Move over, James Bond. Go back to your mountain hideaway, Wolverine. Onscreen action hero Jack
Ryan has officially been initiated into the big boy’s action club, as his origin story has finally been turned into a feature film.
However, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is far less exciting than 2012’s 007 origin flick, “Skyfall,” but slightly better than 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” which in itself was universally panned by critics. Personally, I didn’t think the Wolverine movie was THAT bad, but it certainly wasn’t all that great either.
So, the legacy of Jack Ryan now exists somewhere between “Shaken, not stirred” and “SNIKT!” Basically, like “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” this means the newest entry into the franchise isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either.
Now that I’ve stated my position, I believe the biggest factor that will hurt this movie, right from its opening frames, is the unmistakable and unshakable feeling that you’ve somehow, someway, seen all of this before in other, more memorable films. In all honesty, there is no new ground that is being broken during this movie.
In addition to borrowing from countless action films (“The Bourne Identity” and the “Mission: Impossible” franchises immediately come to mind), it also fails to bring anything new to the table. I mean, I admit that action films aren’t exactly my idea of an exciting night at the movies and I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority when I say this. That being said, I can tell the difference between an action flick that has an original storyline, innovative stunt work, breathtaking set pieces/ special effects, a brash, yet roguish hero, and an unbelievable bastard of a bad guy AND an action flick that has done its best to create a fancy illusion that makes it seem like it possesses all (or any) of the traits I’ve just listed.
I’m sorry to say that “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” employs the use of a LOT of smoke and mirrors.
Even Chris Pine, who was so brilliant as the younger version of Captain James T. Kirk in J.J. Abrams’
recent “Star Trek” reboots, looks like he’s out of his element. You’re out of element, Pine-y! As comfortable as Pine looked in the Captain’s Chair aboard the Starship Enterprise, he looks UNcomfortable decked out in the conservative suit and tie setup of American patriot Jack Ryan.
In fact, Keira Knightley (who plays Ryan’s love interest Cathy Muller) is the only person who looks as if they had one iota of fun while filming this project. Everybody else looks so damn serious… ALL THE TIME. And I know, the weight of the world is on their shoulders and they have secrets to keep and messages to deliver and people to murder for the sake of forward progress and all of this is fine and dandy with me… I get it.
However, action movies are SUPPOSED to be fun. At least that’s what I was lead to believe all these years. I mean, aren’t you supposed to enjoy yourself while watching a car chase or a fight scene. At least I thought you were. And as much as it pains me to actually write down the following words, I’m going to write them anyway.
Schwarzenegger always understood the concept behind making an action flick fun. As much as I hated his recent work like “The Last Stand” (which was AWFUL) and “Escape Plan” (which wasn’t THAT awful,) he’s always known HOW to choose a story that will suspend the audience’s disbelief for about 90-minutes or so. He’s always gotten the concept behind having action sequences that are so over the top that you can’t help but laugh out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.
That’s what continues to make Arnie’s old films (not so much his recently released movies) like “Commando” and “True Lies” such a treat to watch, even though, when you break most of his movies down, they really kinda suck. They’re not great movies, they’re simply great ACTION movies. That’s what made the “Iron Man” franchise so consistently entertaining and that’s what resurrected the “Fast and the Furious” from the depths of certain doom — the ability to make an audience think to themselves, “That shit could never happen” and still be able to convince the same audience that it can happen anyway.
For me, acclaimed author Tom Clancy’s collection of spy novels-turned-spy movies (e.g. “The Sum of All Fears,” “The Hunt for Red October,” “Patriot Games,” etc.) starring his do-gooder CIA agent Jack Ryan have always
taken themselves waaaay too seriously. It’s as if they believed that the story they were telling somehow carried the fate of the world within it, so it had to be told with as little joy or the least amount of humor possible. I’ll tell you one thing, that’s not MY idea of entertainment.
That being said, Clancy’s books were able to portray super-patriot Ryan in a light that made him seem so important to the future of the worlds, as if the end of the world was certain to come about if he failed his tasks/ missions. So, I ask you, why would he EVER smile or make a joke? I’m thinking that they were thinking NEVER.
So, I guess that the movie version of this character should be portrayed the same as it was on paper. I mean, look at James Bond, He NEVER smiles. Nevertheless, there’s one BIG difference between Bond and Ryan — Bond oozes charisma. He has a sense of style, a sense of class, and a sense of duty and honor.
Ryan has zero of these attributes. I’m not saying that he has no duty and honor or he’s a classless son-of-a-bitch. I’m just pointing out that Ryan seems as if he’s just doing his job to the best of his abilities — kind of reminiscent to the way an accountant feels on tax day. Well, actually. I’m not being completely fair.
