Jack Ryan is back, sort of.
With "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," Chris Pine becomes the fourth actor to portray author Tom Clancy's intrepid hero, and the first since Ben Affleck's failed attempt to re-boot the franchise back in 2002.
The result? Not too bad. Not perfect, but plenty of fun.
Just as in Affleck's "Sum of All Fears," "Shadow Recruit" offers audiences more of an origin story for the Ryan character, tracking clear back to the moment he joined the Marines before finishing his doctorate. Instead of sticking with the chronology of Clancy's books, Ryan's tale is transposed to a modern setting: he joins the Marines in the wake of 9/11, is injured in Afghanistan and is subsequently recruited into the CIA by a mysterious character named Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). Along the way, he begins a relationship with a med student named Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), who eventually becomes his wife.
Fast forward to 2014 where "Shadow Recruit's" core narrative is ready to begin. Ryan has been undercover on Wall Street for 10 years, and has uncovered some curious account transactions with a Russian partner that suggest evil doings. He is sent to Moscow to learn more, and makes it no farther than his hotel room before his escort tries to assassinate him.
Before long, Harper is in town to provide damage control, Muller is in town to save their relationship (she's still unaware of his true job), and in the middle of it all, a Russian agent named Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) is plotting a terrorist attack on American soil.
It's all very suspenseful stuff, and it gives you the idea that the Jack Ryan franchise may have legs once again. But it has a very different tone from those early Clancy films, and only partially because we're dealing with a 30-year-old protagonist instead of a 50-year-old. For one thing, this is the first film in the series that isn't an adaptation of a specific Clancy novel. “Shadow Recruit” weaves Ryan's literary backstory to original plot material from screenwriters Adam Cozen and David Koepp.
More importantly, the tone of Ryan's character has shifted. Even before Harrison Ford was playing him, Ryan was the CIA’s answer to Indiana Jones: a man out of his element but just sharp enough to squeeze out of imposing odds. But once "Shadow Recruit" gets going, Pine's Ryan starts to feel a lot more like Jason Bourne than G-Man Indy. For its first two-thirds, "Shadow Recruit" plays like a suspenseful spy thriller, but Branagh (who also directs) shifts the third act into action-packed overdrive and asks the audience to overlook quite a bit.
Which is all just a nice way of saying that "Shadow Recruit" is a lot of fun, but a bit dumber than your classic Clancy movie.
Pine's Ryan may make fans long for Ford (or even late-'80s Alec Baldwin, whose "Hunt for Red October" may still be the best Clancy film of the bunch), but he does a solid job, as does Knightley. Costner also puts in some good reps, though he lacks the mentor figure charisma that James Earl Jones provided for Baldwin and Ford years ago. Branagh isn't about to make anyone’s list of all-time baddies, but he makes the best of what he has.
All told, it’s good to see Ryan back on a movie screen, and putting the Russians back in the bad-guy seat has a way of bringing the franchise full circle, even if it isn’t the most diplomatic of options.
“Shadow Recruit” may not quite be up to the level of the older Clancy entries (and due to the author's death last year, we won't be getting any new source novels), but it is a fun ride. And best of all, it's not even in 3-D.
"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is rated PG-13 for some mild sexuality and sporadic profanity (including a single use of the F-word), along with a heavy dose of sometimes brutal action violence. "Shadow Recruit" is not gory or gratuitous, but its violence is not for the faint of heart.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.