain, a slumming Kenneth Branagh, as he did with his unlikely directorial work in Thor, proves he can be more fun than his PBS pedigree lets on. Sure, he isn't much for visual verve, alternating between obnoxious shaky-cam hyperactivity and conservative stationary shots. But what the director lacks in visual fireworks he more than makes up in briskness. While most thrillers, especially those of the espionage ilk, are bloated and saggy, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit manages to clock in at less than two hours, cutting the fat without skimping on the character.
As Ryan, Pine ably fills the big shoes of Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin and the not-very-big ones of Affleck. The film wisely keeps Pine's Ryan green rather than a badass. He's a cocky genius, sure, but when the bullets start flying he gets flustered. When he's taken under the wing of a suitably paternal Kevin Costner, after all, he's told he's simply an analyst. His biggest danger involves his doting girlfriend (Keira Knightley) finding out about his spook status. And carpal tunnel syndrome.
Once Ryan hits Moscow, though, he's forced into action, which rattles his cool. Frankly, Branagh's central villain, Viktor Cherevin, would rattle most with his ice-cold stoicism, exaggerated accent and vocabulary lacking the word "the." The Shakespearean actor relishes in chomping the scenery but at no point overindulges. His villain stays very much on the fringe, never descending into all-out Bond villain mode despite his plot to cause a global meltdown and allow Mother Russia to ascend to top of globe.
Yet despite its brisk pace, Jack Ryan remains a pretty bland affair that's cobbled together from bits and pieces of other, better films. Like the other Clancy adaptations (this is the first not based directly on a book), the film isn't nearly as smart or interesting as it seems to be, and even the best sequences seem pulled from other movies. The central set piece—the infiltration of a high-security fortress—is effectively tense, but it seems like it belongs in a Mission: Impossible flick. The fights are straight out of Daniel Craig-era Bond, the chases are Bourne all over again, and the kinetic Google searches that so dominate these types of films are straight out of, well, everything since Hackers.
What makes it work, though, is charisma, and between Pine, Branagh and Costner, there's enough to make it all feel fresh. Jack Ryan is breezy entertainment very much like the books that inspired it. It’s the kind of thing you consume on an airplane, then ultimately forget about. But damned if it isn't kind of fun while it's in front of you.