Friday, 3 October 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2013)




Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit continues the notion that it really is the law of diminishing returns when it comes to adaptations of Tom Clancy's square jawed all American hero. The minute you see Ryan at the LSE, dumbstruck at the footage of the Twin Towers, and see a student utter the immortal words "You're American aren't you? Sorry mate" you know this is going to be crap.

Firstly, I have to express an interest here; I used to really like reading Tom Clancy's Ryan novels. They weren't the best, but there was still plenty of appeal in them and enjoyment to be had. The last novel I read of his was Red Rabbit, which served to hit the reset button and return Ryan to the early 1980s when the enemies of America were more easily identifiable, ie they were the Russians.

Unfortunately this reboot of the franchise, much like the previous attempted reboot The Sum of All Fears, makes the same mistake. It takes Ryan back to square one (cue all the whiny 'I'm just an analyst!' speeches as well as a potted history of his pre-CIA life that stays pretty faithful to the Ryan biography of the books) but continues to place him in a contemporary present day setting, which just happens to still have the Russian's as the West's mortal enemies. We're really skirting xenophobic areas here, because it's worth remembering that Shadow Recruit was made before Putin's actions against the Ukraine that has so angered the world, and that TSOAF's was an adaptation altered considerably, disposing of the Middle Eastern terrorist villain for that of a Russian terrorist (when relations between Russia and the West were pretty cordial) because studios feared criticism that they were being insensitive post 9/11 if they showed a Muslim attacking US soil. Quite why they don't just set their reboots in the 1980s and the height of the Cold War is beyond me; The Americans, that downright daft but successful  TV drama concerning Soviet sleepers in the US suburbs, surely shows that such an audience is available for that kind of story?

So xenophobia aside, what is Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit actually like? Well, despite it relying on the stereotypical villain element it does at least place their nefarious deeds in the present day, with a plot that seems to be about scuppering the US economy in a manner which plunges them into a recession of 1930s proportions. But let's face it, thriller films about the economy are a little dull aren't they? And dull is something that is totally unforgiveable for an alleged thriller. Much has been made of Jack Ryan as a film character never being interesting enough and its true that, even in the far more successful previous instalments, he's been paired with BIGGER characters to take our interest - such as Sean Connery's defecting submariner in The Hunt For Red October and Willem Dafoe's down and dirty field agent in Clear and Present Danger - Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, a film that places its leading man front and centre, doesn't rely on such support which means everything rests on Chris Pine as our greenhorn amiable hero....and it just doesn't work. He's by far the least engaging depiction of Ryan (for my money Alec Baldwin was the best) A charisma free zone that is at odds with his most famous role as Captain Kirk in JJ Abrams' rejuvenated Star Trek franchise. It's so bad, you actually prefer the villains, led by a hammy Kenneth Branagh, to the infuriatingly squeaky clean CIA mob that includes a going through the motions Kevin Costner, an actor once briefly attached to the Ryan role back in the day.

Branagh's direction is competent, showcasing the surprising touch for action that he had displayed in Thor, but never truly grips the viewer perhaps because the material he's saddled with just isn't good enough. Fellow Brit Keira Knightley plays Cathy, Ryan's girlfriend (and future wife) It's a strange turn from Knightley, one that is unabashed in a gung ho-ness that is an ill fit for such a nothing of a character. It's further telling of the turkey like script that this is the only substantial female character in the film...and they can't even get that right!

Is there a future for the Jack Ryan franchise? Frankly based on this offering I should say no. It just doesn't have the spark required to compete with the big boys like Bond or Bourne. If, by some curious twist of fate, this does get another instalment I should be very surprised, as well as infuriated as there are more deserving potential franchises out there (Yes, I'm talking about Dredd) It's a shame to say it, but it is perhaps time for this analyst to definitely stay out of the field.

Oh and Sinbad off Brookie popping up was definitely unexpected!

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