By Will Ashton | email@example.com| @thewillofash
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit | Directed by Kenneth Branagh | Rated PG-13
There are great movies, and there are terrible ones, but some are decidedly just somewhere in the middle. There aren’t outright bad, but there aren’t particularly good either. There are, more or less, just a thing.
This is the best description I can give for my experience watching Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
The film reboots Tom Clancy’s character who has previously been played from everyone from Alec Baldwin to Ben Affleck. This time, the film centers Ryan, now played by Chris Pine, in a post-9/11 world, where he must go to Moscow to stop a Russian terrorist attempt to create the second Great Depression.
Having only seen The Hunt for Red October before this, and not reading a word of any of the late Clancy’s books, my experience with Jack Ryan has undoubtedly been limited. But, having grown up reading books from James Patterson and Robert B. Parker, I have a fairly decent understanding of how these paperback fiction thrillers work.
In that sense, Jack Ryan falls somewhere down the middle. Compared to other recent attempts to revive this style of thriller, it’s not quite as lean and pulpy as the surprisingly fun Jack Reacher but it is nowhere near as awful as Alex Cross. It’s appropriately grounded, but its respectfully old school style is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.
The best thing about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is Kenneth Branagh, both in front of the camera and behind it. With the exception of some poorly choreographed and shot fistfights, Branagh directs this film rather competently. It’s not Hamlet, or even Thor, but he does a respectful job with what he is given. But, ultimately, what he is given is a rather generic script, which seems content with not reinventing the wheel in any way, shape or form, save for its 9/11 backdrop. Which, at this point, is starting to get a little old too.
Screenwriters David Keopp and Adam Cozad, rather than follow one of Clancy’s stories, prefer to tell a rather routine genre film with just a touch of modern day consequences thrown in. There’s nothing particularly wrong about this genre, but it is getting old and it has just been done so many times before. What separates Jack Ryan from any other bottom barrel thrillers that come out each week at Wal-Mart? Unfortunately, not too much.
That said, there is some good to be found in Jack Ryan. As mentioned before, in addition to directing, Branagh is on screen as the film’s primary bad guy, Viktor Cherevin, who plays the character with just the right amount of leer and mischief. He provides a strong fowl for our title character, and creates a sense of threat that is vital for these types of films to work, even though his motives are a bit muddled.
Also, as always, Pine brings his usual charisma to the main character and helps make him stand out more than he probably did in the original script. It’s a shame that Pine often falls into the same problems that Ryan Reynolds has—even though they are not as extreme—because he can be a great leading man, but can’t seem to find a truly great project to get behind, besides Star Trek.
I was never outright bored by Jack Ryan, though it doesn’t ever stand out either. Even now, as I write this, I am still puzzled over whether or not I actually enjoyed the film. It’s such a frustratingly in-the-middle movie, one that clearly has the potential to be better but isn’t, yet is not bad at the same token. Ultimately, I can decide that Jack Ryan isn’t the worst movie out in theaters now, but it certainly isn’t the best one either. Take that for what you will. I won’t rush out to see it, but as a rental? I think it would be a decent choice.