In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
I am 34 years old. I am unmarried and I have no children. I don’t really have a career to speak of, and I am nowhere near considering buying a house. Basically, I’m doing things right, at least by way of me never wanting to give up my ability to do whatever I want at any given moment without answering to anybody for any reason at all. Yet despite my inclination to shirk any and all adult responsibilities I still feel a little bit like a dad. I tend to reject hip, new things, oftentimes purposefully mispronouncing the cultural item in question just to show how proudly out of touch I am with kids these days. I identify with the guy at the end of every tool commercial who folds his arms while giving a proud “job well done” look into the camera. I like what I like and I have no room for anything else, except shitty puns. I love shitty puns almost as much as love scoffing in general. So yes, I am becoming a total dad. As such, it’s about time I let some Tom Clancy into my life, don’t ya think?
I sure do! And having never seen a single Jack Ryan film, I’m going to cross them ALL of of my Shame List! Read the whole series here.
Oh, and just to be clear: I’m never having kids. They’re way too sticky for me.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Adam Cozad, David Koepp, NOT TOM CLANCY (This one is not based on a book, ya dingus).
Stars: Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Colm Feore, Gemma Chan, Alec Utgoff, Elena Velikanova
Jack Ryan played by: Chris Pine aka The Best Chris.
Chris Evans is the second best Chris, followed by Hemsworth and then Pratt (who is slowly changing from “least best Chris” to “ worst Chris”).
Plot: In the shadow of 9/11, Jack Ryan, a young CIA analyst, is sent to Russia to inspect the books of a firm that the CIA suspects is funding international terrorism. Shit gets real.
Review: This is barely a Jack Ryan movie as I’ve come to understand them, yet at the same time, it is the most Jack Ryan movie out of all of them. It’s certainly the only one where he could be considered the “titular character.” At the same time, this could have any strongly named man at the center of it and it would be the exact same movie. If this were Chuck Donovan: Shadow Recruit it would work just the same. I mean, I guess you could say that about any of the previous films, but in the wake of the franchise, this one feels different. It’s trying to be a bit like a Bourne movie, a bit like a Mission: Impossible film, and just a touch like a Jack Ryan film, mostly in the way it just invokes some of the same lore – For example, Ryan does indeed have the same back injury from his time in the Marines, and it once again has absolutely no effect on his ability to do action stuff.
That said, this is a marked step up from the previous film. The Sum of All Fears feels silly, dated, and perfunctory, but Shadow Recruit — a considerably shorter film than any in the series at a scant 105 minutes — moves quickly and doesn’t weigh itself down with larger geopolitical concerns. Yes, it is set in the theater of governmental bureaucracy, but short of the invocation of 9/11 at the outset (which was only employed to get Jack Ryan into the Marines), it’s a timeless tale which could be shifted to suit any era. All that we need to know is that a Russian group may be funding terrorism, and an American analyst might have the knowledge to stop them. Said analyst is surrounded by touchy government types who don’t much care for his enthusiasm or his inclination to question authority, and the stressors of this situation are affecting his personal life. It’s pretty basic, but that’s why I think it works.
Branagh, in yet another self-directed performance, is clearly having a blast as the slimy villain with a taste for the finer things in life, as well a terminal case of cirrhosis. He only has a few months left to live, and as long as he can die while in service of his country, he can die a happy man. Branagh embraces every drip of sleaze that he can squeeze from Viktor Cherevin, and he and Pine are fantastic when facing off against one another. Both have similar motivations: Family, love of country, a desire to do right by those close to him, but Ryan gets the edge in that he cares about what’s morally right and wrong. Cherevin does not. As far as Cherevin is concerned gets the job done is fair game, up to and including putting a light bulb in someone’s mouth so that he can shatter it into their throat with a punch to the jaw. Ryan and Cherevin are sort of like Toretto and Shaw in Fast and Furious 6 – identical, but with different values.
Sorry, I just had to.
Chris Pine is fantastic as Jack Ryan. If Ben Affleck reads as the younger version of Alec Baldwin’s Ryan, Pine reads as the younger version of Harrison Ford’s Ryan. He has the same clumsy fighting style, the same mischievous charm, and even the same tired-yet-sharp line delivery. A scene in which Ryan has to pretend to be drunk in order to sneak away from a dinner with the enemy channels Ford at his best.
But how do dads feel about him?
Using my dad as the baseline, I think that Pine probably plays just fine to the patriarchs in our lives. Pine hasn’t made any political statements in his career, which is key to keeping dads on his side. He seems like a good ol’ American boy, and even though it’s not as explicit as the previous films, his Ryan does touch all of the “I feel represented” bases that dads like my dad (i.e. the most represented person in all of media) tend to require. Also, in this version, Ryan enters the marines after being moved to do so by the events of 9/11. I’d bet damn good money that my dad would watch Shadow Recruit and it would inspire some minor monologuing about how Pat Tillman was a real hero, but the damn schools these days would never teach anybody about him since they’re all dens of liberal propaganda.
