I’m “biast” (con): don’t see the need for a reboot of this character
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
It’s no Hunt for Red October. And there was no need to reboot Tom Clancy’s signature character. (Brand recognition may be a good marketing decision, but it’s rarely a good creative one.) That said, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a smart popcorn thriller that whips well-trod tropes into more than passably diverting movie funtimes. Ryan’s backstory has been updated for the 20-teens — now he had to learn to walk again after being shot down in a helicopter in Afghanistan in 2003, because he’d joined the Marines in a fit of patriotism after 9/11 — but he’s still a CIA analyst and desk jockey pushed by circumstances into becoming a field operative. New-Jack’s specialty is high finance, and he’s deep undercover at a Wall Street brokerage house when he unearths some potential shenanigans at a Russian partner company headed up by Kenneth Branagh (Valkyrie), whom Chris Pine, as Ryan, discovers having a blast in villain mode when he jets off to Moscow for an audit. Branagh directs, too, and proves once again — as he first did with Thor a few years back — that he is a fantastic action director who brings a freshness to the familiar: here he manages to make people pecking away on computers suspenseful, which is a rare filmmaking talent indeed. Themes of economic terrorism hit as close to home as Cold War nuclear fears once did, and while Shadow Recruit is at least as much an action movie as a suspense thriller, it’s a bracing change of stereotype to have more brains than brawn at the center; Ryan is a PhD, and his smarts are his driving force. Even more refreshing is a hero who is not unaffected by having to kill. Ryan may be a trained and very capable soldier, but he’s far from a machine, and Pine (Star Trek Into Darkness) — who continues to impress me more and more as an actor — brings out a startlingly sensitive side in the character; notice how Ryan’s hands shake after one unsettling and unexpected encounter with violence. The whole cast is fab; Kevin Costner (Man of Steel) is a steely badass as Ryan’s CIA boss, and Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina) as Ryan’s girlfriend and later practically a fellow agent recruited on the fly is so adept it’s easy to see that this could have been called Jackie Ryan. The finale gets a little bit too damsel-in-distress-ish and ticking-time-bomby, but long before then, I was wholly won over.