Jo Wylie ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Anyone can guess the plot of a spy movie these days; a mix of Jason Bourne, James Bond and Ethan Hunt, audiences have come to expect cool, well-dressed protagonists who can fight off fifty men at once, and spy organizations that turn out to be as corrupt as the bad guys.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, however, has managed to step off some of these foundations, ignoring a plethora of spy movie traditions with an almost blinkered glibness. Don’t mistake this peel from the norm for an exciting, edgy change, however – Jack Ryan has instead been dragged back down some terrifically old fashioned routes.
Shadow Recruit’s trailer promised a twisty, betrayal-ridden spy movie, where loyalties are questioned at every turn. Repeatedly, the trailers told us to “trust no one”, that “we all have our secrets.” However, these trailers appear to be huge misdirects. By the time the movie has gotten off its feet, the biggest twist becomes the lack of any such twist. Ryan doesn’t even begin to question his allies, only to be proven wrong – there is an almost noble, loyal dedication to a black and white goodies-and-baddies split. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit seems intent upon ignoring the opportunities for dramatic twists and rising tension, instead simply attaching a ticking clock to the action and hoping that would be enough to excite the audience.
Jack Ryan starts with Chris Pine’s Ryan relaxing at a university, before he’s inspired by the 9/11 tragedy to join the marines, where his helicopter is shot down and leaves him with a spine injury. Ten minutes into the film and the audience has already been bombarded with scenes and stories that could have been kept safely in Jack Ryan’s off-screen history.
While in physiotherapy for his injury – arguably the place the movie could have started- Ryan catches the eye of two interested parties. Kiera Knightly’s bright eyed and kindly Cathy is interested in a date, and Kevin Costner’s mysterious CIA agent Harper is interested in hiring Ryan as a CIA analyst. This is Jack Ryan’s shadow recruitment, before he’s dropped in a Wall Street bank and told to collect information for, America.
It’s a slow start, and feels a little disjointed and shaky on its legs. The subsequent ten year time skip makes no improvement, especially seeing as Pine and Knightly don’t appear to age a single day in the intervening years. The movie’s lack of desire to age its main character hilariously reflects its unwillingness to age its franchise; it’s from this point on that the oldfangled, clichéd style begins to rear its head.
Although Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit has a somewhat original plot – an attack on the US economic system, instead of a casualty-heavy terrorist target – when boiled down, that plot becomes nothing more than a short heist and a bomb threat, both things we’ve all seen before. With very few twists or turns, the film steamrolls through its plot right up until the climax.
Despite this uninspired plot, director and star Kenneth Branagh shows his proficiency with action. There are some honestly tense and enjoyable sequences that will have audiences sitting up and paying attention, especially once the globetrotting movie gets back to the US for the final sequence. Although a few action sequences use some cheaper tricks to discombobulate the audience, such as close, shaky shots, loud noises and lots of screaming, they were generally outweighed by well-choreographed fights. The hotel-room brawl with Nonso Anozi’s Embee is harsh, close and well put together, Branagh skillfully balancing the grit of a good spy-flick fight scene and Pine’s acting as a somewhat more inept, inactivated agent.
Pine’s bright eyes and young face both behoove and betray him in this movie – he is on top form for the personal scenes, battling relationship problems with Knightly or fighting panic when thrown into the deep end with the Russians, but suffers in scenes where he attempts to take the weight of the world on his shoulders. Pine fails to access the grim gravitas the role demands at points, always staying on the boyish, puppy-like side of the line. This is particularly noticeable in contrast to Costner’s Harper, whose relaxed, coiled CIA agent is both chilled and powerful.
Kiera plays Ryan’s open, honest and well-intentioned fiancé. With so many promises during trailers of betrayal, Kiera’s niceness becomes so outrageous the audience is sure she must be a double agent of some kind, especially when she drops everything to fly out to Moscow to surprise her fiancé. No one’s that nice, right? Well, apparently, in the Jack Ryan world they are. These are the faults of the writing once again, however, and Knightly herself is strong in this open, soft role.
Despite the relatively unimaginative writing of the plot, the screenplay is stronger in other areas – the comedic beats are enjoyable, if occasionally oddly placed, and the dialogue is consistently steady and well constructed.
Ultimately, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a fun, if slightly unimaginative spy flick. There’s no question that audiences will be well amused by the movie, but it also clings to old fashioned ways, wavering dangerously between refreshingly simple and unimaginatively cliché. With a steady script that nonetheless suffers in imagination, strong and enjoyable acting that doesn’t quite stand up at the harshest dramatic beats, and some honestly tense and well-delivered action sequences, this movies is a safe, if predictable, spy flick. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit doesn’t aim to change anyone’s lives, but it’s a fun enough movie that will amuse viewers.
Overall Grade: C+