‘Shadow Recruit’ as solid, strong as its hero

January 26, 2014
Chris Pine in Paramount Pictures' "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"

In this, the fifth attempt to cement Jack Ryan as an ongoing bankable box office hero (following Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck), Chris Pine attempts to take Tom Clancy’s Cold War-era operative into a new century.

The writers start from scratch, citing the World Trade Center attack as a motivation for his impetus into action. From there, he ditches his economics doctoral degree for a stint in Afghanistan, a tour- (and almost life-) ending injury, and a meeting with CIA agent Thomas Harper (played by Kevin Costner). Harper wants to use Ryan’s skills with both stocks and bombs - he wants him to work undercover as a Wall Street broker, gain insights on some sketchy overseas activity, and perhaps be the man who personally investigates matters.

It just so happens that a chunk of change is heading to a Russian oligarch by the name of Viktor Cherevin (played by Kenneth Branagh, who also serves as the film’s director). He’s a man whose achilles heels are made evident early on, but it makes him no less threatening of a boogeyman. When Jack heads over to “investigate” a number of unidentified money transfers, Cherevin’s every move is plotted with chess-like precision.

“Shadow Recruit” is indeed a “reset” button for the franchise (though judging by opening weekend numbers, it remains to be seen just what legs the series will have), but instead of feeling like a cash-grab by a studio whose character rights are about to expire (why, hello there, “Spider-Man!”), “Shadow Recruit” seems interested in the character, his motivations and providing us with a side we have yet to see.

Pine, who had some rather large military-issued loafers to fill, may seem on the softer side of a beloved hard-heeled character who would eventually go on to be the president of the United States, but I recall having similar doubts of accepting Matt Damon as an action star as well. Having demonstrated he can lead a franchise already (“Star Trek”), Pine may be just right for the actor at this stage of Ryan’s life. He balances the boyish vulnerabilities with the adult physicality when needed.

I can only hope they cast Keira Knightley as love interest Dr. Cath Muller because they aimed to give her more to do in future installments, because, honestly, there’s not an actress working today who could not have stepped into the rather thankless role. To have someone with Knightley’s strength as an actress seems like the film’s biggest missed opportunity.

It is good to see Costner back in the saddle again and enjoying the ride. He is easily believable as Ryan’s guiding force, moral compass and literal voice in his ear during operations.

It’s Branagh who perhaps deserves the most credit here, as the classically trained actor-director added an element of prestige to the espionage genre as he did with comics in his superior adaptation of “Thor” to film, and does so with a much-needed efficiency.

There’s not a thing new that “Shadow Recruit” brings to (or under) the table, and it does not bring the urgency of the “Bourne” series, but it covers its ground in a manner that is both exciting and believable, and a marked improvement over the last entry, “Sum of All Fears.”

“Shadow Recruit” is as solid and strong as its hero, and is deserved on a promotion in rank.