Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Movie Review)

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Hat’s off to Kenneth Branagh for directing a modern spy movie that is intelligent as well as action packed.  Sadly, you did it 12 years after the Bourne Identity … which was better.  Jack Ryan: Shadow recruit is a fun reinvention of a great character.

Plot summary – Jack Ryan (well played by Chris Pine) is a young brainiac at the London School of Economics during the September 11 attacks.  Out of patriotic duty, he enlists in the Marines, gets injured on a mission, but still commits heroic acts while barely able to walk.  During recovery, the CIA recruits him to be an asset … on wall street.  Yes, America, our nation’s biggest heroes are actually among the 1%.  Jack uncovers a financial terrorism plot against America, and when he reports it – the agency sends him to Russia to investigate.  He fights for his life and the lives of those he loves in order to get back to the US and stop a terror attack.

The first act is devoted to building up the character of Jack Ryan – naive, idealistic, soft spoken, but incredible attention to everything going on around him.  You can’t escape comparing him to Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford’s versions of the same character – and he somehow combines the two.   And yes, I’m intentionally not mentioning Ben Affleck’s take on J.R.

Anyhow – we know what makes Ryan tick and we know what makes our main villain, (played by the director) tick.  I won’t spoil who the villain is or what he wants to do – but I will start to criticize where this is getting a little silly.  First of all, the enemy is Russia.  Come on, I know we don’t exactly like each other, but you might as well have made the enemy Cuba or another country that the US has documented beef with from 30 years ago.  Financial terrorism is so cutting edge, until this breaks down into a KGB-style plot in the present day.  I’m not even getting started on how a plot to take down the US financial system was being planned for 20 years but apparently only by one person in one branch of Russian government.  So a dozen (hundred?  thousand?) rogue operatives are all capable of taking down the US financial system?  We must me in worse shape than anyone thought …

I loved the character development, but it pretty much took over the first two acts at the expense of any action.  There is one great fight sequence in the second act but that’s it.  The best part of the first hour and a half is Kevin Costner’s character being the badass we are waiting Jack Ryan to turn into.  Act three makes up for it, with great sequences, car chases, and Jack Ryan finally becoming a larger than life hero, not just naive cog in the CIA machine. But no studio wants to hear, “well at least we nailed the ending.”

Branagh’s job was a to recreate the mythology and he did.  There are plenty of flaws, but if you like spy movies – and especially if you like Jack Ryan – you should give this a try.  It’s better than the last two Jack Ryan movies (Sum of All Fears, Clear and Present Danger) but not as good as the second (Patriot Games) and nowhere near the classic first (the Hunt for Red October).

… and all of the Bourne movies are better.

IMDB Rating:
6.5 out of 10

Rotten Tomatoes Rating:
56% of critics like it / 63% of audiences like it

This Groomsman’s Rating:
6 out of 10; better than average and worth seeing eventually