If James Bond has taught us anything about spy movies is that they can be more than typical blockbuster action films with some run and gun mission. They can be smart, too, with the addition of real world problems whether it’s drugs, gangs, terrorists, or even political conflicts.
Not every Bond thriller hit the mark of something that was so smart it should be applied to our government, but it was certainly interesting to see how something this built up and serious would play out given the intelligence of agents. The problem here is that there aren’t a lot of other spy movies besides the 007 franchise or Mission Impossible series that I can count up as something stimulating and exciting.
Take Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for example. It was based on real life conspiracies within British Intelligence about moles that were actually working for the Soviet Union. Now this is something that could have been interesting, but the problem here was that the movie played out too real. The final result was boring with too many spies looking similar with spy stuff that felt too familiar. So let’s see if Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit can finally add on another memorable intelligence/adrenaline rush that’s not 007 related.
A college student studying economics, Jack Ryan (played by Chris Pine), is affected enough from 9/11 to alter his course to instead fight in the Marines. Jack barley survives a helicopter crash that puts him in a long rehab. Here is where he meets his future fiancée, Dr. Cathy Muller (played by Keira Knightly). He also meets Tom Harper (played by Kevin Costner), an official from the CIA who has been impressed by Jack’s skills at solving complex problems and recruits him to go undercover on Wall Street, using his skills to seek out terrorists.
Cut to 10 years later where he is still a compliance officer for a stock brokerage and is engaged to the girl of his dreams, yet she remains in the dark about his spy life.
Jack starts to notice that the markets are not matching up in numbers and that trillions of dollars from Russian businesses has fallen off the radar. Afraid that the U.S. might invoke a sudden move that could send them into another Great Depression, he sends himself to Moscow to meet the man controlling the funds, Viktor Cherverin (played by Kenneth Branagh). Jack finally finds himself as an active agent but his wife has also come along in an attempt to strengthen their relationship (still without a clue that her husband is in the CIA).
There have been several attempts to bring Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character to the big screen. So I have to tell all of you now that I haven’t seen any of them. But for my first film about him, it was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. The strength of the story here is the geopolitics between Russia and America.
It starts off slow, but breaks it down to a point that I went along easily with Jack Ryan to stop the villains.
Chris Pine makes for a good Jack Ryan. I doubt that he did as well as Harrison Ford, but he certainly has enough charisma to continue the franchise should this do well in theaters. Kenneth Branagh adds a lot of personality in a Russian villain that would normally come off as too stock. What’s strange though is that Branagh is known for making his movies feel large and grad like in Hamlet and Thor. I’m not seeing much of that here. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit really downplays itself for more of a hidden blockbuster within a political thriller. My only criticism here is that it moves a tad too slow for the first half hour.
I’ll give this four sets of Tom Clancy books out of five. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit certainly doesn’t add anything new to the spy franchise nor does the action feel large and grand, but I had fun. I would certainly be interested in keeping Chris Pine in the driver’s seat in the spy vehicle of Jack Ryan.
Robert T. Nickerson is a film critic. His work can be seen at mastermindfilmproductions.com.