Reeling it in: Jack Ryan back on the big screen

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Chris Pine, left, and Kevin Costner in "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," an action thriller about a covert CIA analyst who uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack. "Ride Along" faces off this weekend against "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" and "Devil's Due." (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Larry Horricks)

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”


Paramount Pictures

1 hour, 45 minutes

Of all the film franchises out there, there are plenty that I have zero interest in, but the one where my apathy surprises even me is that of Tom Clancy’s cold war hero Jack Ryan.

Don’t get me wrong — there’ve been four Jack Ryan movies to date, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them, but the character, as it has evolved, has almost nothing to do with Tom Clancy anymore. The first Jack Ryan story, “The Hunt for Red October” starred a young, slim Alec Baldwin in the role and it is excellent. The next two star Harrison Ford, and are also very, very good. Harrison Ford probably skewed closest to the Jack Ryan from the Tom Clancy novels, a character who goes from a lowly CIA analyst to, over the course of several massive novels, to President of the United States — and maybe Pope too — I can’t really remember ... those last Clancy novels got a little crazy.

Then there was a decade-long lull and the next Ryan movie, “The Sum of All Fears” starred Ben Affleck and somehow reset the clock to the beginning of Ryan’s career, but keeps the setting in modern day. Confusing with massive continuity problems if you try to look at this as a continuing series, but a decent movie nonetheless.

But maybe that’s the problem. Maybe these shouldn’t be looked as a continuing series, but four standalone political thrillers that all just happen to star the same character. Throw this week’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” into the mix and it all begins to make sense. Not only does “Shadow Recruit” have no relationship to any of the other films, it’s not even based on a Tom Clancy book. So why keep the character? It’s not like he has signature super powers or anything. The only recognizable follow-through characteristics for Jack Ryan are that he was a Marine, was in a helicopter crash as a young man, and is married to a doctor. That’s it. So why “Jack Ryan?” Marketing, and little else.

So, I’ll reiterate. I have little to no interest in a franchise about Jack Ryan, despite the fact that every film in the series, including “Shadow Recruit” has been, at the very least, above average.

Our story begins with young Jack Ryan, played here by Chris Pine, being inaugurated into the CIA by crusty old Kevin Costner. Pine, who already gets to be young William Shatner, must have been thrilled to get to be young Harrison Ford, as well. Ryan is tasked with infiltrating a Wall Street power-firm and using it to clandestinely run down terrorist financiers. Ryan inadvertency tumbles to something far worse, however. It seems a Russian billionaire has devised a plan to acquire billions in U.S. Treasury bonds in a scheme to crash the American economy. The crash can only be triggered, however, buy a massive terrorist strike on U.S. soil, so the clock is ticking. Can Ryan, Costner, and Co. get to the bomb site in time to stop the terrorist plot? Can they, in fact, even make it out of Russia in one piece? As in any good thriller, all questions will be answered.

The acting in this action thriller is all more than adequate, including good performances by Pine, Costner, as well as Keira Knightly, and director/star Kenneth Branagh, as the dastardly Russian. I did enjoy the film, but though it definitely has its roots in the spy thrillers of the late 1970 and 80s, “Shadow Recruit” is like the dumbed-down version. The plot is relatively simple to understand, made more so by the fact that much of the exposition involves simple explanations of what’s happening.

Maybe it’s an issue of attention span. The first three films in the series, though not without their great action sequences, are kind of slow-burns, and probably wouldn’t get made in the same way today. No one today wants to have to keep up with the plot, can’t be concerned if random action sequences have no real place in the narrative, and will not sit still for a dramatic bomb diffusion scene. “I paid my eight dollars, darn it, and I want to see some stuff explode!”

Problems of simplicity aside, I’m glad I went to see “Jack Ryan.” Just as a movie, “Ryan” hits all the right notes, even the parts that don’t make a lot of sense. I could have done without the subtitle, though. “Shadow Recruit” doesn’t really have anything to do with the plot, and makes the whole endeavor sound like a 1994 straight-to-video starring Steven Seagal. This outing with Jack Ryan is far better than that, though not nearly as good as the first three movies in the series — the ones that actually had anything to do with the character Tom Clancy created.

Grade: B-

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is rated PG-13 for language and violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.