As we continue our look back at some of the recent reboots, Matthew Kresal looks back at the 2014 Jack Ryan movie.
More than a decade after The Sum Of All Fears marked the apparent stillbirth of a new film series based on the novels of Tom Clancy, another attempt was made to breathe life into the series. The result was Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit directed by Kenneth Branagh which starred Chris Pine (aka Captain Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek films) in the title role. Not only that but, in something of a departure from previous films, isn't based on any one of the Clancy novels at all. The film, though making some money, has come to be seen as something of a failure. Does it deserve that reputation though?
On the surface it doesn't seem to. Certainly Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit seemed to have done a better job of casting its lead character. Chris Pine's Jack Ryan is everything that the Ben Affleck version tried to be but failed: the young analyst used to sitting behind a desk who finds himself caught up in extraordinary events. Pine does a fine job of portraying that, be it behind the desk as a Wall Street stockbroker or in some of the film's action sequences. Not only is he believable in those roles, he also makes the transition between the two believable as well during scenes in the middle of the film. As a result, not only is Pine fine in the role but also helps to sell the reality of the events in the film.
There's also a good supporting cast as well. Kevin Costner (who incidentally was the original choice to play Jack Ryan twenty-five years ago alongside Sean Connery in The Hunt For Red October) is well cast in the role of Ryan's CIA mentor Thomas Harper, bringing with him the presence of a man passing the torch to a new generation while not yet coming in from the cold. Keira Knightley gives a good performance as Cathy with a decent American accent, and while her and Pine have good chemistry, the character is undermined somewhat by inconsistent characterization by the scriptwriters. The real star of the supporting cast though, and perhaps not surprisingly, is Kenneth Branagh as the Russian businessman Viktor Cherevin. Branagh takes a potentially cliched role and brings not just a presence to it but a sense of intelligent menace right from Cherevin's first appearance. The results, when combined with appearances in small roles by actors like David Paymer and Colm Feore (who played a supporting role in The Sum Of All Fears), are strong all around.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit's production values are quite strong as well. Though better known for his Shakespeare adaptations such as Henry V or Hamlet before directing the first Thor film for Marvel Studios, Branagh proved himself more than capable of directing a fast paced and stylish thriller with his handling not only of character moments and dialogue sequences but the film's varied action scenes (the latter seeing him backed up by veteran second unit director Vic Armstrong). The film, largely shot in the UK, does a good job of capturing the feel of its Russian locations thanks to the talents of production designer, Andrew Laws, the cinematography of Haris Zambarloukos and the costumes of Jill Taylor. Frequent Branagh collaborator Patrick Doyle once again provided the film's score and the result is one of the better action film scores of recent memory.
So how much resemblance does this film bare to any of the Clancy novels? Perhaps more than one would expect. It does a fine job of taking Clancy's background for Jack Ryan and updating it for the present day (given that Clancy made Jack Ryan Jr the focus of the novels published during the last decade of his life, it's easy to imagine Pine playing Ryan Jr to Costner playing Jack Ryan Senior). The film's plot and the threat against the US, while not being adapted from a Clancy novel, brings to mind moments and elements from more than a few of his books. That said, the way the film unfolds is far more in keeping with more straightforward thrillers than the way Clancy's novels tended to be, but given the difficulties in trying to do that on film (as seen with the attempt made to make the nearly thousand page Sum Of All Fears into a two hour film) that might not be a bad thing. Overall then, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit more than adequately makes use of at least part of its original source material while also forging ahead with something new.
In the final analysis, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit did what it set out to do. It presented an entertaining and stylish thriller that rebooted a dead franchise while also not ignoring the basics of its original source material. Why didn't it catch on and become more successful? I only wish I knew because Jack Ryan's next appearance won't be on the big screen but on Amazon's streaming service in a series starring John Krasinski in the role of Ryan. It's a shame really as Shadow Recruit proved there was plenty of room on the big screen for Tom Clancy's hero.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.