At this point, even as a reboot, it’s pretty much known what any Jack Ryan movie will contain. Of course there’s the usual spy tactics, the tech, the sleight of hand, twists and deceptions all while trying to foil some enormous and currently relevant attack. Similarly, technical quality – the tension, pacing, cinematography – will be occasionally excellent or, at the very least, competent. The same can also be said of just about any film directed by Kenneth Barangh; they will be at least entertaining enough to hold attention for a couple of hours. The unknown is whether or not any of these elements will be able to stand out from the plethora of other tech-savvy spy-ish thrillers, Ryan-related or not, which come out in the first four months of every year.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit has all the desired elements of an espionage thriller, the same elements so often seen that they are expected and to not include them would also be revolutionary. There are times when even the dialog feels obligatory, the audience making the snappy comeback before the characters do. Shadow Recruit attempts to contemporize these elements by casting its eponymous character as an economics prodigy whose sense of patriotism lures him into the Marine Corps after September 11th. From there it rushes through an entirely predictable origin story (seriously, from the first frame of the helicopter scene you know exactly what’s coming) and up to the almost present, although the math is a little odd about it all. It’s surprising that a film about a financial analyst, and of pretty decent overall know-how, would fudge the most basic element of continuity: time. Not only does the “ten years later” title card not add up but the flight times between the various destinations makes no sense either.
That’s where the typical elements also show their flaws. Lack of logic is practically codified into the genre. Despite advances by the original Bourne trilogy and recent Bond movies, there’s always Jack Ryan and the like to pull it back into the world of fuzzy math, untrained yet impossibly skilled agents, helpless girlfriend/wife character (Kiera Knightley, solid and always great to look at but an odd choice given her history of stronger roles) and bad guys who can’t hit stationary targets with a machine gun while the good guys get headshots every time.
Ryan’s first on screen kill is treated as a traumatic experience, despite his two-and-a-half tours in Afghanistan. Further, despite its own attempts to be modern, Shadow Recruit can’t stop itself from resurrecting Cold War tropes with its wannabe Soviet villains and setting. Curiously, the film makes specific use of Dearborn, Michigan, the town with the highest Arab population in the United States, as the location of a Russian terror cell (that’s not a spoiler, it is introduced that way), which, along with its plot of investment in US currency, may hint that the Russians are stand-ins for some other threat. Perhaps even more telling however is that throughout Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit greater attention is given to the loss of US currency than of US citizens. A thoroughly modern outlook indeed.
Ultimately, Shadow Recruit is exactly like every other Tom Clancy-inspired thriller: fine and forgettable.