Jack Ryan has the distinct honor among cinematic spies of being…not that great. He’s been in more films than Jason Bourne and as many as Ethan Hunt (once Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation hits theaters next month), but after being shuffled from actor to actor over the course of the franchise the character has lost a ton of steam. Part of this is due to the caliber of actor (from Alec Baldwin to Harrison Ford [x2] to Ben Affleck to Chris Pine) and part of this is due to the fact that Ryan’s less “spy” and more “data analyst”. That’s not a cop-out, though: Jack Ryan is really just an analyst. It’s the increasing need to shove Ryan into spy territory that begs the comparison to other spies (‘magine dat), so by the time Shadow Recruit came out Jack Ryan wasn’t a mild-mannered systems professional but a sexy gun-wielding wannabe.
And hey: if you want us to make that comparison, Mr. Powers That Be, then with the ghost of Tom Clancy as our witness we’ll do so gleefully. Or not so gleefully, as it were, because no one’s having any fun at all with Shadow Recruit. Why should we? We established in our recent review of the fantastic Quiller Memorandum that a great spy movie doesn’t even need to have a spy as the main character, so forcing Ryan to be more badass than bookworm doesn’t do much for credibility in that arena. Spoon-feeding every plot point doesn’t help either, and again with Quiller the brilliance was in the sense that any John Doe walking across the screen could be a villain; the poster tagline for Shadow Recruit is a flaccidly unoriginal TRUST NO ONE…but then we get nineteen shots of the hotel maid looking suspicious, so it turns out we’re informed exactly who we should and should not trust.
So it is fair to compare Ryan to Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, George Smiley and James Bond because we’re essentially forced to compare them. That wasn’t the case when Baldwin wore Ryan’s shoes in The Hunt for Red October, or when Ford wore them in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger — that Ryan was comfortable just being Ryan the analyst, not Ryan the analyst-but-I-can-kick-ass. And hell, the surrender to that desire to raise Ryan from his paradoxical station of preeminent mediocrity by sexing up his sexiness certainly isn’t the most glaring offense by Modern Hollywood, but you’d need an actor that actually gives a shit to make it work.
Seriously, were there no production stills that at least made it appear as if Pine wanted to be there?
Pay attention, man! You are the main character of this movie.
Look at his fist — he’s about to clock the great Kenneth Branagh for daring suggest the rest of his body get on the same level of awesomeness that his hair has achieved (see beautiful, flowing image above). While there’s no argument that Branagh should have suggested something else entirely…
…he’s to bear part of the blame here, too, and for more than just casting. Why does Ryan only have leg damage when it’s convenient? Isn’t that a hamper when you’re, oh, I dunno, sprinting through Moscow? Why, when your beautiful girlfriend Keira Knightley is being threatened with a lightbulb that’s about to be smashed in her mouth (???) would you ram your car into the situation? Mightn’t that cause what you’re trying to prevent? And why, for the love of Clancy, is Kevin Costner in this movie? I don’t mean why is this actor in this movie — I mean why is this character in this movie? He’s about as necessary as M in your typical Bond outing, which is to say that he’s not very necessary. His job is exposition, and boy is he working overtime. In one scene of fabricated drama he yells “I need a cross-section of what’s under this building, and I need it now!” Okay, Kev, I’ll run and get the f*cking Cross-Section Guy straight away.
Branagh’s had a weird directing career anyway, and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is just one more misstep on that list. But that doesn’t matter, and classing it with other Branagh films or other Pine films or other spy films or even other Jack Ryan films doesn’t matter because Shadow Recruit is just straight-up colossally boring no matter which way you cut it. If the movie doesn’t matter to the people making the movie than it probably won’t matter to the people watching it.