Starring: Chris Pine (Star Trek Into Darkness), Kevin Costner (Man of Steel), Kenneth Branagh (Valkyrie), Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Carribean)
Director: Kenneth Branagh (Thor)
Writer: Adam Cozad and David Koepp (Spider-Man)
Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes
Release Date: 17 January (US), 24 January (UK)
Hollywood certainly has an obsession with branding these days and, whilst it is starting to get annoying, I get why they’re doing it. Studios want to make films with preset fanbases so they don’t have to spend valuable marketing money telling you who someone is. I’m not too familiar with the character of Jack Ryan (I’ve seen The Hunt for Red October and nothing else), but from that little experience I can say that Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit does seem like an example of this trend: stamping a recognisable name on an otherwise basic genre flick in the hopes of attracting a bit more attention. And considering this was based on a script that originally had nothing to do with the late Tom Clancy’s work, that assessment comes fairly close.
Shadow Recruit isn’t based on any of the Jack Ryan novels, instead acting as a Casino Royale-style origin story for the character. The casting of Chris Pine alone should tell you this is a modern update with no connections to the efforts of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford or Ben Affleck. The attempts at modernisation seem somewhat trite; the film opens on Ryan as a college student watching 9/11 on the news, and this is what inspires him on his path that leads him to becoming a CIA agent. What should come off as character development and motivation just seems laughably jingoistic. When the film finally gets to the main plot, it’s pretty disappointing. I know at this point doing the whole “take over the world” plan is cliché, but seriously? Playing with stocks? That’s your big evil scheme? I know that it’s going to lead to riots and economic collapse, but on paper it doesn’t sound that threatening. And from there we get your standard brawls, car chases, staring at screens intently whilst waiting for stuff to download, etcetera. There’s some interesting moments, like when Ryan and Cathy (Knightley) have to act like a troubled couple in order to distract Cheverin (Branagh), but for the most part it’s pretty paint-by-numbers.
Pine is a perfectly fine actor; he’s hasn’t done anything that really wows me, but I’ve yet to see him be terrible. And here…he’s OK. He does what the script says believably, and near the end he does show more signs of intelligence that remind me of Baldwin’s portrayal of the character, but for the most part he’s your standard hero. The rest of the main cast is impressive and provide serviceable work, but the main problem I found is that none of them had particularly great chemistry with Pine. Costner is your typical no-nonsense handler who occasionally gets in on the action, but the attempts to create a connection between him and Pine fall flat. Branagh seems to be more playing a villain out of a James Bond or Die Hard flick, and whilst he does that well, him and Pine’s few moments of “witty banter” are lifeless. Keira Knightley, struggling through her role with an off-puttingly fake American accent, gets the closest to connecting with Pine but I feel it was the script that was failing them more than their acting skills.
When it comes to this sort of picture, you’ve got to at least nail the action scenes and provide at least one setpiece moment. Unfortunately, Shadow Recruit really fumbles the ball here. Not only are all the action scenes pretty standard, the poor cinematography and editing ruin what remains. How many times do we have to say this before filmmakers get it? Shooting action scenes really close up and then over-editing them into frames of WTF doesn’t make your action scene intense, it just makes it incoherent; not every filmmaker can be Paul Greengrass. A particularly egregious example of this comes early on in a helicopter crash that is so choppy that I swear you could add random irrelevant images in between the frames and it would make about as much sense. It’s not quite Armageddon bad, but it comes close. Branagh has proved he can handle action reasonably well enough with the first Thor movie, so why he went for this overused, incoherent style is baffling.
I wouldn’t call Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit a bad film. It’s just not special in any way. The story isn’t that engaging, the characters underdeveloped, the action scenes muddled. It all feels less like a film and more like a product; a generic store-brand version of a movie you can get for much better quality if you look a bit harder. It isn’t annoying or terrible or even insulting. It’s just bland, bland, bland.
FINAL VERDICT: 5/10