Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a strange movie to see come out in 2014. Jack Ryan is a Tom Clancy character that achieved some fame in the 1990s as a post-Cold War espionage figure that foiled those nasty Ruskies who were up to no good. In the decade those movies were made in, they worked mostly because the American audience they were made for was still paranoid that Russia was just waiting around the corner for its chance to strike. But now, in light of more recent conflicts against folks other than Russia, Jack Ryan feels a bit antiquated, and quite frankly, I’m really not sure why this movie was made.
Our title protagonist, played by Chris Pine, is a financial analyst who works undercover for the CIA in hopes of tracking terrorist funds so that he can prevent the next 9/11. His investigation leads him to Russia, where a plot is underway to stage a terrorist attack on U.S. soil so that a Russian businessman can flood the market and cause a second Great Depression or something, and now Jack must be the one to put a stop to it. If that sounds like gibberish to you, it does to me too, and maybe I’m not doing the film justice due to my incredibly inept understanding of economics, but this plot just sounds a bit silly and overdone. That would be fine if the film didn’t take itself so seriously, but it does, so it isn’t. Furthermore, the film doesn’t really bother to give us that wonderful Cliff Notes explanation until the very end of the first act, leaving the audience entirely in the dark as to what the hell is going on for the first thirty minutes of the film. It purposely withholds information from the audience in order to give the illusion of suspense, and it comes off as confusing more than thrilling.
Speaking of botched manipulation of the audience, Kiera Knightley plays the role of Jack’s girlfriend, who serves as our all-purpose plot device. She shows up in Moscow to stalk Jack on his mission for reasons that feel completely contrived, then becomes the centerpiece of an operation in which she must distract a bad guy with her feminine whiles, then becomes a clichéd damsel in distress, all at the mercy at whatever role the plot dictates she fill. Knightley is trying her best to make the performance work, but the screenplay doesn’t give her much to work with. She's only there to force the plot to move on its artificial path, and the makers of the film hope we won't notice because Knightley is so damn pretty.
Chris Pine, on the other hand, is bland and forgettable, bringing zero charisma or machismo to a role that seriously demands it. His character also conveniently changes from scene to scene, ranging from nervous rookie, to hand-to-hand badass, to tactical genius with zero breathing room in between. He’s the guy with the skills to take down the bad guys, and since his name is the title of the movie, he has be a Jack (Ryan) of all trades and believable as none. The action and chase scenes he’s in are decently directed, offering some suspense and tension when the film needs it, but Pine isn’t the one bringing any excitement to them. A mannequin would do about the same amount of emoting as he does in this film.
At the end of the day, this film is action fluff at best, xenophobic fear mongering at worst. I can’t really recommend the film, and that’s not even because it’s especially bad at what it’s trying to be, though it is still pretty bad. Rather, I have no idea who I would recommend this film to. Jack Ryan is an action hero from another time, what James Bond was to the 1960s and Jason Bourne was to the 2000s. This reboot doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, and after over a decade of not having been on screen, something new was needed. And acknowledging 9/11 does not count.
Have a favorite action hero that you’d like to see rebooted? Think Hollywood would do a good job? Let me know in the comments below.