Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley
Welcome to the Clancyverse 2.0, where a shadow war is fought between intelligence organisations to further geopolitical influence and to keep America safe. This is the world of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
Since he first appeared on the big screen in 1990s The Hunt For Red October, the character of Jack Ryan has been through four different incarnations over the course of five movies (Harrison Ford being the only to date to reprise the role). Shadow Recruit represents a substantial reboot for the Jack Ryan franchise, being the first property not actually based on an existing novel penned by Tom Clancy. As such it uses the opportunity to go back to the beginning and tell for all intents and purposes an origin story, tweaked a little from the original material to reflect the post 9/11 world.
After a brief prologue covering Jack Ryan’s (Chris Pine) inspiration and early career, we cut to Jack as an established intelligence officer (albeit early in his career) undercover in a bank to monitor the flow of finances to potential threats. What he uncovers is a plot by a former Russian military man turned business high flyer, Victor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), to bring America to its knees. Analyst Jack Ryan must race against time in the unfamiliar environment of Moscow to stop this dastardly plot.
Although this by no means hits the heady heights of The Hunt For Red October, there is a fair amount of fun to be had in this latest outing for Jack Ryan. Branagh, doing double duty as the villain of the piece and the director, manages to tick all the boxes here and brings you everything you could want in this sort of spy thriller. Car chases, elaborate break-ins, running through dimly lit streets, close quarter gunfights in bathrooms, unlikely hacking – all the regular genre tropes are on display here without feeling clichéd.
Chris Pine (Star Trek) is a good fit for Jack Ryan. Something about him seems perfectly suited to playing the all-American hero, and it is again on display here. He handles the demanding physical aspects of the role well in the choreographed fight scenes or action beats and even gets to play a bad boy in a bit of sparring against Branagh and Knightley as part of a ruse. Kevin Costner is once again in his comfort zone dispensing fatherly wisdom, although this time in the role of the mentor. Kenneth Branagh’s Victor Cherevin might possibly be the best Euro villain since Alan Rickman chewed scenery in Die Hard. It is an underplayed performance that brings the right combination of sympathy and menace to a monster straight from the Cold War.
As an example of its genre, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is remarkably competent without being pretentious. Entertaining and briskly paced, it should be able to breathe new life into a flagging franchise.