In a time when the only major espionage thrillers seem to have the words “Mission Impossible” attached to them, a familiar character from a seemingly forgotten franchise returns to save the day. Jack Ryan is a character that was made popular by recently deceased author Tom Clancy. Created during the Cold War, Jack Ryan was a sort of everyman with an extraordinary background who performed deeds of patriotic heroism primarily through use of his brains instead of brawn. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is in keeping with that tradition while updating the conflicts and the titular hero to fit into our post-9/11 world.
Speaking of 9/11, that’s where the movie begins. Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is just a guy studying economics in England when the towers are hit. He, like many of his contemporaries, is hit with the post-attack patriotic fervor and the next time we see him, he’s a Lieutenant in the Marines in a helicopter over Afghanistan in 2003. Like in his original origin story, the helicopter goes down and his survival leads him to Walter Reed where he learns to walk again with the help of lovely Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley). His stubbornness and intelligence is what puts him on the radar of CIA agent Tom Harper (Kevin Costner). Recruited into the CIA, Jack is instructed to finish his PhD because they’re going to send him into the field. . .of finance! His job? Follow the money in order to help prevent a future terrorist attack.
Meanwhile in Moscow, businessman Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) is chewing scenery and making plans for America’s downfall. As one does. I’m not going to give away his master plan, but it takes all of Jack Ryan’s considerable economic knowledge and quick thinking to save the day. That’s one of the things that is really awesome about this movie. Yes, there are action sequences where there are fights, but while those stop some of the more immediate danger, what ultimately saves the country is tenacity, problem solving, and putting the appropriate plot puzzle pieces in place. That’s what makes it easier for audiences to relate to a hero like Jack Ryan. After all, not every problem requires butt-kicking to solve it.
The movie is filled with all of the tropes one would expect from a modern spy thriller. There’s the sudden plot twist, the traditional damsel in distress, the occasional one-liner, and all kinds of spy shenanigans. Keira Knightley does a great job with an American accent in her role as the future Mrs. Ryan. While she is damseled (this is Hollywood, what do you expect?), that is not all she is in the movie and that’s certainly refreshing. I would also like to point out that I’m glad that the screenwriters decided to make the crux of the conflict in this movie a covert battle between America and Russia. It seemed the most appropriate antagonist for the rebooting of the Jack Ryan franchise considering his Cold War origins.
While waiting in line for the movie, I expressed the hope that Kenneth Branagh would chew a lot of scenery. I was not disappointed. Between him, Chris Pine, and Kevin Costner, I’m surprised any scenery survived. I quite enjoyed the movie, but I’ll have to confess to being a bit of an easy sell. After all, I wrote this review while wearing a t-shirt that referenced The Hunt for Red October. I saw it in IMAX, but I’m certain that the movie will look just as nice on a smaller screen. If you’re into spy movies and geopolitical thrillers, check this one out.