Blu-ray Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan is a character that’s been portrayed by some huge Hollywood stars since he made his big screen debut back in 1990’s The Hunt For Red October. That film stared Alec Baldwin, and was followed up by a pair of Ryan films starring Harrison Ford, and finally in 2002 Ben Affleck played the CIA analyst before the series went dormant. It’s been 12 years since Affleck’s The Sum of All Fears, and while the film was one of the most successful in the series, there was never a sequel for one reason or another.

Flash forward to 2014 and Jack Ryan is back in the aptly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Taking a page from the playbook of, well, just about every franchise out there these days, this film reboots the character, brings him back to his origins, and looks to start fresh with a Jack Ryan for today’s generation. Does it succeed? The answer is both yes and no.

The great thing about Ryan as a character is that he’s not a Jason Bourne, or an Ethan Hunt. This is a guy who uses his brain over brawn, which is great because it makes a lot of the situations he gets into a lot more tension filled because of the fact that he’s not fighting hordes of bad guys, or leaping out of a window in order to escape. That’s not a knock against Bourne or Hunt, as both are fantastic characters in their own right, this is simply what makes Ryan different.

That doesn’t mean Ryan doesn’t get into his fair share of brawls, but he’s just a lot less comfortable participating in them than his action movie brethren. The reason he’s able to hold is own against some tougher opponents is due to his Marine training, which is touched upon in Shadow Recruit.

While I mentioned this was a reboot earlier, it’s not 100% clear whether or not the previous installments still exist in the world of this younger Ryan – who begins the film enlisting in the Marines because of what happens on 9/11. Everything is modernized, which is expected, as even if this was a direct prequel to Ford’s 1994 Ryan film Clear and Present Danger, obviously the technology is going to change and we just have to ignore the fact that there’s more advanced technology for Ryan to use when he’s a rookie than there is when he’s a veteran.

What also sets this film apart from its predecessors is the fact that this is the first Jack Ryan film not based on a Tom Clancy novel. While The Sum of All Fears focused on Ryan’s entry into the CIA as well, Shadow Recruit really starts from scratch with the character and those around him.

Playing Ryan this time out is Chris Pine, best known as Captain Kirk from the most recent Star Trek films. He does a solid job as the character overall, and the best thing you can say about his work and the film itself is that it comes off exactly as a Jack Ryan movie should. There’s action, mixed with mystery, but the underlying threat throughout the entire film is something Ryan needs to use his analytical skills to solve.

The two main supporting actors on Ryan’s side are Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner. Knightley plays Ryan’s girlfriend Cathy, and the pair have good chemistry together. Do sparks fly? No, but that’s not a bad thing. They’re believable as a couple, and that’s especially true when it comes to Cathy suspecting something isn’t quite right with their relationship, and it causes a noticeable rift between the two. It comes off as sincere, which is due to Knightley and Pine’s delivery of the scenes with one another.

Costner comes on board as the mentor of Ryan, as he’s the one who recruits him. His character, Thomas Harper, is the Obi-Wan to Pine’s Luke. The focus should always be on Ryan, but there are times when I wished Costner was given more to work with. Something tells me that if this film ever got a sequel (which may be unlikely due to its lack of domestic box office success) that he’d play a bigger part and likely be killed, much like Obi-Wan, as a catalyst to propel the Ryan character forward. Still, Costner is great in the role and the scenes he shares with Pine are some of the strongest.

The villain – and director – of the film is Sir Kenneth Branagh, who does a solid job on both fronts. Branagh looks the part of the villain, and his presence on screen is always felt no matter whom he’s sharing the scene with. Behind the camera, Branagh delivers the action and suspense where needed in order to make this film feel like it belongs in the franchise.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit does a good job of rebooting a long dormant franchise, even though it does hit quite a few predictable notes along the way. Sure there’s suspense, it just simply lacks any true tension of not knowing whether or not the terrorist plot will succeed on any front, or that our hero and those closest to him are ever truly in any danger. So while it’s not something you should go out of your way to see, Shadow Recruit is still a fun ride with a solid story and performances that will keep you entertained throughout.

The Blu-ray transfer of the film is really well done, as the picture looks crisp and sharp, with no muddy blacks or poor colour transitions. The audio transfer is also top notch, with a strong sound mix accompanying both the action packed and more dramatic scenes. Overall this is a really solid technical package.

On the extras front, we’ve got a handful of things, and actually quite a bit of information for fans of Jack Ryan.

Commentary by Kenneth Branagh and Lorenzo di Bonaventura — Here’s a solid commentary through and through by two guys who were integral in bringing this vision of Jack Ryan to the screen. It’s an interesting listen that fans of the series, or film, will likely enjoy quite a bit.

Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in the Room – This piece comes in at just under 14 minutes in length and sees the cast and crew talking about the making of the film, Ryan as a character, and how this film steps away from the books and if anything, tries to put bits of each one into it to try and please fans of the series.

Sir Kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit – This featurette comes in at just under 10 minutes in length and focuses on the film’s director – and main villain – Sir Kenneth Branagh. It sees the cast and crew talking about him as a director, and actor, and the man himself speaking about playing both roles in the film.

Jack Ryan: A Thinking Man of Action – This is the shortest featurette and comes in at just over five minutes in length. It speaks more about the character, and how he differs from other in the genre.

Old Enemies Return – This is a 21 minute feature that sees the focus turn to the Russians, why they were chosen as the enemy in the film, and why their past with the United States helped make the choice that much easier.

Deleted/Alternate Scenes – The main thing of note here is an alternate ending. Luckily, we’re pretty much past the point in time where they try and sell Blu-rays simply because there’s an alternate ending, mainly because most alternate endings are usually discarded for a reason. This one is no different, as it ends the film on more of a whimper than a bang.

Unlike other reboots in recent years, Shadow Recruit isn’t the movie that will likely revitalize the Jack Ryan franchise the way many likely hoped. It’s unfortunate, as the character is quite strong and entertaining, but this one just didn’t seem to grab audiences earlier this year. Of course, never say never, as home video sales can always change things, and while Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit may not be a movie you find yourself giving repeat views to, it’s definitely worth checking out at least once if you’re in the mood for some fast, fun entertainment.

Paramount Pictures and SkyDance Productions Present Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Directed by: Kenneth Branagh. Written by: Adam Cozad and David Koepp. Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh. Running time: 105 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released: June 10, 2014.

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