It’s been a while since we’ve seen the character Jack Ryan on the big screen. The last time we saw him was in 2002’s “The Sum of all Fears”. Which was a reboot of sorts to the character where we saw a much younger Jack Ryan, played by Ben Affleck. You could call it an origin story for the character showing him first starting out in the CIA. Previously we saw him in the masterful thriller “The Hunt for Red October” (1990) played by Alec Baldwin. Harrison Ford then took over the reins in the suspenseful follow up “Patriot Games” (1992). He then starred in the successful political thriller “Clear and Present Danger” (1994). The franchise has since been long dormant and the amount of time away left many wondering if they were going to continue with the series. 12 years later Paramount has once again rebooted the franchise going to the very beginning of Jack Ryan’s origin in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” (2014). This time played by Chris Pine and is the first one in the series not to be adapted from one of the many novels written by the late author Tom Clancy. Did this new film deliver? It falls short of its potential and is never as good as it’s wants to be, however a stern and brilliant direction from director Kenneth Branagh and good performances from his actors, makes up for a generic spy script that is sorely lacking any aspiration
After getting injured in military action, Jack Ryan leaves the Marines after a man from the CIA gives him a new career. Now having to keep that life secret from his girlfriend, Cathy, Ryan has uncovered a plot from Russia to collapse the United States Economy with a terrorist attack.
As I’ve mention before this is the first movie featuring the character Jack Ryan not to be based off any of Tom Clancy’s novels. This really shows in the script. While the first four aren’t exactly the greatest film ever made they had did have some interesting scripts and plotlines. They obviously came off strong source material with intricate plotting and some well versed characters and political dialogue. This film is a very straight forward international spy thriller. Jack Ryan uncovers the plot and investigates it. For the most part that is it. We’ve seen everything here before, from the obvious Russian bad guys to eating dinner with the villain and to the finale. Everything is familiar and many threads along the lines of cliché. Some would wonder how could such a generic script could be built around a character that thrives in a real complex world and intrigue.
At the beginning it feels like “Jack Ryan Begins” just glossing over his beginnings. It’s clear the purpose was establish who the character is and what drives him underneath. However the quick pacing over the material hurts it making an impact on the character as a whole. Chris Pine is good in the role and does a good job carrying the film. Where most of the character is developed is his relationship with his girlfriend Cathy Muller played by Keira Knightley. They have excellent on screen chemistry together and their relationship in many ways are reminiscent of James Cameron’s “True Lies” (1992).
So how is the film be able to pull itself out of generic scripting that should have doomed it? The main reason is director Kenneth Branagh. Branagh is in many ways a really underappreciated director. A lot of his films get a lot of praise however when people talked about really excellent directors many forget about him. From “Henry V” to “Hamlet” to even Marvel’s “Thor”, Branagh is a great director. His style and ability to tell a story and build up some tension and suspense really gives this film a huge boost which if without his style this film would just another bland spy movie.
Branagh also casted himself in the movie. He plays the stone cold emotionless Russian “bad guy” that wants to cripple the United States. You can tell Branagh is having a lot of fun playing him. He is the stereotypical Russian villain but that isn’t really Branagh’s fault that is the way the character is written. Still since he was the director maybe he could have played it differently but regardless it is fun to watch him have fun on screen.
The final star in the movie was Kevin Costner. Costner is going through something of a resurgence lately. From his excellent turn in “Man of Steel” (2013), he is popping up in a bunch of different films. The upcoming movies “3 Days to Kill” and “Draft Day” and now this. For a while Costner had turned into a bit of a joke around Hollywood. Now he takes another turn as the mentor CIA agent for Jack Ryan here in this film. Originally tapped to play the character of Jack Ryan in “The Hunt for Red October” but declined the role so he could make “Dances with Wolves” (1990) which went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Now almost 24 years later he is finally in a Jack Ryan film and does an excellent job in the film. He does the best in the movie, giving a vintage Kevin Costner performance.
When the credits role you’ve had fun with the movie. It’s by far nothing groundbreaking. The script is formulaic and generic. However director Kenneth Branagh helps elevate this film and some key performances from all the lead actors help give this film a much needed spark of life and creates a much better picture than it could have been.