When Harrison Ford played Jack Ryan in “Patriot Games,” Jack Ryan had charisma. It wasn’t the sort of charisma that 007 has, it was as if Jack Ryan possessed a Charlie Day, “wild card” sense of being . To put it simply, he was unpredictable. The character wasn’t presented this way when Alec Baldwin played him in “Hunt for Red October” and he certainly wasn’t this way when Ben Affleck got the call to play the role in “The Sum of All Fears.” Now Pine can be added to the list, but as it’s proved time and time again, it’s just not that juicy of a role (as far as I’m concerned) and this fact has never been as evident as it was during this particular origin story.
Enough about the hero, right? A boring good guy can always be saved by a scalding, hateful, beast of a villain. I’m talking about being on a Javier Bardem in “Skyfall” level. I’m talking about an Alan Rickman in “Die Hard” kind of evil. Maybe even a Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “MI:3″ type of scumbag. This form of snakelike, easy to detest, style of bad guy not only makes it so much easier to root for the hero, but it also makes your average moviegoer believe that this foe is “formidable” and can “take out” our hero at any time.
Well, the wait is over and I shall reveal who goes toe-to-toe with Jack Ryan in his latest exploits. It is
former Shakesperean actor Kenneth Branagh (who also pulls double-duty and directs the film), as he does NOT reinvent the villainous wheel with his performance as Russian businessman Viktor Cherevin.
I guess he does give it a shot though, as the first time we’re introduced to the bad guy, a young male nurse is attempting to administer an injection into Cherevin’s arm and gets a hard slap to the face when he messes up TWICE. I guess it was meant to showcase Cherevin’s ferocity and/or his fly-off-the-handle personality. Mission NOT accomplished. And another thing — Isn’t slapping people something girls do? Just saying is all.
Speaking of girls, Knightley’s portrayal as love interest Cathy Muller — the nurse who starts out by helping Jack try to walk again (after a brutal opening sequence involving a helicopter crash left him semi-paralyzed) during his time in physical therapy and ends up falling in love with him — is one of the only bright spots here. It’s also nice to see Kevin Costner, who plays Thomas Harper (Ryan’s boss in the CIA, who also recruits him and eventually promotes him to field agent), start to get back to being a relevant actor again. Wow, it sure took a while to recover from “Waterworld,” huh?
Physically imposing British character actor Nonso Anozie (“Conan the Barbarian,” “The Grey” and most recently, “Ender’s Game,” plus, he now plays Renfield on the new “Dracula” TV show) makes a welcome appearance as a possible ally of the Agency who greets Ryan at the airport and helps settle down his nerves. Let’s just say, he suggests that Ryan take a relaxing bath to take the edge off. What a nice friend, huh?
Of course, Ryan’s personal life and his work start blending together and getting in the way of one another simultaneously… which is pretty frickin’ hard to do. It’s fairly difficult to both ignore your girlfriend (Knightley… in case you forgot) and get her into mortal danger at the same time, but Ryan
manages to pull it off. I mean, it is called “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, NOT “Jack Ryan: Awesome Boyfriend.” Am I right or am I right? Right? Right?
Alright, the film’s not ALL bad. Plus, I would feel like I was a horrible person if I totally crushed the life out of this film. You know, being that Tom Clancy’s death wasn’t all that long ago. That being said, there’s not TOO many positive aspects I can come up with, but I’ll give it a shot.
First off, the production value is fantastic. How could it not be with a $60 million budget? So, there’s that. Also, the exotic locations are a wonder to behold, but they really lose a great deal of their wonder (and credibility), since most of the “Moscow” scenes were actually filmed in New York. So, that becomes a moot point. As for Branagh’s direction, it’s really rather pedestrian and he doesn’t end up taking a huge amount of chances. The same can be said about the tepid and uninspired screenplay; courtesy of newcomer Adam Cozad and (the usually reliable, who, ironically, also wrote the “Mission: Impossible” screenplay) David Koepp. In fact, the film as a whole, is fairly bland and annoyingly safe and those are “bland and safe” are two words that should NEVER be associated with an action flick… or any flick, for that matter, in any capacity. Am I right or am I right? Right? Right?
Like I said before, this is an origin story. So, Fans of Jack Ryan — the late, great Tom Clancy’s no-nonsense, humorless, buttoned-up American hero — who’ve always wanted to see where, when and how the man’s morals were sculpted, then this film is your cup of trite, lackluster tea.
However, if you like your action flicks a little bit spicy and bursting with exciting flavors, then you should make an effort to avoid “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”
In fact, maybe you should just watch “Skyfall” again instead, while you wait for a real action hero to return for the 24th AND the 25th time.