Christopher Nolan may well be the best filmmaker working in the mainstream today but he has a lot to answer for. Nolan’s Batman Begins, reinforced by the success of Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale legitimised the reboot as a viable concept and ever since you can’t walk down the street without tripping over a franchise which has been unnecessarily rebooted by an unimaginative studio to be ‘darker and more gritty’ than before, no matter how suitable it is to do so.
Anyway, Hollywood is full of filmmakers/producers who are happy to tiresomely reference Batman’s renaissance in conjunction with their own tired re-tread of the same material (cough Robocop…) without being aware of the shortcomings.
Firstly not all films need to be updated, take Spiderman, they could have continued the series with a fourth film and with a new actor but instead he was reimagined in a well-cast but lacklustre rehash of the origin story. As mediocre as Spiderman 3 was it wasn’t the franchise embarrassment that Batman & Robin was, so a clean slate wasn’t really necessary.
Secondly, as The Amazing Spiderman also perhaps proves, the creative team behind the reboot need to get their ducks in a row and get a decent story and suitably visionary director on board before they proceed. Mark Webb is a decent director as 500 (Days of Summer) proves, but Nolan he is not (sorry Mark) and TAS indicates that the movie perhaps lacks the strengths of Martin Campbell as an action director or Nolan as a world builder/storyteller.
I should point out The Amazing Spiderman isn’t a bad film, just a wholly unremarkable one, and as such a great parallel as to why Batman Begins works so well. We shall see if all the above is true when Webb has his second shot at Spidey arrives this summer. I am quite happy to be wrong and would love to see a great Spidey sequel.
Anyway, this time it’s Jack Ryan who falls under the gaze of the reboot doctors, even though he was only rebooted in 2002 with the decent but still worst in series thriller, The Sum of All Fears. This time he’s younger, rougher round the edges and his film is named like a bad mid-90s videogame.
This time Jack Ryan is played by Chris Pine, so effective as the young Kirk in the similarly retconned Star Trek movies. Jack is fresh from injuries sustained in the line of duty as a marine (mentioned but never seen on film before) and with a burgeoning romance with young doctor Cathy (Kiera Knightly). As he is a sharp fellow, Jack is recruited by CIA mentor figure and one man expositionary weapon Harper (Kevin Costner) to help with a desk job identifying bank fraud (in a plot so topical it probably has last week’s guardian stamped on its forehead) and into this circle comes tight lipped Russian Viktor Cherevin (Sir Kenneth Brannah, who also directs) with inevitable fireworks occuring.
Firstly, how does Pine measure up as the fourth incarnation Ryan? Decent enough, like Affleck he does a good job of getting across the cerebral nature of the character, but its slightly undone by the script which like most Hollywood output these days assume you are thicker than pond sludge and so pads out so-called intelligent thrillers with gunfights and exposition. The definitive Ryan is still Alec Baldwin from Hunt For Red October; wily, sharp and a bit of a smart-ass, he beats out the good but slightly more flat-footed work from Harrison Ford. That’s said though, he doesn’t let the side down and his interplay with Cathy is believable.
Which segue-ways us into Miss Knightley, an actress who gets a lot of stick (unfairly so) in a role which could quiet easily have become token female love interest territory. Fortunately although Germaine Greer isn’t likely to be writing a book about her any time soon, Knightley’s Cathy is actually a fairly well written and performed character and her relationship with Pine is fleshed out in a way that feels fairly natural. It’s certainly a step up from Brigitte Moynahan’s Cathy in SoAF where she had very little to do aside from nag her husband and look clever in a doctors jacket.
Kevin Costner ably supports the cast in the hoary cliché of the grizzled mentor role. Harper is a good character solidly performed by a star who should really be on screen more often, as very few actors do convincing, all American salt of the earth types like Costner.
Brannah is also solid enough as the bad guy and he manages to give at least a glimpse of something beneath the surface, although the character is a little shallow in wider Jack Ryan terms.
His direction is also workmanlike but efficient and despite the debatably unnecessary but ubiquitous use of shaky cam to make it feel more Bourne-like, its romps along fast enough. The real problem with Jack Ryan is an underlying one, i.e. that the film doesn’t believe enough in its central concept. In a rough tough espionage world where Bourne and Bond characters are the norm, Jack Ryan could in the wrong hands come across as a little dull, he is after all, a number cruncher and brain, not a fighter.
Although it’s now a little more popular to be portrayed as clever in media, with the likes of Tony Stark and Sherlock, there is still perhaps a little reluctance in modern times to make a big-budget cerebral spy film, which means efforts like Jack Ryan with tacked on car chases feel a little disingenuous.
The first three Ryan movies from Hunt For Red October, finished with the most wilfully brainy and complex, Harrison Ford’s Clear and Present Danger, which is all the better for running with its concept but sliding in a little action organically. Although its not completely brainless, compared to Clear’s mental arithmetic, Shadow Recruit feels like colouring in.
VERDICT: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a decent enough way to spend two hours. It’s a fast moving spy thriller with decent performances and a nice central relationship between the male and female leads. It only disappoints where it compromises its brains for tacked on brawn. Worth a watch but joint worst in the series next to Affleck’s 2002 effort.
Thanks for reading, Marb.