Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is perhaps the epitome of solid, yet unspectacular filmmaking. By reimagining Tom Clancy’s uber-patriotic CIA agent for the 21st Century, director Kenneth Branagh has made a slick, professional espionage thriller. The film is grounded in the real world along the lines of the Daniel Craig James Bond films. While following trends and playing it safe makes sense from a business standpoint, it also means that Branagh has made a movie that doesn’t really do anything particularly interesting or distinctive. Yes, there are bits of Branagh’s usual fits of bombastic theatricality — especially in Viktor, the film’s nationalistic Russian antagonist (fittingly played by Branagh himself). But it’s certainly not enough to make the film truly personal, since the rest is just your general fast-paced spy nonsense mixed in with enough goofy action to keep things interesting. Jack Ryan is not especially memorable — doing the bare minimum to be a good piece of entertainment and little more.
While it may seem like I’m piling on Branagh, a bit of the blame should also go to Chris Pine. Pine, who plays Ryan with thankfully less smarm than his usual roles, is simply a nonentity. He is more famous for being in a couple Star Trek movies (in a role, mind you, made iconic by another actor decades ago) than for being Chris Pine, the actor. He’s serviceable (if not a bit far-fetched) as the resident spy/math genius/superhero, but he has negative on-screen charisma, leaving little to root for. Once again, he’s playing a character established in the past by other actors. The film’s plot is equally redundant. Ryan must stop a Russian plot to sink America into another Great Depression. Nothing seems really at stake here, and there isn’t much to get excited about. Even so, the movie remains imminently watchable.
Jack Ryan just isn’t fun enough. When we get to the film’s fairly absurd climax — complete with Chekhov’s motorcycle — there’s finally some flippancy and excitement, but it’s too little and obviously too late. Really, the only interesting aspects of the film are contextual. Jack Ryan has been set up as the anti-Bond — a man who desperately wants to keep his monogamous relationship intact and lugs around heavy guilt from killing one man. (This is an especially prescient idea given that someone counted the 350 people James Bond has murdered in movies.) While all of this is theoretically fine, it makes for a character (with, again, no help from Pine) who’s a bit on the dull side. Despite its flaws, the film manages to be both stylish and engaging (it moves quickly and looks handsome), which is worth noting, especially amongst the rest of January’s lousy releases. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language.
Playing at Carmike 10, Regal Biltmore Grande.