PG-13 mainly for action violence. Analysts really know how to deal damage sometimes. They use guns. Oh, also, he was a marine. I suppose that explains some of the violence. There's a little bit of war violence and gore. Also, Jack apparently isn't waiting for marriage because we see him in bed with his girlfriend. It's overall pretty tame. It's definitely one of the lighter PG-13 Jack Ryan films that I've seen.
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh
When the John Krasinski Amazon show was on its way, Bob and I played around with the idea of watching the Jack Ryan films for the podcast. All of them were on some streaming service and I thought that I could knock them out. The only one that wasn't on a streaming service was Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. When I saw it at Half-Price books for under $5.00, I rushed to go watch The Hunt for the Red October. The thing is...stuff doesn't stay on streaming for long. All of the Jack Ryan films had disappeared from streaming services and I was stuck with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit for my collection. It's been sitting on my coffee table until I got my other movies. Well, when my father-in-law says that he wants to watch something in the garage (I have a theater in there), guess what popped back on my radar.
I don't know who this movie was made for. I think this movie wanted to be a bit of everything and kind of loses the tone of what a Jack Ryan film should be. I guess when Chris Pine reboots Star Trek, companies think that he can reboot anything. Jack Ryan is such a weird property. I know that this is far and away a generalization that I actually happen to disprove, but Jack Ryan and the Tom Clancy properties is something for the Boomer generation. I know. It's flippant. It's like me throwing around the word "millennial". Yeah, the Amazon show was good. But that Amazon show was good because it marketed on John Krasinski and the obsession with binge-worthy television. Honestly, I kind of feel like the TV show was filling the gap that 24 and Homeland left behind more than it did for a need to revive the Jack Ryan franchise. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit feels kind of corporate and soulless all around. Does this mean that I didn't have fun with it? No, I had a decently good time. It's a functional movie. But having "Jack Ryan" in the title is a desperate attempt. I don't know who owns the rights to Jack Ryan at this point. I could look it up, but I'm going to pretend that it is Paramount. Is there still a Paramount? (Okay, it's a subsidiary of Viacom.) There are two really impressive Jack Ryan related properties: The Hunt for the Red October and Clear and Present Danger. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit doesn't really feel like either of these properties. I don't know what it is. I think part of it comes from Chris Pine's age. I know. It's an origin story. But what made Jack Ryan appealing when Harrison Ford was playing him was a middle aged guy having to fight his way out of situations. There's something almost generic about Chris Pine doing it. Honestly, you could name Chris Pine's character anything and the movie would almost work. There are some landmarks that the movie hits that line up with Jack Ryan. He's an analyst. He's a former marine. He doesn't want to be involved with something over his head. Okay, that's fine. But really, the fundamental thing that draws us into the older Jack Ryan stuff is that he's a stuff shirt. He's a desk jockey who can't imagine getting into fights. It's his patriotism and his military training that drags him out into these situations.
But then I have to look at the film as a whole. As much as I whine about Jack Ryan not being the Jack Ryan of old, Chris Pine is at least compelling. Like his Kirk interpretation, I don't think he's really channelling anything that previous Jack Ryans have done. He's just a guy who makes an interesting action hero. I would never call the Jack Ryan movies "Smart action movies", but they are far smarter than the traditional stuff we get. Jack's main skill is that he thinks strategically and with the big picture. I mean, often, this leaves sections of the movie kind of shop-talky. I can't stand too much shop-talk / jargon in a film. Honestly, there are sections where Jack Ryan stares at screens and measures the market to predict a terrorist attack. That's fine. I think a little bit of that can go a long way. But also realize...I wanted to like this movie. I own it. I had a bunch of people in a room who were enjoying the film. I desperately almost needed to like it. Can I see someone who stumbled into the latest Chris Pine action movie and had to sit through a guy looking at market trends loving this movie? Probably not. But then there's the other end of the scale. The action is pretty darned fun. But this all ties into a story that hides behind its complexities. Kenneth Branagh directed this. I don't think he's a particularly impressive director. He did the first Thor movie and he's fairly functional, considering that he's a pretty respected actor. (By the way, my wife recognized Kenneth Branagh from behind. Just his dyed hair. I thought it might have been Tom Hiddleston.) I know that Branagh didn't write the script. It's not his fault that a lot of this movie is undercooked. But the villain that Branagh plays is boring. He's straight up archetype boring. This might also tie into the fact that Jack Ryan might work better as a TV show. Like many origin stories, a lot of the weight is thrown upon developing the protagonist. I always say (ALWAYS! It's getting annoying!) that you shouldn't be throwing your big bad into an origin movie. You should be saving those characters for future installments. Jack Ryan doesn't really have a big bad. That's why terrorist organizations make a lot of sense in these movies. We understand that terrorists are bad and there's no reason to build it beyond that point. But I don't really get the motivation of Branagh's Cherevin. He's Russian and hates America. He's dying and his son somehow was a casualty of America. But he's such a background character in this movie. There's no real threat to Ryan. The terrorist thing probably would have worked way better. We can take shortcuts narratively when it is extremism. When it is someone with a grudge, I feel like that grudge should be fleshed out.
