Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the second attempted reboot of the long-running action franchise that started strongly with The Hunt for Red October but went rapidly downhill with each successive film, culminating in the particularly poor Sum of All Fears, the previous attempt to restart the franchise which stands next to the legendarily bad Daredevil as further proof that if you need to reinvent an iconic character, Ben Affleck is not the man to call. Take note, all those involved in the production of Superman vs. Batman.
The supposed attraction for audiences of Ryan as a character is his “everyman” position; he was never meant to be an American James Bond, instead being a systems analyst dragged in over his head when he spots patterns that the CIA has either failed to notice or is deliberately ignoring. Shadow Recruit could have moved this idea into the internet age; with so much revealed on an almost daily basis about how our governments use systems analysts such as Ryan to essentially spy on their own people, the character could’ve been used to confront questions about the nature of morality and privacy in a digital world.
Everything about the production showed promise; the director, Kenneth Branagh, has managed to wrangle far more bizarre pop-culture figures into multi-million dollar blockbusters with his take on Thor; the cast, including Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley, are all known for their work in other hit films; and the star Chris Pine burst into the mainstream thanks to his very successful take on another iconic character, Captain Kirk in J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek series.
All of this should have meant that Shadow Recruit ended up if not a classic then at least a decent burst of action cinema. Instead we have an incoherent mess of a film that feels less like the reinvigoration of the franchise and more like the final nail in its coffin. Supposedly an origin story, the narrative quickly drops its well-executed yet completely predictable conspiracy plot in favour of increasingly ridiculous set pieces that make it feel exactly like the cheap James Bond knock-off that Tom Clancy wanted to avoid. Throw in the flimsy screenplay’s reliance on stock villains and characters lacking any depth or complexity and you have just another throw-away blockbuster that will be forgotten five minutes after leaving the cinema. An unfortunate end for what was once a classic series.