Forget James Bond and Ethan Hunt, Jack Ryan is the new face of Hollywood blockbuster action.
Even though film icons Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck have all played the fictional agent from the classic Tom Clancy novels in the past, it is Chris Pine (Star Trek) that shines in the role this time around. The actor best known from the JJ Abrams Star Trek franchise shows that he can do much more than fight aliens. He delivers a powerhouse performance that will surely blow the box office doors wide open in this otherwise docile month of January.
Taking place inside the world of high finance, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is at once an origin story, revenge film, and gripping thrill ride. Directed by Kenneth Branagh (Thor), who also plays the picture’s menacing Russian villain, and written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp, the filmmakers waste little screen time with unnecessary exposition. All in the first few minutes, Ryan goes from being a PHD student at The London School of Economics, to a commander in the US Marines, to a CIA special agent working undercover in Wall Street. While all seemingly unrelated, Branagh is able to pick just the right moments in Jack Ryan’s life to feature in order to keep the pace of his film flowing. He even gives enough time to develop a thoroughly enjoyable love side plot with the always charming Keira Knightly. She does drop her native British accent and adopts an ugly American accent for the role, but this unfortunate decision can be forgiven.
Unlike most action heroes, Ryan isn’t refined in the act of killing when we first meet the character. After being vetted by a higher up at the CIA, played by Kevin Costner, the recruit is completely out of his element when he first arrives in Moscow with the orders to investigate an impending disaster that could potentially lead to America’s second Great Depression. This concept isn’t lost on Branagh. While there are plenty of sleek car chases and stunts, Ryan’s hand to hand combat skills are incredibly gritty. He doesn’t just whip out a gun, spew a witty catch phrase, and go drink a martini afterwards. No, Pine’s vision of the ‘shadow recruit’ is much more wide eyed. He visibly shakes with nerves and fright with every takedown, but as his military training kicks back in, he soon finds himself well adept at this dangerous line of work.
It is during this transformation that Pine solidifies himself as a capable leading man for another big budget action franchise. While not exactly cocky like his Captain Kirk role in the Star Trek films, Pine gives a performance as Jack Ryan that is much more along the lines of a blue eyed “boy scout on a field trip” as Costner’s character puts it best. Between high speed motorcycle chases through downtown Manhattan to a gripping high tech security breach in Moscow, there are plenty of dazzling scenes to smile in awe over. Even better, in a world teeming with 3D, there are thankfully no uncomfortable glasses necessary to view this picture. And there are no expensive ticket prices to go along with them either!
Branagh and his creative team clearly focus a lot of attention on developing their protagonist. I mean, they even find a way to incorporate his name into the title of the film. In doing so, however, a few of the film’s co-stars become lost in the process. Kevin Costner’s Thomas Harper is probably the least fleshed out. Popping up whenever convenient, and then fading away just as fast, Branagh could have definitely used Costner’s abilities much more effectively. If there are any future iterations of the franchise, hopefully the audience gets to know Harper’s backstory a little bit better.
Costner’s role, or lack there of for that matter, isn’t the only sour note in “Jack Ryan.” Branagh’s own Viktor Cherevin character is equally as bare bones. Apart from a thrown together origin story involving a miss thrown frag grenade, Cherevin is never given a plausible reason for wanting to sacrifice his life and destroy America.
Despite its fair share of flaws, “Jack Ryan” is nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable international action picture. Even though the audience has seen the character before in films like “The Hunt For Red October” and “The Sum Of All Fears,” there is something refreshing about seeing a fresh actor tackling a project with as big of a budget as this one. I’m already looking forward to the sequel.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language
By David Morris