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Don't blame captain Kirk for ‘Jack Ryan'

By John Dorman, For 21st Century Media

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Chris Pine is the fourth person to play Jack Ryan. This is a weird fact because anyone that is presented with that little tidbit will try and think for the life of them who on earth played Jack Ryan previously (Tom Clancy fans excluded). But then one stumbles upon said list and it’s not such a long walk after all.

Harrison Ford did it best—and he did it twice; “Patriot Games” (Jack Ryan and the IRA) and “Clear and Present Danger” (Jack Ryan and drug cartels)—but then again there are a lot of things that I’m sure Harrison Ford does better than anyone else, so we can’t hold that against Captain Kirk, I mean Chris Pine.

Yet the first Jack Ryan to grace the screen was played by Alec Baldwin during “The Hunt for Red October” (Jack Ryan and a submarine)—wherein Baldwin was outshined by Sean Connery, which is certainly understandable.

Then, finally, there was Ben Affleck in “The Sum of All Fears” …and we’ll just leave that were it is: in the past.

This year’s incarnation of a Jack Ryan motion picture needs proper notation within this context because a.) “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is a prequel (going the backwards route of recent comic-book manifestations like “Batman Begins” and “Man of Steel”) and b.) “Shadow Recruit” is the first big-screen version of Tom Clancy’s character not based on one of his novels; this approach not only erases possible spoilers going in (an equal plus and minus for reasons to be noted later), but it sets up a franchise that could potentially go anywhere it feels like in the future.

Interestingly enough for Chris Pine, this would mark another franchise opportunity, and once again through some queer coincidence Kenneth Branagh serves as director on another franchise-starting hopeful of a film with the aforementioned comic-book template. (The prior Branagh directorial effort was the first “Thor” feature.)

But that notion only suits “Shadow Recruit” for so long as a comparison—and the reason for this should have been noticed earlier in this column. (Forgive me for tipping my pitches.)

Not anchoring this film to one of Clancy’s works begins to create a “Skyfall”-type motion picture occurrence; the filmmakers are attempting to bring Jack Ryan into our current time alongside our modern dangers and fears. Furthermore, if you go for this original-story setup and miss (to keep with the James Bond theme, just look at some of the later Pierce Brosnan efforts), you have no one to blame but yourself.

That being said, Pine plays Ryan as though no one else ever has, so that faulty feeling I get from “Shadow Recruit” doesn’t fall at his feet. Nor can the blame be placed on Kevin Costner, as Ryan’s mentor Thomas Harper, or Kenneth Branagh the actor—who with his uber-villain Viktor Cherevin proves, once again, that he can do anything.

It’s the premise of this motion picture that makes me queasy, yet it feels only like window dressing due to Branagh’s direction hiding of plot and story problems behind beautiful characters, locales and set pieces.

Screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp have Jack Ryan in “Shadow Recruit” stumbling upon a Russian plot to destroy the dollar via treasury transfers and a terrorist attack to send the good old US of A back into something akin the Great Depression. It doesn’t sound terrible, but the exposition-heavy narrative leaves little—if any—room for a plausible conflict resolution.

Qualms aside, I’d give this franchise as fair a shot as any to service and potentially thrive because, in all honesty, they’ve got a decent foundation on which to build a compelling follow-up feature. Plus it is called “Shadow Recruit,” which I’d argue hints that they’ve already got the next one in mind.