Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, is not that bad. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit also isn’t all that memorable, thrilling, or of quality. It will likely live on cable for many many years. Good enough is probably just fine for Paramount as it looks to use Shadow Recruit to reboot the Jack Ryan franchise. America is lacking its James Bond equivalent as the Bourne franchise is in limbo. As a reboot, Shadow Recruit is a film with many masters and expectations. Many masters gives the film a variety of criteria to judge the film against. It doesn’t meet all of them spectacularly but as the mantra of this review seems to be “good enough” is just that. The reinvention of Jack Ryan eschews some of the better aspects of past film, pushing the film into more generic territory.
Shadow Recruit , a another reboot of the long running Jack Ryan film franchise, based on the character created by writer Tom Clancy. Paramount previously tried to breathe life into the franchise in 2002 with Ben Affleck as the titular Ryan.Shadow Recruit goes full origin story this time, showing audiences the helicopter crash that broke Jack Ryan’s back, this time occurring in Afghanistan after 9/11. Ryan’s wife, Cathy played by Keira Knightley is also used more than ever before but isn’t really anything of substance, continuing the tradition of Mrs. Ryan being more a plot device meant to characterize Mr. Ryan than actually be a character. The origin mandate goes to great lengths to set the protocols up necessary for a franchise, never paying them off in this film. In the end, the origin mandate is to the films deficit.
Prior film incarnations of Ryan had the analyst in his late thirties to early forties once Harrison Ford came on board. Sum of All Fearspushed Ryan back to his early thirties. The Ryan portrayed by Chris Pine is in his mid twenties, the perfect age to make several action films. The reboot also changes what it is Ryan analyzes for the CIA, now financial information instead of naval movements. No matter how much Pine’s Ryan protests however, refusing that call to action, I just didn’t buy him as a deck jocky who wrote papers and books. Chris Pine doesn’t have the charisma and energy of a book worm, he’s classic Hollywood leading man archetype. The majority of the past films were all about Ryan being doubted and forced to prove himself right, lest dire consequences occur. Shadow Recruit does not go this path. Ryan is right all the time; he’s the only one who understands the financial information (despite being recruited into the division that is all about the financial information). This change in structure isn’t a bad thing but Recruit never does the leg work to lay a foundation where you will actually care about what is going on.
For his part, Chris Pine is workman like in the role. He has that classic Hollywood leading man looks to him. He isn’t a straight adaptation of Ryan but for the new direction of the franchise, should be good enough. After it’s all over, Harper, the man who recruited him, chides Ryan for smiling like a damn boy-scout on a field trip. If Boy Scout is what Paramount wants, Chris Pine has that in spades.
The emotional arc of this film is the strained relationship between Jack and his future wife Cathy. With an actress like Keira Knightley in the role, conventions of star power would assume Knightley would have more to do. She doesn’t. The whole relationship in general is underdeveloped, we see them meet, living together, even a charming little flashback. Never is it really shown to us in a day to day situation that gives a real sense of this relationship. The film resorts to shouting at us that Cathy thinks Ryan is having an affair. Sure once Cathy is inevitably kidnapped, one of the films better sequences, Pine doses the acting legwork to express and show the fear and anger. It’s just a little too late for me to really care or be invested in that relationship.
This is normally the part where you’d get a paragraph or two synopsis of the films plot. You won’t here, it’s pretty forgettable like everything else in this film. Shadow Recruit’s plot is streamlined but pushed beyond its means. There is a little world building setup, talk of a U.N. vote about an oil pipeline in Turkey that could affect the Russian economy, followed by some allusions to economic and cyber warfare between various nations, none of which are explored. The best Ryan films, Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger, were all about the politics and world that Ryan inhabits. Eschewing this in order to make a decent but unremarkable action film doesn’t work as expected.
Shadow Recruit would be a perfectly acceptable cable film on a weekend if there isn’t anything else to do like mow the lawn. In that context, the forgettable nature of Shadow Recruit will really shine. Chris Pine is good enough as the new Jack Ryan. The film hits most of the genre tropes one would expect. If it performs at the box office a sequel would be highly logical. For all its adequacy however,Shadow Recruit lacks the bombast and intrigue necessary for a reboot to really take off.