by Adam Riske
Before continuing, it would probably make sense to give you an idea of my Jack Ryan fan resume. I have a certain amount of affection for the franchise, predicated mostly on nostalgia. I liken my enjoyment of The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger to that of Bruce Springsteen music: half of the reason I enjoy it is because it’s good and half because it’s something my dad likes.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit comes 12 years after the last refresh, 2002’s underrated The Sum of All Fears, and the spy movie has changed quite a bit since that time. In fact, it was a movie that came out just two weeks after The Sum of All Fears that changed the game for the genre: The Bourne Identity. I was worried that Shadow Recruit was going to be aping the Bourne series or the Daniel Craig Bond movies, and it totally does. Oddly enough, that copying improves Shadow Recruit more than detracts from it. In some ways, I liked what Shadow Recruit did even more so than the Bourne series. This movie feels relatively unfussy. The Bourne series always bothered me because it is so up its own ass, with way too much control room nonsense and ridiculous jargon. Shadow Recruit has none of that. Also, Jack Ryan (played this time by Chris Pine) is not some tortured soul like Bond; while it works for that series (and an actor like Daniel Craig), it would be all wrong for Jack Ryan. It's refreshing to see a spy franchise rebooted without all of the psychological baggage. Shadow Recruit also gets rid of many of the more tedious elements of the previous adventures featuring Tom Clancy’s hero. Those movies always felt flabby, with extraneous scenes adding 20 minutes of screen time and resulting in a sluggish pace for a thriller.
This allows the rest of Shadow Recruit’s runtime to be a Mission: Impossible movie of sorts, where we’re thrown headfirst into a mission that moves briskly to its climax. Major portions of the movie take place in Moscow, and I can imagine this being a much worse movie if it were made pre-Bourne. It would waste a half hour on scenes of soldiers in furry hats drinking vodka and talking about Mother Russia and I’m sure there would be a subplot involving Rade Serbedzija because he was in every one of these movies back then. It’s so fantastic that Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit doesn’t have time for any of that bullshit.
Thor, he doesn’t have much flair or personal style when it comes to shooting action. It’s all pretty generic. The plot is relatively uninteresting -- just the same semi-confusing, semi-stupid economic terrorism bullcrap we’ve seen in dozens of other geo-thrillers. The photography is really disappointing. I can imagine a version of this movie that is beautifully shot (think Skyfall), but it resembles a Universal Pictures movie from 1997. The score is also about as generic as it gets for this type of movie. These quibbles add up, but in the end don't matter enough to make me not recommend the movie.
All in all, there’s plenty to like in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. The characters are interesting, the performances are strong and it’s a good time at the movies. I don’t think it's bringing anything new to the spy genre or saying anything worthwhile about the world in 2014, but it’s well-made Hollywood product that works where it needs to work. I hope to see this crew back for another Jack Ryan entry in a couple of years. For a reboot of a long-dormant franchise, that’s about the best compliment you can give.