The action is better here than in the series on the whole, but that’s because this entry is much more action oriented. We’re not 20 minutes in before Ryan has to drown a man in a bathtub after karate fighting him, and it pretty much doesn’t let up after that. Yeah, there are a few moments of tense boardroom yelling or quiet espionage (in which Costner is an absolute delight), but for the most part, this is an action film, and a decent one at that. It does follow the lead of Patriot Games by having the larger drama come directly at Jack’s personal life (his wife-to-be is kidnapped and nearly tortured at one point), but it’s not the central conflict of the film. Shadow Recruit also tampers down the comedy of The Sum of All Fears a bit, choosing to find humor through situations as opposed to silly dialogue. It suits Pine. He’s very good at shtick.
This was obviously yet another attempt to reboot the series, and once again, it didn’t take. What’s next for Ryan? Television!!! Please note that as much as I enjoyed this franchise, I will NOT be watching the show. I just don’t have that kind of time. You know who will be watching it? DADS.
- Something about Kevin Costner in a CIA windbreaker is hilarious to me. At the same time, nothing has ever felt more right.
- Jack Ryan’s middle name is Patrick, which is also my middle name. I am very awesome.
- This is the first Jack Ryan film to take place in a social media world. There’s a conversation that invokes the usage of social media in governmental (and anti-governmental) communication. This is perhaps the only thriller in existence that mentions Reddit.
- At the beginning of the film, Jack Ryan’s coworker rolls up on his motorcycle and shows off. Ryan indicates that he’s afraid of riding motorcycles. I had no idea that this was going to be Chekhov’s Motorcycle — Jack commandeers it later in the movie, and is naturally the most skilled rider ever. He drives up a wall at one point.
Best line: Jack Ryan finds himself face to face with Viktor Cherevin. They’re not explicitly enemies just yet, but each suspects the other is up to no good. They exchange passive aggressive barbs, and it is pure life.
Cherevin: You Americans like to think of yourselves as direct, but perhaps you are just rude.
Ryan: You Russians think of yourselves as poets, but perhaps you’re just touchy.
Total burn. Wicked burn. I wish Jack Ryan had a posse to freak out in response.
Worst line: There are a few, and I would like to share them all.
– Jack Ryan arrives in Russia and is marveling at the architecture with his driver:
Ryan: Wow! St. Basil’s Cathedral. Beautiful.
Driver: It looks like ice cream. Ice cream top! HaHAA!
– A tense exchange between Jack Ryan and his superior, Rob Behringer:
Ryan: Don’t rock the boat.
Behringer: It’s not a boat. It’s a goddamn luxury yacht and we’re all on it together so don’t fucking sink us!
– The boss, Thomas Harper, as he scolds Jack and Cathy for wasting time to argue with one another:
“This is geopolitics! It’s not couples therapy!”
– Another exchange between Ryan and Harper as Ryan attempts to locate a Russian terrorist within our borders:
Ryan: He’s in Pennsylvania.
Harper: Nobody blows up, Pennsylvania, Jack.
Ryan: Tom, he’s in Pennsylvania.
And finally, at the end of the film, Jack tries to apologize to Cathy for almost getting her killed by involving her in CIA matters:
Jack: You didn’t pick this life. I did.
Cathy: I picked you.
Continuity: Well, this is yet another prequel that takes place after the events of the previous films. Jack joins the Marines after 9/11 occurs, and while in physical therapy due to injuries from a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, he meets his future wife, Cathy. Otherwise, there is really no connective tissue at all to the other films. Colm Feore is back, but he’s not playing the same character. In fact, the only returning characters I can think of are Jack and Cathy.
I think I would’ve liked to see a few more of these with Pine and Knightley. The series, as rebooted here, could have been a lot of fun.
Age: Once again, Ryan’s age is not explicitly mentioned, but at the time of release, Chris Pine was 34. I am 34 and have yet to play Jack Ryan and now I am mad about it.
Job: Jack begins and ends this film as a CIA analyst who moonlights as an undercover auditor.
Family: He does’t have any! Jack meets Cathy at the beginning of the film, and I believe they are engaged by the end, but I can’t remember since I am old and tired.
What we know about him: Same stuff we’ve always known about him. He’s a good dude who does his job, loves his country, and sees himself as the protector of those he loves. He’s not as reticent to do action stuff as Affleck’s Ryan was, and he’s not the total square that Baldwin’s Ryan was. He really does feel like he could grow up to be Ford’s Ryan. Unfortunately, that continuity is shot AND IT HURTS MY BRAIN TO TRY AND RETCON IT INTO FACT.
Welp, that marks the end of the Jack Ryan series and the end of my American Dad series. I came into this project thinking that I would either be blown away by these films or severely disappointed. I figured that they would either be true Shame Files – undiscovered gems in my personal filmic gaps – or they’d be aged, poopy thrillers that fail to excite. As it turns out, they were neither of these things. More or less, each film was of the exact quality I’d expected, as was the series on the whole. That’s perhaps the most surprising part about it all, this series was good, not great. It was solid and reliable. But in a way, that’s precisely how the Jack Ryan franchise should be. Is there anything dads love more than reliability?
My Ranking (Best to worst)
- Clear and Present Danger
- The Hunt For Red October
- Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
- Patriot Games
- The Sum of All Fears