Reviewed by Ian Forbes
2013 saw the unfortunate passing of author Tom Clancy. His uber-successful book series about Jack Ryan, an ex-Marine turned CIA analyst (ultimately leading to two terms in the Oval Office) spawned four previous films. In 1990, Alec Baldwin first stepped into Ryan’s shoes in The Hunt for Red October. Harrison Ford would then take on the mantle in Patriot Games (’92) and again in Clear and Present Danger (’94). Eight years later Ben Affleck took part in an attempt to restart the film franchise from the ground up with The Sum of All Fears.
Now, nearly 12 years from that, Chris Pine is rebooting the series once again with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. The key difference this time around is that Clancy didn’t write the source material. He’s credited with creating some of the characters and for the most part, they are given fairly canonical back-stories by the screenwriters (of which there are many over the years as this project has been kicking around for some time due to scheduling issues). However, to no great surprise for anyone who was a fan of the books (and some of the movies), what ends up on screen in 2014 feels like a generic Hollywood formula that borrows details from established work in order to generate interest and hopefully add credibility.
Pine was actually cast before audiences ever saw him in the Captain’s chair of the U.S.S. Enterprise so I can’t really begrudge him for taking on the role. And although he’s in his mid-thirties, he comes across as much younger and it led to the same problems with his take on the character as when Affleck gave it a shot (though I think Pine keeps his mouth closed more during takes so take that for what you will). By contrast, Ford was far too old for the role and unfortunately, for whatever the reasons that actually kept him from continuing in the series, Baldwin really was the best of the bunch for the role but audiences didn’t get the chance to see him develop the character over multiple films as they should have.
Sitting down to write this, I realize I could probably take each major character and just over-analyze how they did/didn’t work throughout the film adaptations but what you’re probably reading this review for is to find out whether you should spend your time and money to see this latest incarnation.
First, let’s keep in mind that the powers that be had so much faith in the movie they released it in January … the year’s biggest dumping ground for projects that have lost the faith of their studios. This is made even more suspect in this case considering you have a lead actor with an already successful rebooted franchise under his Starfleet uniform and it comes from the director of Thor (Kenneth Branagh, who also plays the film’s baddie). Capitalizing on those two ideas alone should net you enough positive advertising to create a strong opening weekend in a more respectable release period (which is all that matters anymore when it comes to these generic thrillers anyway).
I will give Shadow Recruit some credit, as the first act is done fairly well. It gets the basic details generally right in accordance with Clancy’s writing but updates things for an entirely new generation. I’m not a fan, however, of the creation of a new character named William Harper played by Kevin Costner, which essentially usurps the role of James Greer (played by James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman in past films). Although I’m semi-excited about the notion of the next intended film which will also include Coster (Without Remorse) as it returns to using Clancy’s actual books and is the origin of John Clark who is the real badass of the Clancy-universe (portrayed prior by Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber), I’m not sure why they had to create the new character. It’s a REBOOT. You’re already screwing around with things enough, just recast for Greer.
I feel a rant coming on … and honestly I just don’t care enough about Shadow Recruit to take the time to write it all out (or to figure out the reason for the dumb title). It’s a generic spy film that is short on mystery, overplays the sappy moments and underplays the tradecraft of being a CIA operative – instead going for the predictable action setups (including a hand to hand fight in a bathroom in case you were missing Jason Bourne) and somehow making sure its lead character is at the center of it all despite how improbable or unfeasible an idea that should be. What promise is provided in early scenes is unraveled by the final acts and I’d honestly rather have seen a sequel to This Means War (with Tom Hardy rumored to be in the running for the role of John Clark in Without Remorse, it could end up one anyway).
If you just need to see a movie out in theaters right now to escape whatever horrifying weather condition is in your neck of the woods, make it Mandela, Her, or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Most other films are either far too overrated, justifiably scorned, or so falsely advertised you may think the Golden Globes folks actually understand what it means to be a Musical/Comedy. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit isn’t terrible but it’s also something you can wait to see when it hits the home market. Even if you’ve been counting the days since the last Jack Ryan movie, what’s another few months at this point?
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit opens in theaters on January 17, 2014 and is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language.
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