Sunday, August 3, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Runtime: 1hr 45mins
3/5*
Available in Redbox,
Amazon Digital Rental,
Blu-ray/DVD, and
Google Play


In 2002, the franchise saw a prequel featuring the odd casting choice of Ben Affleck. It was not great, and generally hurt the franchise (notice we didn't see a second with Affleck).  Here they are going for a complete reboot featuring another fairly young, but well known star in Chris Pine.  The resulting film is better than The Sum of All Fears, but still not necessarily very memorable.

12 years after an attempted prequel, the reboot is the first film in the franchise with the confidence to put the Jack Ryan name in the title.  The name doesn't carry the same cachet as someone like James Bond (who doesn't have a film with his name in the title), Indiana Jones or even Jason Bourne, but he's still a fairly well known character.  This being a reboot, they're also hoping to build a brand here and get a new series going.

However, Shadow Recruit doesn't seem a fitting subtitle for a Jack Ryan film. Anyone familiar with the film franchise knows Jack Ryan is an analyst who sits behind a desk, and occasionally gets reluctantly dragged into dangerous situations simply because no one knows quite as much as he does.  While that's somewhat true here, they do a very lackluster job setting up this person in this unintended scenario.

They rush through his background in favor of getting to quickly cut action sequences.  What they do show us explains that he was a military man who was injured when his helicopter was shot down.  While recovering he meets his fiance, Cathy (played by British Actress Keira Knightley in a bit of miscasting) who happens to be the doctor that helps in his recovery.  He's approached by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) who reveals himself to be CIA.  Harper wants him to complete his PHD and then work for him.  These are the essential scenes that are supposed to lead us to who Jack Ryan was in the movies we've already seen, however they are brushed past so quickly they don't particularly feel special in any way.

The conflict is a little reminiscent of the types of films that centered around the Cold War.  It deals with disputes between the US and Russia over the construction of an oil pipeline.  Bond fans will no doubt be reminded of The World is Not Enough.   All of this is a bit of a distraction because the real sinister plan here is to bomb wall street and cripple the US economy.

Jack Ryan happens to have been assigned to wall street to keep an eye out for terrorist attacks on our nations finances.  When he finds some anomalies in the account of main villain Viktor Cherevin, played by Kenneth Branagh pulling double duty while directing the film as well.

Ryan is sent to Russia to investigate. His time there is broken up among activities such as defending himself against killers sent to his room (also very classic James Bond), and Mission Impossible style team infiltration scenes.

Things are shaken up a bit when his fiance shows up. He hadn't told her he was working for the CIA until then.  Of course her presence there predictably means there will be that scene in which the bad guy captures her and Ryan has to chase them down and save her.

Since it's borrowing from Bond films, we should know that it isn't only the main bad guy that's the problem, there is always a henchman to stop as well.  In this film it turns out to be a sleeper agent who had been living in America since he was a kid.  Once activated, his job is to take a bomb to wall street, and kill anyone who gets in his way.  Jack Ryan and team have to get back to the US, track him down and stop him.

The Bourne style fast action cutting is present throughout. Filmmaker's have been trying to recreate that style for this type of thriller for years. They tried in Bond as well (Quantum of Solace) and the result wasn't too well received. However, here the handheld shaky cam is not quite as blatant, and the fast editing works, for the most part, to build the tension they're after.

As I've been mentioning, while I was watching the film I couldn't help but think about how much it felt like an American James Bond film. An ode to the classic Bond films, especially in terms of the films antagonist Viktor Cherevin, who had a bit of that classic Bond villain about him.

Whether it was Bond, Bourne or Mission Impossible, it seemed pretty clear where they were drawing their inspiration.  However, while those are good styles to emulate, they aren't really in keeping with what we know as Tom Clancy's series featuring Jack Ryan.  I guess it IS a reboot, and they are trying to modernize, and put more action/suspense in the film, and some immitation is fine, but when I think of these other franchises enough that I forget what series I'm watching you've gone too far.

It isn't that this is a bad film, it's actually pretty entertaining and engaging, but it's not going to win any awards for originality. Perhaps it's getting to the point where it's hard to do anything original in this particular genre, but this film doesn't try very hard.  We have seen a handful of successful reboots in the last few years of various franchises (Bond and Star Trek come to mind), but this one, while a decent film, does nothing to standout.

I guess I'm still just waiting for them to finally recapture the magic that was The Hunt for Red October, which is still the best in the franchise.

While Shadow Recruit probably won't be nearly as memorable, it's worth seeing if you're interested at all in spy films or the Tom Clancy franchise.  Bottom line, if you're just in that mood for an action oriented spy film you could do worse.