Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan is back, this time in the form of Chris Pine, who was hoped to jump-start the old franchise of the CIA analyst-turned-action-hero. But both the hero and the film itself have some big shoes to fill -- in the form of the great Harrison Ford, and the classic with Alec Baldwin, "The Hunt for Red October." And to go about it there are two main options; try to compete with those old versions, or, make everything so fresh and modern that no one will compare them. They chose the latter. Like when Daniel Craig gave new life to the 007 franchise, Pine's Jack Ryan goes back to the beginning, showing us the origin of the reasonably well loved character, but at the same time, making his origin a modern tale.

See? Cellphone, laptop, fashionable suit -- modern.

He enlisted in the service soon after 9/11; soon after that was in a helicopter as it exploded, then spent a lot of time soon after that learning how to walk again, and simultaneously trying to score a date off his pretty physical therapist Cathy. (Keira Knightly) Once he could not only walk again (this is not-so-soon after) but run around like nothing ever happened he does get that date. Unfortunately, that's about the same time he's approached by a mysterious man named Kevin Costner who wants him to join the CIA -- for his analytical skills, of course. Soon after that, (in movie time anyway) you probably have a good idea of what happens; this is an action movie, after all.

The name of Chris Pine is practically synonymous with "action hero," so he is an obvious, not terribly inspired choice to play the part. He portrays him very well, mostly by just being himself, but does nothing particular to set him apart from any other action character, let alone an old Jack Ryan character. Still he's enjoyable and fun to watch, and makes no obvious missteps, especially to the untrained eye of a fan as casual as myself.

"Hi, I'm the hero." "Hello. I am villain. You can tell because I am Russian, and this is American movie."

Kenneth Branagh directed and also starred as the villain -- the Russian villain -- and did about the same at both jobs. I guess he couldn't pass up the opportunity to show off his fabulous Russian accent, but his villain turned out just about as mediocre as the rest of the characters. Granted, he and Pine were certainly the best of the lot. The direction matched; none of it was actually bad, per se, but none of it was particularly gripping or memorable either.

Keira Knightly as Ryan's long-time girlfriend though, I couldn't accept so casually as the previous two. Maybe because she's British, and was playing an American, or maybe because I just don't like her -- and I really don't like her -- I was expecting throughout the whole film for her to suddenly reveal that she's been a bad guy the whole time. Eventually I remembered that the character's in all the previous future films, (no, that's not a paradox) but it was still bothersome.

Another person I do not like is Kevin Costner. Fortunately he was given so little to do that I wasn't able to be driven crazy by his annoying-ness, unlike his role in Man of Steel, for contrast. There aren't many actors I dislike -- in fact Kevin Costner and Keira Knightly might be the only two -- so it's basically a minor miracle I was able to enjoy this movie at all.

You will not find a photo of Costner anywhere here, but here's Knightly and Pine trying to work on their chemistry...

Yet, the things I didn't enjoy didn't specifically come from general annoyance at seeing certain faces. The fact is that what I've been saying about all the characters and the directing being underwhelming and unmemorable while still not going over the line into actual badness is true for all aspects of this film. My overall impression was just a general, lackadaisical "ho-hum." It's hard to pinpoint exactly what, if anything was the particular cause, but I do think that the scene in the restaurant lasted way too long, and the ending was sloppy, cliched, and forgettable. The film took itself too seriously at times as well, and simply didn't move around enough. It had the pace of an older action film, but didn't have the intricate dialogue necessary to hold interest at that pace.

That is, unless it was zipping along in mindless action, which I did prefer.

The best of the film was hands down the fight scene in the hotel room, which was comparatively very exciting and tense -- wouldn't have felt at all out of place in a Bourne film -- and, naturally, showed off Pine's skills as an action hero. He is the best of that scene, the best of the movie, and the best reason to invest time in this movie. Of course, he's been in plenty other movies too, and most of them are actually good or even great movies, making this movie's existence very nearly moot. As a Chris Pine vehicle, or as another installment of the Jack Ryan franchise, there's better to be had elsewhere, though it finds better footing in the former. This flick that is supposed to be thrilling with its spies, and Russian villains, and chase scenes, instead just middles around somewhere between bad and good, not brave enough to take a chance in any direction. Not very much like it's hero at all.


  1. For the most part, I agree. Jack Ryan was a decent movie, and I enjoyed most of it, but the movie SO forgettable!


    1. Yeah, there was pretty much nothing in it that was actually bad, but there also wasn't much that was really good -- or yes, memorable -- either.

  2. I think I liked Shadow Recruit better than you did.... :) That scene in the hotel was great - definitely reminded me of Bourne as well. :)


    a free mind

    1. Well that's good, I'm glad. :) That was hands down my favorite part. And how he knew to duck from the reflection in the window! :D