My wife often comments how she doesn't like a lot of actresses. I don't get it. Keira Knightley seemed to irk everyone in the room. While it's not my favorite part of hers (and she should have maintained her British accent, because that's reasonable for the character), she does a fine job. I don't really put the weight on Knightley's shoulders. Her character, while in real life would be considered sympathetic, has all of these highs and lows that make her a little much to deal with. In movies like this, and I guess I'll use True Lies as an example, the protagonist who is keeping the secret has our sympathies. We understand why he has to lie. It's perhaps a bit backwards and maybe slightly sexist to have this attitude, but we enter the movie on his side. He can't share this secret. It is outside of his control. (BTW, if my wife was in the CIA, I would lose it.) When she finds out the truth, she embraces him and thanks God. This might be my favorite reveal moment in film. That's not a high bar, but I found it a refreshing change-up from the disbelief we typically get. But the next shot shows them full on in an argument about these kinds of things. Part of it was a show for the driver, but the character honestly believed what she was saying. Movies tend to do this. They want the joke and the emotional fallout. That's not really fair for the audience and it makes the character look terrible. That scene, of her accepting the truth with the first moment, was so refreshing. But then we get this betrayal of the character. Do people process things slowly? Yeah, okay. But we never had that moment where we got to enjoy the two of them working together on this. They had to literally work together, but they were on separate pages about how to handle it. I mean, it worked because it paralleled Ryan's character choices. Ryan was posing as a drunk belligerent jerk and Cathy played along. But I would have loved to see the scene where they planned that out together. In True Lies, they had to work up to a place of trust. Shadow Recruit just had them trusting each other but playing like they hate each other. It's such a wasted situation.
Another wasted situation was Kevin Costner's Thomas Harper. I tend to dislike Costner. He's okay in a lot of things. But the things that he stinks in, he really stinks in. He does fine in this. But a lot of that comes from the fact that Harper isn't exactly a great character. Okay, I called it from the beginning that he'd betray Jack and he never did. Does it feel like sour grapes? Kind of. But that is because Harper doesn't really serve much of a role outside of a distant mentor. He's not Obi-Wan Kenobi. He's not a father figure. (Thank God, after Man of Steel.) It's just this big casting choice that ultimately leads nowhere. He's supposed to be something fantastic and he's just kind of a guy. He's not a great CIA spook. In fact, it's really weird that Harper has to meet him in Russia. The original plan did not account for the fact that Jack Ryan had to do some thievery. It actually would make a lot of sense to communicate Jack's findings in the States and then to come up with a plan. I know it was for the sake of storytelling. We couldn't have gotten that rad fight in the hotel room had it not been for this logical leap. (By the way, the wet caulk was a nice touch. We never really see that.) It's just why do this stunt casting if that part ultimately doesn't matter? That's what a lot of what is going on. There aren't any major major risks to the storytelling here. It's a safe film overall that really wanted to reignite a dead property. It does a mediocre job and the movie is very watchable. But do we really grow from watching something like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit? No. There's a bunch of spy movies and Tom Clancy-esque things out there. Shadow Recruit doesn't really add much to anything.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.