It’s been over 10 years since Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan was on the big screen with 2002’s The Sum of All Fears. Definitely taking a cue from Casino Royale, Shadow Recruit goes back to the beginning of Ryan’s CIA career and his first major mission in Moscow.
Chris Pine steps into Jack Ryan’s shoes as the young economic student first joins the Marines following 9/11 but suffers a horrible injury that takes him out of the war. Because of his intellect and analytical skills, he’s recruited by CIA boss Tom Harper for the financial investigation team. While working at a firm on Wall St, Jack uncovers a series of locked accounts by a Russian firm and uncovers a plot to attack the US by destablizing the economy and causing a second Great Depression. Jack heads to Moscow to gather evidence and comes face to face with Viktor Cherevin, a CEO with a vendetta against America. The machinations of the plot are definitely smarter than the usual “find the giant bomb” plots of most action movies and, much like the previous Jack Ryan movies, the focus is more on espionage and investigation than fist fights and shootouts. Even though he’s a Marine, Jack only throws down when it’s absolutely necessary. There is an actual terrorist attack that will start the chain of destroying the economy that must be stopped for the final sequence but the investigation into the economic attack is the main focus of the movie. Once things get to Moscow, the movie settles into fun thriller mode but the beginning is one of the most insanely condensed sequences I’ve seen in a while. Literally 10 years of Jack’s life go by in barely 10 minutes and there doesn’t really seem to be anything in those scenes of Jack at school, in Afghanistan or in rehab that couldn’t just be mentioned in dialogue or implied through character actions.
Chris Pine is a solid Jack Ryan, able to balance the intellectual side of Jack with his action side. Although he starts out slightly worried about being in the field, he quickly acclimates and is able to trade thinly veiled threats with Cherevin later on. Kenneth Branagh pulls double duty as director of the movie and playing Cherevin and he’s fun as the villain, clearly inspired slightly by Le Chiffre from Casino Royale as he has a medical condition he has to deal with and uses terrorist attacks to manipulate the economy. The year of Kevin Costner kicks off here and he’s good as the gruff boss, he feels like he’s channeling past Jack Ryan, Harrison Ford. Keira Knightly rounds out the cast as Jack’s girlfriend, Cathy, and it’s nice that she’s not just a damsel in distress (although she does get briefly kidnapped) and does contribute a key part to the big set piece break in sequence but the dialogue between Jack and Cathy gets incredibly clunky at times with lines like “I love you desperately, you know that right?”. The screenwriters definitely have a handle on the spy/economics dialogue but the relationship dialogue feels out of place each time.
The Jack Ryan movies have always been more thrillers than action and Shadow Recruit keeps that going, with only two traditional action sequences, including one that is ripped right out of Casino Royale in a bathroom, and the final chase through NYC to stop a bomb from blowing up in the financial district. The best sequence of the movie is definitely when Jack has to break into the office of Cherevin and gather the evidence on his plot while Cathy distracts him at dinner across the street. Jack pulls a Michael Westenesque maneuver of pretending to be a drunk asshole to get away and then barely gets the evidence before security arrives. None of it is going to redefine the action genre but it’s done solidly, with the exception of the two fist fights that suffer a bit from shaky cam syndrome and it’s a little hard to follow.
Depending on how well it does at the box office, this might kick off a new Jack Ryan series and this seems like a solid foundation to go off from. It’s probably not as good as the original three Jack Ryan movies starring Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford but I would not mind more Chris Pine spy adventures. It’s not going to revolutionize the thriller genre but for coming out in January, it’s an extremely solid, fun thriller.
(probably closer to 3.5)