Wednesday, January 29, 2014

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” – Spies like us.

The last time we saw Jack Ryan, he was dying a slow, cruel death at the hands of Ben Affleck’s acting in The Sum of All Fears. Even though the movie was a money maker, Jack Ryan disappeared from film for more than ten years. Most people blame Affleck for this and that’s hard to argue as he was at the peak of a six year stretch of mediocre (Pearl Harbor) to bad (Daredevil) to cover-your-eyes embarrassing (Gigli) films. But, the real problem is that Jack Ryan just isn’t a household name in movie franchises and there are a few reasons for this. For one thing, if you didn’t know Tom Clancy’s work, you might not even realize that The Sum of All Fears was the fourth film featuring Jack Ryan (the others being The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger). One reason you don’t remember is because Ryan isn’t the center of attention in any of those films. Another reason is because in four movies he’s been played by three different actors (Affleck, Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford), making it very easy for people to think it was three, if not four, different characters. So, when Shadow Recruit began showing up in previews, we all wondered the same thing…isn’t that Captain Kirk?

What I’m really wondering is do we really need another spy franchise; especially one in which the spy in question is really a consultant who keeps ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time? We already have the quintessential spy in James Bond and people seem to really love Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible). Add in all of the super heroes – let’s be honest; in Hollywood, spies are super heroes and vise versa – and an ordinary spy such as Ryan just seems unnecessary. Of course, that may be why this movie was pushed from a December opening into mid-January and buried underneath the plethora of award shows, all but guaranteeing this will be the last time we see Ryan on the silver screen. The film itself doesn’t do anything to help itself either as Ryan is much more action oriented and generic.

Unlike the previous Ryan films, Shadow Recruit isn’t based on a book of the same name (by Clancy). It’s the origin story of how Ryan came to be a CIA agent and his first mission for the agency. The film begins with Ryan (Chris Pine) at college when the 9/11 attacks happened. He decides to join the marines, goes to Afghanistan, suffers a major injury, and while recovering, meets the other two main characters. The first is his physical therapist and future fiancé, Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) and the other is his future handler and recruiter, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). All of this happens in the first twenty minutes of the film, then we are fast-forwarded ten years later (from 2001 that is) into Jack’s assignment as a deep-cover agent in a Wall Street firm. At this point, the film goes from straight forward to convoluted, forgetting that the average viewer doesn’t know anything about the inner workings of the banking industry.

At his firm, Ryan discovers some secret Russian accounts and is quickly dispatched to Russia to investigate. He quickly comes to realize that the Russians are going to destroy the world economy by driving up the value of U.S. treasuries, then selling them and instigating a terrorist attack at the same time. The plot is being perpetrated by Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) because…revenge, I guess? He says it’s because creating a second Great Depression will destroy America and put Russia back on top and is retribution for the Cold War. Uh…if you say so.

The problem with this plot – besides the seriously outdated Cold War that Hollywood just can’t let go of – is that the audience doesn’t feel a sense of urgency with it. Don’t get me wrong, the audience feels some urgency, but it’s due to the characters telling us over and over again instead of any storytelling through writing and film construction. In a nutshell, that’s why the movie feels so generic. They want us to believe it’s a thriller without doing any work to make it so. Adding to the convolution is Pine’s relationship with Knightley. She serves a purpose to the plot, but much of their interaction together feels contrived and distracting from the main plot of the film. I know the reason it’s there is to make Ryan seem more human, but comes off as just filler.

That’s not to say the movie is bad, just blah. The actors all put forward decent performances and it’s nice to see a movie that doesn’t try to twist every character and plot revelation into a Shyamalan-ian wet dream. It just does nothing to distinguish itself and make you yearn for more. Well, except maybe more Captain Kirk.

Rating: Ask for half your money back. A vanilla movie deserves a vanilla rating.

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