Posted October 22, 2013 by Timothy Monforton in Features

Trailer Trashin’: Tom Clancy’s Hero Returns to the Big Screen in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

We’re two-thirds of the way through October, and Gravity has just had its third straight week atop the box office, which I think qualifies it as succeeding beyond anyone’s expectations. In the meantime, this week’s installment of Trailer Trashin’ takes a look at this Christmas’ upcoming thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

Premise: Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), a young CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

My take: When I heard the news that author Tom Clancy had passed away at the beginning of October, I was greatly saddened. For more than a decade, I’ve been a big fan of Clancy’s books, and I still consider him among the highest echelon of thriller writers. But while I love his books, I’ve had a much more mixed relationship with the movies based on his Jack Ryan series. I absolutely love The Hunt for Red October (1990), but I kind of hated Patriot Games (1992). Clear and Present Danger (1994) didn’t do anything for me and I still haven’t seen The Sum of All Fears (2002). It seems that Clancy himself might have had similar feelings; a big part of why it’s taken eleven years to get another Jack Ryan film made is that the author had refused to give the screen rights for any more of his books to Paramount. However, the studio still has rights to the Jack Ryan character and a few others, and is able to create an original story using them. And that’s what we’re getting with the awkwardly-titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, a reboot of the film series which focuses on a younger Ryan early on in his career with the CIA. A new international trailer for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is now out, and while it doesn’t look terrible by any stretch, it also doesn’t look or feel like something that captures the spirit of Clancy’s work.

Jack Ryan: Shadow RecruitIt’s too bad that I feel so “meh” about the movie, because I really like the cast. Because of the issues regarding the screen rights to Clancy’s books, the only characters of his present here are Jack Ryan and his wife Cathy. Chris Pine is taking over the lead role of Jack Ryan, which has previously been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck. I know a lot of people like to bad-mouth Pine, mostly because of the rebooted Star Trek films, but I like him, and I encourage anyone who claims he “can’t act” to check him out in Smokin’ Aces (2006). I think, given the right take on the material, Pine could be a good younger Jack Ryan, but I don’t think the take we’re seeing here is that one. Keira Knightley plays Caroline “Cathy” Ryan, Jack’s wife, who has previously been played by Gates McFadden, Anne Archer, and Bridget Moynahan. This looks like the largest role Cathy has had in any of the Jack Ryan films, and I can believe Pine and Knightley as a couple, but her American accent sounded a little shaky to me in some of her lines here. In terms of the new characters created for this film, two of them have been featured so far. Kevin Costner plays William Harper, an older CIA officer and apparent mentor figure to Jack, who I feel safe in guessing, will either die or be revealed as being in league with the bad guys by the end of this film. Costner did a great job as Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel this summer, and I look forward to seeing what he does here. In addition to directing the film, Kenneth Branagh also plays the main villain, Russian industrialist Viktor Cherevin, and he looks like he’ll be a pretty menacing presence. I was actually surprised that Branagh seems to be underplaying things here, because he can certainly ham it up with the best of them, and his Russian accent sounds pretty solid to me.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Chris Pine in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”
© 2012 Paramount Pictures.

Watching this trailer, the main feeling I was left with was disappointment at how generic the whole endeavor feels. This trailer really feels in parts like Paramount just took a run-of-the-mill action-thriller and slapped the Jack Ryan name on it. Jack Ryan is not supposed to be an action hero like James Bond or Jason Bourne, he’s an intelligence analyst. His job is to sit at a desk, study intelligence and reports from field operatives, and make educated guesses and hypotheses based on what he learns. While Ryan in the books was (briefly) a U.S. Marine, that was long before he started his career at the CIA, and between the two, he had been a stockbroker and a history teacher. Yes, Ryan does end up getting pulled into dangerous situations in many of the books, but he’s almost never the first choice for those tasks, and both Jack and his superiors often have serious doubts about whether he has what it takes to get the job done. And I’m sorry, but having Cathy actually get roped into participating in Jack’s spy mission is the kind of half-baked idea I would expect to see in bad fan-fiction. The action we see here does look fairly cool, but it also doesn’t really look different from what we’ve seen in dozens of other films.

I really wish I didn’t feel so down on this movie. I’ve wanted a new Tom Clancy film for a long time, and I would be so happy if it looked like this film was going to be awesome. The cast is good, and Kenneth Branagh is certainly a good director, but the whole thing just feels paint-by-numbers and I don’t see any sign of the layers and complexity that we get in the best of Clancy’s work. I’ll be waiting to see how Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit turns out when it is released this Christmas, but at the moment, I’m not expecting much.

ANTICIPATION: I wish it had stayed in the shadows.

Release Date: December 25th, 2013

Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley, Colm Feore, and David Paymer
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Adam Cozad and David Koepp, based on characters created by Tom Clancy

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