January is my least favourite month for new movies. By this time of year, Hollywood studios are focusing much of their attention on the Sundance Film Festival, looking to acquire hidden gems, potential blockbusters and, and marvelous new indies. These films are generally purchased for next to nothing, and then marketed and released throughout the summer and fall months with the hope that they might land a huge profit. With that being said, while Hollywood runs around securing their paychecks for the upcoming year, the rest of their unwanted, formulaic, and cliched roster is leftover for audiences in January. Now let me be the first to tell you, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is no exception to this formula. Using the star-power of Chris Pine’s Stark Trek franchise charm, to faded out female leads like Kiera Knightley, and ex-Marvel super director Kenneth Branagh (Thor), Ryan becomes a shady, old, and tiresome relic of the glorified days of the once cool Tom Clancy character.
This was one film project we wish stayed in the deep dark corners of Hollywood’s unproduced films, but like much of the industry’s obsession with rehashing established characters and modernizing them for current audiences, the film is a complete decomposed mush of ideas. Shadow Recruit is an overly-flashy, glossed over disaster. Failing to recruit any kind of originality in it’s storytelling and script, it becomes a non-operational feature with actors who are clearly cashing in to a well established iconic Hollywood character.
The Jack Ryan character, made famous previously by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October, Harrison Ford in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger and Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears came out well before all the Ethan Hunt’s and Jason Bourne’s of its time. What differentiated Ryan from all the super-human covert agents, was his ability to be the closest thing to an average, everyday superhero. Mind you, in his newest entry in the film world, Ryan seems to have his fare share of dumb luck a lot of the time–all the time actually.
The film was supposed to be released on Christmas Day 2013, instead, due to an overcrowded array of blockbusters and late-entry Oscar caliber films, Shadow Recruit opted for an early 2014 slot where it seems to fit in much better.
Pine plays Jack Ryan, who we first see attending the London School of Economics in England. After a fateful September day in New York City (I’m sure you can guess which day I’m referring to, especially since all terrorist inspired spy-plots these days revolve around, if not hint at this historic day), Ryan pursues a career as a United States Marine. Wounded in action, Ryan oddly gains the attention of CIA agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). Ryan’s intellectual expertise and Marine instincts, along with Harper’s experience in the agency, the two team up to bring down an elaborate economic scheme that will leave the United States in a Second Great Depression. Plunged into the world of Wall Street as an analyst, Ryan unnoticeably navigates the corrupt underworld of financial markets, which inevitably leads him on a place to Russia and face-to-face with Victor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh). Between navigating the Russian crime world, a life of espionage and the annoying and overbearing requests of his girlfriend Kathy Muller (Knightley), Jack is tested physically and mentally as he is left with the fate of the US economy resting on his shoulders.
Throughout the course of his mission, time and again Ryan begin to lose faith in his ability to come through a hero, and frankly so do we. The blame can’t all be put on Pine, who really does his best with material that seems D.O.A once it hits the screen. Unfortunately, Ryan doesn’t actually accept his mission and take on the bad guys until his female love interest is put in the mix and inevitably endangered, which let’s be honest, makes for a cowardly and unmotivated super-spy.
The film tries its best to round out a cast that is engaging, meticulous and somewhat ironic to the overall Jack Ryan canon. Costner, who mentors Pine as the current Ryan, was first offered the role of Ryan back the late 80’s, but declined to star in Dances With Wolves, which earned him two Oscars. Knightley, who seems to be floating under the radar rather than on the it these days, clearly took the role to get her face back in the mainstream spotlight, especially since her descent into independent feature film fame has not planned out as well as she would have liked since her blockbuster days in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Branagh, who couldn’t resist adding another cultural character reference to his filmography, offers a typical Russian villain with a laughable accent and unintentionally uproarious one-liners. Either way you look at it, from the lazy one-sheet with the exhausted catch-phrase “Trust No One”, to the overused black/orange colour scheme on the theatrical poster, Shadow Recruit doesn’t seem to have much faith in itself, much like the character Pine plays.
The studios behind the newest Jack Ryan blunder will surely feel their lackluster and half-ass effort at the box office. Red October, which only cost an estimated $30 million dollars to make in the late 80’s brought a return of $200, while Ford’s portrayal of Ryan cost $45 and $62 million respectively in the 90’s, while bringing in $175 and $215 million each feature. Affleck’s effort as the famed CIA analyst cost the most to make, with $68 million, brought in $193 worldwide. While Shadow Recruit cost an estimated $60 million dollars, and its budget will slowly be recouped, the large margin of profit will surely be smaller than the earlier entries associated with Ryan’s name. More than anything, this was the first film release of Clancy‘s work following his death, and rather than being an honourable take on the Ryan character, especially since the film doesn’t follow any straight narrative Clancy wrote and just uses Clancy‘s character, the film serves as a reminder to the massive potential the Ryan character has, but also the massive shoes future Clancy film enthusiasts have to fill.
Night Film Reviews: 2/10 Stars.
Is Shadow Recruit a film best left in the shadows or a January action gem? Does Pine deliver and revive the infamous Clancy character as Ford did, or more like Affleck? Leave your comments and thoughts below!