2014 has not been a good year for movies. As a matter of fact, one could argue that this year has been one of the worst years for movies in recent years. Marvel and DC spent the summer trying hard to one-up the other on a bigger scale than ever before. And both of Michael Bay’s big screen blockbusters failed to reach audiences in the way that had been hoped. And the summer season wasn’t the only disappointing part of the year, either. Paramount tried to make a hit with its latest installment in the Jack Ryan franchise in the form of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Sadly, even putting that movie at the start of the year didn’t help this largely disappointing, formulaic flick. Compared to the big name films that filled out (and flopped) the summer movie season this year, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is not much better. The most obvious of reasons for its failure is the fact that it’s not just a continuation of the late author Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan franchise, but that it is yet another complete re-working of that franchise. That is nothing new from the Jack Ryan franchise. Another reason that this movie fails is its writing. Rather than paying homage to the stylistic approach of previous Jack Ryan films, this one is more of a formulaic action flick than one with the substance of say The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games or Clear and Present Danger. The one positive to the whole thing is believe it or not the acting on the part of veteran actor Kevin Costner. That’s the biggest surprise of all considering how overrated he and the movies in which he has starred throughout his career have proven to be over the years. It’s the one shining light in a movie that does absolutely nothing to honor the legacy of Tom Clancy’s one great franchise. Had this movie been any other movie and not part of the Jack Ryan franchise, it might have worked. But sadly that wasn’t the case. And as a result, it will ultimately end up becoming a largely forgettable film.
When Paramount Studios decided to back Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the studio’s heads had to have known that this movie was a major gamble. The last time that audiences heard from Jack Ryan was in 2002’s largely forgettable film The Sum Of All Fears. That movie failed for many of the same reasons that this latest installment in the Jack Ryan franchise failed, too. The primary reason for that failure is the fact that it is obviously set on a completely different timeline than the franchise’s previous installments—The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger. Those that remember that far back will recall that according to the original canon, Ryan was injured in a helicopter accident in Vietnam or Korea. This movie sees Jack being injured after his chopper was shot down in Afghanistan. And the movie itself is set not long after the events of September 11th, 2001. So right from the beginning, audiences are introduced to a story that is set on yet another completely different time line. At least the transition between the original Jack Ryan movies (The Sum of All Fears not included) was believable. This isn’t the first time that lead actor Chris Pine has starred in a reboot, either, sadly enough, either. Anyone remember the recently rebooted Star Trek franchise?
The fact that Paramount has not only rebooted the Jack Ryan franchise, but put it on a completely different timeline is bad enough. But that’s only the beginning of the problems for this movie. Things get even worse when taking into consideration the movie’s script. This movie’s script hardly echoes the quality scripts presented in the original movies in the Jack Ryan franchise. It is a formulaic action flick rife with car chases, explosions, the standard hero and villain roles, and equally standard chase to save the damsel in distress. The damsel in question is Ryan’s love interest Dr. Cathy Muller, played well enough by Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean 1 – 3). It’s all set against a story that is anything but original. As a matter of fact, it lifts liberally from some all too familiar events from the early 1990s. The original Jack Ryan movies didn’t need to rely on actual events to be enjoyable. The people behind their scripts crafted stories that were both original and enjoyable all in one. This movie sadly doesn’t do that. The result is yet again a story that will in the long run be anything but memorable.
For all of the negatives that weigh down Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, there is at least one positive to the whole thing, albeit a small positive. But good is good, right? The one positive to the entire presentation is the work of veteran actor Kevin Costner. Those that are familiar with Seth McFarlane’s hit animated Fox sitcom Family Guy will recall the joke asking “How does he keep getting work?” The joke is fully substantiated considering Costner’s own acting and the movies in which he has starred throughout his career. In this critic’s own view, the only good movie in which Kevin Costner has ever starred was Field of Dreams (1989). His acting was good. And the story was just as good. Other than that, he hasn’t really landed a memorable role or starred in a memorable movie. In the case of this movie, Kostner takes a back seat to the much younger Pine. He doesn’t try to hog the screen as some sort of mentor or anything to that extent. He is just someone older with more experience. He passes on some knowledge to Pine’s younger Ryan at one point. Other than that, he is largely a supporting character. And he does quite well in that role, too. He is actually believable in that role, interestingly enough. That being said, his acting is about the only thing to which audiences have to be excited in this movie. Other than that, it is mostly a forgettable movie.
When Paramount Studios decided last year to release Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit at the back end of the annual winter movie season, the studio’s hopes were obviously that it would bring in better numbers, not being jumbled in with the far too overcrowded summer blockbuster season. Sadly, even now in its home release, audiences will see that no matter when the movie was released, it was doomed to failure. It could be argued that in examining the movie’s script, it is little more than a fictionalized and modernized story “based on actual events.” That’s especially the case for those that remember certain events from the early 1990s. The fact that the movie places Jack Ryan in a wholly different timeline once again takes away from its enjoyment even more. Even the star power of veteran actor Kevin Costner couldn’t help the movie even though he actually succeeded in his supporting role. Keira Knightley does very little to help the story, either. Her character Dr. Cathy Muller comes across as little more than the helpless love interest to Pine’s Jack. All things considered, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit proves to be one more in a long line of prequels, sequels, and reboots churned out this year that will ultimately end up being forgotten amid that mass of other equally forgettable films. Here’s to hoping that should audiences ever see any new adventures of Jack Ryan, Paramount and company will get it right next time.