Tom Clancy novels were all the rage in the ‘80s. With his meticulous attention to detail and his everyman hero, Jack Ryan, readers gobbled up his books, eventually leading to the first Ryan film, “The Hunt for Red October,” which personally is one of my favorite films of all time. After three actors and three sequels, the Cold War hero is back on the big screen in the reboot “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”
Much of Ryan’s (Chris Pine) back story remains the same. Though the setting has been updated to present day, he’s still a former Marine who’s forced to learn how to walk again after a helicopter crash, is recruited into the CIA as an analyst by Harper (Kevin Costner), and forced to lie to his fiancée (Keira Knightley) about his job. This time, he’s investigating financial firms, looking for money being used to fund terrorist organizations. He stumbles upon the Russian Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, pulling double-duty as villain and director), who’s been hoarding investments in the dollar. In case nobody knew bankers were the villain de rigeur, Cherevin’s company logo is almost exactly like Enron’s. After a coordinated attack on America, Cherevin plans to sell his investment, destroying the value of the dollar and plunging the U.S. into another Great Depression. All for Mother Russia, because apparently Cherevin holds a 20-plus year grudge.
The original Ryan films featured the character as more everyman than spy, someone who would stumble upon something and be thrown into an adventure he’s completely unprepared for. A little of that is in “Shadow Recruit,” but not really. For the most part, the old films were very much grounded in a reality, thanks to the details Clancy provided in his novels. This reboot is completely divorced from Clancy’s source material, and the lack of detail shows. In “Red October,” it took a few lines of dialogue to establish Ryan’s back story. In “Shadow Recruit,” it takes up the first 15 minutes of the film. With a run time of only 106 minutes, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for the actual plot.
Everything about “Jack Ryan” is fine. Pine is fine as the title character. Kevin Costner is fine as his shady mentor. Keira Knightley is fine as his fiancée. Kenneth Branagh is fine as both villain and director. The film itself is just…fine. There’s nothing especially wrong with the film, but it feels so slight. Nothing stands out. One scene is reminiscent of the opening scene in “Casino Royale,” but not as good. Other parts seem like the “Bourne” series, but not as good. What made the earlier films so great was not only the detailed technology nobody else really knew about, but that Ryan could easily be any one of us. A part of that every man familiarity is gone. Sure, the technology is remains, but after the Bourne and Bond films, it’s nothing new or groundbreaking. Instead, “Ryan” seems like it’s content to just be there.