Following on from Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford & Ben Affleck, Chris Pine is the latest actor to take on the mantle of the late American author Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst in Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), a seriously safe series reboot which takes the character unsurprisingly back to his roots. We are first reintroduced to our eponymous hero as just another helpless college student watching 9/11 before fast-forwarding three years to a marine-clad Ryan serving in Afghanistan. When he is seriously injured on a mission, he has to undergo intense physical therapy to even have a hope of walking again.
It’s here he meets Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) and shadowy agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). Ten years pass, and Jack is working as an undercover CIA analyst in Wall Street ferreting out possible terrorist threats by analysing data whilst also trying to convince Cathy, now his girlfriend, to marry him. All this occurs in the film’s opening twenty, and the time shifts mean that it takes a while for Shadow Recruit to find its rhythm. Things start to click once the action moves to Moscow, where Ryan is sent to investigate an up to no good corporation headed by Viktor Cherevin (Branagh) after he discovers some fiscal irregularities. Ambushed by Cherevin, the psychological collapse of Ryan is, by a fair distance, the film’s finest segment.
Sadly for screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp, it seems an insecure secret agent does not a good action movie make, and before long Ryan is essentially executing all the Bond-like manoeuvres inherent in many an action film that has come before it. A Ryan who was gradually accepting what being a field agent sometimes entails could have made for rich storytelling. Instead, it’s as though we’ve gotten chapters A, B and C of the Jack Ryan story and then skipped to the part where he’s not just proficient with doing what needs to be done, but a complete adept. It’s at this point where Shadow Recruit starts to regress into yet another generic actioner, albeit an entertaining one that has slickly executed action set pieces and holds the attention.
Unsurprisingly convincing as an action man, it’s in the all too brief moments as an out-of-his-depth analyst that Pine is at his impressively controlled best. He shares easy chemistry with both his co-stars; Costner makes Harper a likable mentor, and though Knightley is saddled with some poor dialogue, there are a few contrived sequences where Cathy is put to good use. Finally, as the talky villain of the piece, Branagh’s Cherevin turns out to be one of the more layered antagonists of times past. Fancied as the start of a new franchise, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a watchable action flick with many enjoyable elements. Even so, from what we’ve seen so far there isn’t enough of a unique selling point to perhaps warrant future instalments.