Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Adam Cozard, David Koepp (screenplay), Tom Clancy (series)
Stars: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley
Release date: January 17th, 2014
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 105 minutes
Best part: The dynamic performances.
Worst part: The convoluted plot.
By rebooting the ever-engaging and eternally popular Jack Ryan series, Paramount Pictures, obviously, has all-eyes on the potentially gargantuan rewards. With an intriguing spy-action premise, cracking cast, effective marketing, and franchise-level reputations to uphold, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit contained the perfect ingredients for a kick-ass reboot. After all, action movies usually obtain hefty profits and franchise-boosting opportunities. This is Hollywood – where uninspired, critically lambasted action movies receive sequels, prequels, and reboots thanks to overwhelming commercial success. Unfortunately, Shadow Recruit, though enjoyable, is another forgettable spy-action flick with healthy box-office returns in sight. Despite the positive elements, this instalment becomes an irritating, confused, and uninteresting action-thriller.
Despite the deceptive marketing campaign, Shadow Recruit had the potential to be a lively and eclectic reboot. As is Hollywood’s ravenous nature, reboots are, essentially, designed to remove debilitating/franchise-killing cells whilst injecting an electrifying cure into a near-lifeless corpse. Admittedly, this drastic studio-executive/focus-group driven methodology has re-configured and enhanced several big-budget franchises. Given a high-tech facelift and energising boost, this action-thriller franchise, once again, comes out swinging. Despite my analogies and comparisons’ bizarreness, these comments are somewhat accurate. The reboot presents one of pop-culture’s most celebrated and cunning super-spies’ origins. Here, the story dodges the previous instalments whilst acknowledging their significant entertainment value. This instalment kicks off in 2001, with an adolescent Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) studying in London. Following loud footsteps and chatter, Ryan dashes to the nearest TV. He watches on in horror as two planes crash into the World Trade Centre. Fuelled by patriotism and pragmatism, Ryan joins the US Military in 2003. Serving in Afghanistan, Ryan proves, to his comrades and himself, that he belongs in active duty. Ryan, quickly becoming a Marine Corps Second Lieutenant, suffers horrific injuries when his helicopter is shot down over mountainous regions. Recovering from his debilitating injuries, with physiotherapy and medical student Cathy Muller(Keira Knightley)’s assistance, Ryan is determined to head back into military service. However, CIA agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) has other ideas. Luring Ryan into CIA operations, Harper believes that terrorist cells are using stock exchanges to transfer vast sums. Sent into the New York Stock Exchange undercover, Ryan ably investigates the system to uncover suspicious activity.
Unlike Hanna and The American, this spy-actioner doesn’t strive for originality, charm, grit, or ambition. To continue on, I’ll stress that the plot, as time passes, becomes considerably more convoluted and uninteresting. Ryan is then sent to Moscow to meet with Russian businessperson and playboy Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh). With Ryan and Cathy’s relationship issues threatening the mission’s stability, Harper reins everyone in to stop Cheverin’s diabolical scheme. It would be simplistic and predictable to lambast this action-thriller for being bland and unimaginative. However, despite the resources on offer, the movie never strays from conventional spy-thriller material. Ryan, one of author Tom Clancy’s creations, is one of literature and entertainment media’s most intriguing characters. Born from Clancy’s impressive knowledge of covert operations, sleeper-agent programs, government methodologies, and military intelligence, Ryan is a cunning, nimble, and modest spy. Adapting Clancy’s works, this franchise once increased action cinema’s worthiness. As pulsating and impactful action-thrillers, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger succeed thanks to tightly wound narratives and entertaining performances. Unfortunately, The Sum of All Fears and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit are nonsensical and unintentionally laughable. Explaining this narrative’s core ingredients is like asking a cat to explain astrophysics. Once Ryan’s motivations are established, the extended prologue awkwardly veers into uninteresting corporate-espionage territory. From there, Ryan’s analytical mind is tested on screens, charts, and numbers. To Wall Street aficionados, the first third will be delightfully entertaining. However, the movie quickly loses focus, purpose, and character.
With Tinker Tailor Solder Spy‘s alienating coldness and The Fifth Estate‘s computer-reliant plot mechanics, the first third won’t keep action-movie-obsessed viewers entertained. With befuddling exposition, debilitating jargon, and joyless characters, the dramatic aspects also become steadily tiresome. However, after Ryan lands in Moscow, the movie hurriedly transitions into a mindless action romp. With its convoluted techno-espionage plot eviscerated by explosive action sequences, Shadow Recruit switches form one spy-action sub-genre to another. In the following two thirds, this instalment borrows from the Bond, Bourne, and Mission Impossible franchises. Lacking the previous Jack Ryan instalments’ edginess and balance, Shadow Recruit is a frustrating and egregious 2-hour distraction. Like Salt and The Bourne Legacy, the disappointing narrative, wavering pace, and derivative revelations severely dampen this otherwise diverting experience. Lacking Spy Game and Breach‘s intensifying darkness and socio-political relevance, Shadow Recruit becomes yet another tedious and expansive action flick. Although brash preconceptions overwhelm most action flicks, plot-holes, contrivances, and stupefying characterisations become increasingly distracting. Throughout this befuddling spy-thriller story, the character’s questionable and perplexing antics pull the audience out of this experience. The movie, though slick, stylish, and picturesque, depicts the American and Russian Governments as childish and moronic factions. With another Cold War approaching, our characters lack intelligence and agency.
“You Americans like to think of yourselves as direct. Perhaps you are just rude.” (Victor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit).
Despite these desperate situations, no one follows basic protocols or ethically sound methodologies. Why does Ryan tell Cathy he’s a CIA analyst? How do the characters jump between settings without being stopped by authorities? Also, why doesn’t Harper tie off loose ends? Despite the nonsensical screenplay, Branagh’s direction is derivative of Sam Mendes, Martin Campbell, and Paul Greengrass’. The action sequences tumble and fall tirelessly. Shaking cameras and quick cuts distort the energetic set pieces. The standout sequence, involving Ryan and a heavy-set assassin, is a rare highlight. However, the motorcycle/car stunts and chases boost this movie’s schizophrenic tone. Punches, stabs, and bullet wounds add some impact. Shadow Recruit‘s cinematography and production design provide several eye-catching moments. Copying Skyfall‘s emphasis on nighttime sequences and mesmerising compositions, the immaculate settings and locations widen this banal action-thriller’s scope. In addition, the cast excels despite the derivative and underwhelming characterisations. Pine, sporting his Captain Kirk swagger full-time, is a charismatic and commendable on-screen presence. His boyish charm, physicality, and range solidify this engaging role. With smarter material, Pine could’ve cemented another major franchise. Costner’s resurgence delivers this intriguing and entertaining character. This impressive casting solidifies Ryan and Harper’s friendship. Branagh elevates his racially insensitive antagonistic character. With a thick accent and purposeful mannerisms, he overcomes the character’s wafer-thin motivations. However, Knightley awkwardly adjusts to her irritating and nosy character. On top of Knightley’s wavering accent, her character is a nonsensical and unnecessary hindrance.
Shadow Recruit, despite the glowing positives and immense potential, can’t overcome the genre’s overblown and stupefying conventions. With its been-there-done-that story, underdeveloped characters, and derivative direction, this action-thriller doesn’t delve beyond the surface. With this series’ more memorable instalments becoming action-movie gems, Shadow Recruit doesn’t match its predecessors or this century’s most influential spy-action flicks.