This entry in the series is more of a reboot than a sequel to previous installments as the film opens with Jack Ryan attending university in London. We watch as he quickly progresses from student, to marine, to undercover CIA operative on Wall Street. Once the film catches up to present day, the main plot (a Russian terrorist cell plots to attack the US because of an oil pipeline going up in Turkey) takes off. The Jack Ryan character began as a spy in the Cold War; thus the Russian villains, despite the film’s present-day setting. Those crazy Russians, you’d think that they would know how to chill out more than anyone. Because it’s cold there. Get it? Okay, moving on.
Shadow Recruit doesn’t provide much in the way of innovation; it employs many common tropes of secret agent action-thrillers. Bathroom fist fight? Check. Office building break in? Check. Evil Russians? Check. Race against the clock? Check-ah-roonie. And though the film is more of a spy thriller than action-fest, when the fight scenes and chases do occur, it suffers from action-movie-syndrome: half the time, the shots are frenetic, cut too fast, and the camera is shaky and too close. The other half of the time, however, is satisfyingly thrilling with several ‘damn that was cool’ moments.
Though the plot elements are familiar and the action is a bit confusing at times, Recruit proves to be a more intelligent thriller than other recent fare. All the elements of the story are tied together cohesively. The pacing of the film is a good balance of progress without rush, and Chris Pine proves to be a great fit for the character, which is developed in ways I didn’t expect. This is a less seasoned Jack Ryan, out on his first real assignment, and it is evident in Pine’s performance. Kevin Costner gives a satisfying performance as Pine’s boss and mentor. Keira Knightly, with a slightly distracting American accent, plays Pine’s fiancé. Ever elegant and easy-to-watch, her character is more than just window dressing for the film, as she becomes embroiled in the plot herself (a welcome choice from the screenwriters). Although Kenneth Branagh demonstrates his directorial abilities with Recruit, he proves to be a rather weak villain. He plays the character with blatant Russian stereotypes, and the limited background development we see makes little difference in our perceptions. Think Ivan Drago from Rocky IV or Ernst Stavro Blofeld from From Russia with Love and you have a great idea of what to expect.
All in all, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a very solid thriller. If the producers wish to continue the franchise, they have a strong foundation on which to start, and an excellent lead in Chris Pine. Though largely familiar, the film is strengthened by its well-developed hero and pacing to make for a brisk, fun 100-minute adventure.