During the 100 minutes in which Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was bringing embarrassment to itself and the state of cinema, I took the opportunity to make up an original composition in my head. Now, because this isn’t based on a previous song, you’ll have to fill in your own tune to sing along with me, I suppose that’s the price we all pay for greatness. Here goes:
Jack Ryan, He’s a Shadow Recruit! /
Jack Ryan, ooooh, he know what to dooooo /
Jack Ryan, no he don’t take no poooo /
Jack Ryan, doo doo da dooooo!
I did this not because I’m the next Brian Adams, but more as a coping mechanism, so that I didn’t have to think about the logic of the film being presented. I’m not proud of my actions back there, but we do what we must to survive.
Note: For the rest of this ditty there will be spoilers. I don’t think the beautiful Film Drunkards out there care too much, but I want to be clear so Vince doesn’t yell at me when he gets back from his “Understanding your Rage” symposium.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit starts out on relatively solid footing. It becomes clear that the goal is to reboot the entire mythology of the Jack Ryan series, to give him a new actor in Chris Pine, a new gal in Keira Knightley, and a new mentor in Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves). And I get it, I’m no old fogy, this makes sense, you want to modernize the Cold War era hero for the “kidz”, the “new generation”, the “dope fly teens”. I mean, you can’t very well have a fifty something year old dude (assuming he was 30 in The Hunt for the Red October) running around fighting bad guys, can you now? Plus, the Cold War is over, and the sort of problems Jack Ryan would face nowadays would be terrorists, jihad, Sea World, and the like. The era of dueling nation states is finito, to be replaced by the fast-paced and brutal mano y mano bad guy fighting world of the Bourne and Bond franchises. And that’s precisely why the story gets started in Russia, where the Russians want to collapse the world economy. Ha! Fooled you, right? Thought they were napping. Man, those guys are incorrigible rapscallions.
Jack Ryan: Financial Analyst is a deep cover guy for the C.I.A., always on the lookout for the financial indicators that would foreshadow: recruit a terror attack. He’s damn good too, the same training that helped him become a Marine, and then helped him recover from Afghanistan, the very same pluck that gave him the moxie to then date his rehab therapist, these are the bulldog / bloodhound skills he’s bringing to the table each and every day out the gate.
This time though, holy moly, he’s found something BIG. Like, end of the financial sector big. He alerts his C.I.A. bud, and this guy sends him to Russia to check it out, where he will pose as a financial auditor (I mean, he is a financial auditor as his cover, but he’s there to find bad guys really) in order to cork whatever it is these Ruskies are trying to uncork. He will save America, and he will do it while riding a motorcycle.
He gets to ol’ Moscow, hops off the plane after the requisite amount of lying to his fiancee and protesting he’s just an accountant, and is then immediately greeted by his bodyguard. The helpful financial institution he’s scheduled to investigate has generously supplied a fella with a gun to watch over him, although in this case the guy tries to murder just Jack as soon as he’s checked into the hotel room. Jack’s pluckiness helps him not die, but he’s still a little frazzled. Luckily, Kevin Costner: Shadow Mentor is in the area, that’s just how serious they are taking this threat (though not serious enough to send actual operational agents or spec ops, or really anyone else besides one guy named “Jack”).
Here’s where things get dumb. We’re introduced to our bad guy Russian, Cherevin (played by Kenneth Branagh, who directed the film, which feels slightly like self-nepotism). Viktor “levy dry” Cheverin is handled in the way every throwback villain must be, so as Jack enters the room he’s listening to opera music, just staring out into the distance. Note to parents out there: if your kid starts listening to opera music in his room at full blast and just staring at walls while he does it you might want to search his room. Just a thought. Cheverin’s plan is to crash the world economy by buying up Treasury Bonds and then selling them off, timed with a terrorist attack, so that the globe loses confidence in the United States. Then Mother Russia will live off her oil reserves while everyone else is in bread lines. It’s not exactly plausible, but it’s not really the problem with the film either.
No, the real problem is that Jack Ryan is a one-man gang. In The Hunt for the Red October the threat of nuclear weapons hung over the entire proceedings, but it wasn’t entirely ridiculous because Jack was an analyst with a theory, no one really gave him much credence, and the caper played out entirely on a submarine after the initial set-up. JR:SC would have you believe Jack is the guy in charge of 1) Figuring out the financial plot 2) Stopping the financial plot 3) Stopping the terrorist attack on a completely different continent. Which puts the entire endeavor firmly in the genre of “throwaway fiction”.
STILL, even this would be okay. James Bond used to have a lot of this before deciding to go more gritty, and action movies don’t need to be plausible (See: Furious, the Fast and Of). Unfortunately, where this film loses its tenuous balance is by trying to keep one foot in the “authentic” world (with questioning fiancees, Realpolotik, and financial markets) while the other meanders over to “silly season” with Ryan taking on the world by himself, no one else even able to contribute half an intelligent thought, with a villain who far prefers “letting things play out” over lead pipe cruelty. Indeed, on the very eve of his big plan, the villain gets distracted by Keira Knightley’s flirting, allowing Jack Ryan to foil him. But think on this, using my radical point-by-point method:
1. Bad guy knows Jack Ryan is bad news, that’s why he tried to have him killed.
2. Bad guy had multiple opportunities after failed attempt, but doesn’t bother.
3. Bad guy GOTTA have dinner with good guy and good guy fiancee.
4. Bad guy shocked when good guy pull one over on him.
None of it makes any goddamn sense. Like, at all, and by the end of it you’re actively cheering for the Russians, because Chris Pine running all over New York City is getting old. Sadly, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a crappy reboot in a sea of crappy reboots. If you look close enough, you might see an arm or two out there on the waves, attached to some idiot with a big Hollywood smile, his orange life-vest flapping around, the original work sinking deep to the bottom of the ocean underneath him.