From 1990’s The Hunt for Red October through this year’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Jack Ryan has appeared in five films with four different actors portraying the central character. In other words, he has a turnover rate that makes the James Bond films look stable. But with the newest film featuring the character, the Jack Ryan series reboots with an origin story of sorts for the CIA analyst.
Shadow Recruit refocuses Jack Ryan into a strictly post-9/11 world, with the opening moments showing a young Ryan joining the Marines specifically because of the events of 9/11. When he’s injured in Afghanistan a few years later, he’s recruited by the CIA as a financial analyst. Moving forward to 2012, one trip to Moscow turns Ryan from simply an analyst to a field agent who must save the United States from a ruthless Russian businessman.
Politically-driven action films like those in the Jack Ryan series have been in short supply over the past decade, as Hollywood increasingly moves toward big-budget tentpole films. That helps make Shadow Recruit seem a bit fresher than previous entries in the series, as well as similar types of films released in the past few years. While there are several action sequences, a good portion of the film deals with espionage instead of physical combat.
The character of Jack Ryan is enough of a blank slate to let Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck all take turns playing him over the course of just over a decade. With Shadow Recruit, Chris Pine takes on the character, and it’s enough of a change to feel appropriate for 2014. While capable of pulling off some of the action sequences, Pine has enough innate charm (and ridiculously piercing blue eyes) to carry the character through the potentially tedious economic shop talk he delivers, as well as the romance he shares with girlfriend Cathy.
Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley also turn in solid performances. Costner, who once was enough of a box office star to claim lead roles similar to Jack Ryan, has settled nicely into supporting roles like William Harper in this film. Knightley, meanwhile, manages to make Cathy into something other than the token female. Her charm works well with Pine’s, and it makes some scenes that could come off as cheesy much more effective.
Of the main cast, Kenneth Branagh is the only member who suffers. As the main villain, Viktor Cherevin is largely boring. He’s a Russian businessman who occasionally has wild outbursts. Nothing Branagh does makes the character stand out. Fortunately, Branagh’s work as the film’s director makes up for his character’s shortcomings. While there’s nothing outstanding about said direction, it’s competent and it allows the core trio of Pine, Costner and Knightley to create characters worth seeing again.
In fact, that’s probably the best compliment I can give the film: it left me wanting more. The film has a nice, 108-minute running time that manages to move along at a quick enough pace to maintain interest, and there’s enough promise with the characters here that I wouldn’t mind seeing them team up in another film. I just hope that the next film can land a more memorable villain.