“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” Movie Review

     The rebooting of a popular but aging franchise is always tricky.  The studio is banking on the theory a new generation of fans will buy into a character which appealed to a different kind of audience as far back as 24 years ago.  That’s certainly the case with “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”, an attempt to revive the popular series based on the late Tom Clancy’s best selling spy novels.  The Jack Ryan character has been played with different levels of success by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck with each bringing their own take on the various traits intended by Clancy in his writing.  Rather than cast another 40 something actor, director Kenneth Branagh decided to start at the  beginning of the Ryan timeline and cast Chris Pine (“Star Trek”) in an attempt to bring a youthful energy into the film. The results are mixed, as I feel this type of espionage thriller pales in comparison to television’s “Homeland” and doesn’t have the high level brand name behind it like fellow spy franchises “Mission Impossible” and the “Bond” films have.

     Branagh’s first act narrative is suspect at best.  We are sped through Ryan (Chris Pine) watching the attacks on 9/11 while attending graduate school in London to an apparent career as an Officer in the U.S. Marines and a deployment in Afghanistan that ends in a horrific helicopter accident all in the first ten minutes.  We are meant to believe Ryan had a sudden change in career plans and was intent on serving his country, volunteering for the front lines and putting himself in direct harms way.  Seconds after the crash, a military doctor tells us Ryan has fractured vertebrae and is immediately transported to a hospital for surgery.  In the next scene, some time has passed and Ryan is now at Walter Reed Veteran’s Hospital rehabbing and learning to walk again.  As much as this is a reboot, Branagh doesn’t seem interested at all in Ryan’s origins, choosing instead to move forward to his first assignment.  A more interesting approach would’ve explored his decision to leave school and join the Marines.  Even a sequence with meaningful dialogue representing his skills as a leader and military strategist would’ve been welcome.  Because the character’s origins are glossed over, we are left to assume, a luxury this character does not have with the new audience it intends to capture.

     During Ryan’s rehab, two central characters are introduced.  The medical student assisting in his rehab, Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley in one of her worst performances), and a shadowy figure who always seems to appear in the hospital when Ryan is walking alone.  The strange man reveals himself to be Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) and when he tells Ryan he works for the CIA and Ryan asks why, we get the “somebody has to” line which sets the stage for a continuous string of cheesy dialogue and predictable plotting. Costner delivers his lines deadpan and with little emotion, as if he really doesn’t want to be there.  Could he appear any more bored?  Harper recruits Ryan for reasons unknown.  At this point in the film, he really hasn’t done anything that screams “spy”, but apparently Harper sees something in this kid who is still limited physically.  Perhaps it’s his education, since Ryan is inserted into a major Wall Street firm in his first assignment, tasked with secretly reviewing the books for possible off shore terrorist activity.

     When Ryan suspects questionable activity by one of the firms partners in Russia, he is sent to investigate.  This is where director Branagh then becomes actor Branagh, pulling double duty as the film’s villain, Viktor Cherevin.  Cherevin is your typical Russian/Euro bad guy.  He exhibits that no nonsense approach to violence you’d expect and has a platoon of henchman at his disposal, as well as a penchant for the finer things in life.  There’s really nothing that jumps out at you about him personality wise, but he definitely has a plan to end the world, just as they all do.

     There’s a point in the film when Harper tells Ryan “You’re no longer an analyst Jack, you’re in operations now.”  That’s about the point where any intelligence the script had goes out the window and we are subjected to typical spy thriller action tropes seen many times before.  Shades of the aforementioned “Mission Impossible” and the “Bond” films are present with the Euro villain and the exotic Moscow location shoot and even a bit of “Die Hard with a Vengeance” comes to light when the action shifts to a New York City terror plot on Wall Street.  Ironically, many viewers may shed a tear for Cherevin’s choice of a target given that recent films like “Inside Job”, “Margin Call”, “Arbitrage” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” cast a dark shadow on the dealings of those in the financial sector.  The key for “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” continuing as a franchise is simple.  Will the audience root for this character in the same way they do James Bond, Ethan Hunt, Carrie Mathison, and to some degree the incarnations of the character played by better actors?  I say no. GRADE: C-