Imagine if Captain Kirk starred in Casino Royale and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
The new spy caper is a prequel to the Jack Ryan novels by Tom Clancy, taking place before the titular secret agent has become a seasoned CIA agent. In this early point in his career, Ryan (played by Chris Pine) is tasked with thwarting the machinations of a Russian scientist who intends to destroy the Western world by starting the second Great Depression.
Pine, fresh off his leading role in Star Trek, would seem to be the perfect candidate to star in another action movie reboot. He’s a decent actor, but the script doesn’t give his character a whole lot of depth. Aside from the bad-boy charm and sapphire eyes provided by his portrayer, there isn’t anything that makes Jack Ryan an interesting character. That might have been forgivable if Ryan’s opponent was a compelling threat, but that’s not the case either. As the evil Russian scientist, Kenneth Branagh (who also directed) adopts an expressionless face that’s meant to look like stoicism but comes across as boredom.
Ryan also has a wife, played by Keira Knightley, whose only role in the story is to pout about how demanding her husband’s job is when she’s not in need of rescuing. As a couple, Pine and Knightley have the kind of staggering good looks only Hollywood can muster up, but the chemistry between them is weak. Their arguments make for tedious melodrama.
Normally, disappointing action movies are leaden with either a screenplay that’s too vapid or one that’s too complicated and confusing. Screenwriter David Koepp has managed to make Jack Ryan both. The plot relies heavily on the audience’s understanding of global economics, a topic too dull to base an action movie around (at least, in this iteration). At the same time, the story is so leaden with clichés that you see every plot point coming a mile away.
All of which would be fine if the film was exciting entertainment. But Jack Ryan – both the character and the movie – simply aren’t much fun. The occasional attempts at humor fall flat, as do the moments of faux tension and suspense. The action sequences are also utterly predictable, although they do marginally improve as the film goes on. So while there’s some reward for staying until the end of the movie, the greater reward lies in not seeing Jack Ryan at all.