Movie review: “Jack Ryan” makes unexpectedly solid return

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From the January 16, 2014 edition

Did we really need a reboot of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan? Well, no. Between Bond, Bourne and Mission: Impossible, we’ve got our spy bases pretty well covered. But put in the hands of a competent director, Jack Ryan surprisingly finds new life.

Yeah, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” doesn’t reinvent anything, but it’s a modern return for a hero who has been portrayed by Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin and, most forgettably, Ben Affleck.

The story of “Shadow Recruit” is a prequel to Clancy’s hero with Chris Pine (“Star Trek”) bringing some needed youth to the role. And, as if to ensure that your dad will like it too, we’ve got a little Kevin Costner thrown into the mix.

We meet Ryan (Pine) as an American student studying in London when the 9/11 attacks occur, pushing him to join the Marines. Flash forward to a battle in Afghanistan where Ryan’s helicopter is shot down. As he rehabs under the eye of a beautiful doctor (Keira Knightley), Ryan also draws the attention of a mysterious man (Costner) who offers him a life plan that includes finishing college and getting a job in the financial sector. (Don’t worry. It’s still an action movie.)

At the helm of the Ryan reboot is Kenneth Branagh, an actor-director who made his name directing Shakespeare adaptations. More recently, he directed the surprisingly sharp “Thor” movie — and notably did not direct the sub-par sequel.

Branagh borrows from the current generation of spy flicks, but the results are generally pretty slick. “Shadow Recruit” is briskly paced and doesn’t overstay its welcome — which is a good thing, because sometimes it’s best to not linger too long on some of the plot holes.

Pine has star power, even if he’s not straying too far from the conflicted hero of his Captain Kirk in “Star Trek.” Costner and Knightley also give solid performances. It probably helps that an actor is directing the film. In fact, Branagh himself gives the best performance, a cold Russian villain who would be right at home slowly lowering James Bond into a shark tank.

It’s not perfect — the resolution feels a bit Scooby-Doo and Branagh isn’t as adept at action — but it’s a surprisingly solid thriller for a January release.

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures