Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
When I was first introduced to the character of Jack Ryan, twenty-seven years ago, I liked the fact that he wasn't the usual sort of Hollywood hero. The emphasis on analysis rather than action in The Hunt for the Red October (1990) was very engaging. The fact that Jack Ryan is a retired Marine who was desk bound made him far more credible and interesting. However, even back then the movie industry struggled in bringing Tom Clancy's work to the big screen in an effective manner. Alec Baldwin was replaced by the more likable Harrison Ford, yet the two sequels Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger struggled to find the right tone. The last entry with Ben Afleck, The Sum of All Fears (2002), fell awkwardly between two stools trying to be both an action movie and a complex thriller.
Kenneth Branagh's reboot Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, initially smacks of a somewhat contrived undertaking. Casting a notably younger actor, Chris Pine, seems like an obvious pitch to the youth audience. I suppose you can't blame the producers for trying to create a successful mainstream franchise similar to the Jason Bourne movies. However, the film does feel a little artificial at times as if it were carefully put together to meet the requirements of a focus group, rather than a film that was made because everyone was invested in it. Don't get me wrong, that is not to say that Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a soulless undertaking. It is professionally made, with a strong cast and perfectly serviceable entertainment. Yet it is nothing more than that.
The latest incarnation of Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) depicts him as a former marine now working as an economist. He is recruited into the CIA by senior operative Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) to keep an eye out for irregular financial matters globally. He subsequently uncovers a plot by Russian businessman Viktor Cherevin (director Kenneth Branagh) to destabilize the US and Chinese economies bringing about a global financial depression. Realising that the CIA are close on his heels Cherevin kidnaps Jack's fiancée Cathy (Keia Knightley). Jack has to adjust to his new field operative status if he wishes to rescue Cathy and thwart the Russian nationalists plan.
The main problem with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the movie's specific genre. Those over a certain age will remember the Cold War and will identify with the traditional spy plot elements. Thus, a third of the audience during the film’s opening weekends were over fifty. However, the youth market that the studio was specifically seeking, were not sufficiently engaged and conspicuous by their absence. Box office performance was adequate but no more, so future sequels now hang in the balance. It’s a shame as Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is not a bad film and there is still mileage in Jack Ryan as a character. If the production had focused on the correct audience for such a movie, delivering a more complex and possibly R rated picture, it may well have fared better.