Believe it or not, but between Jack Ryan and James Bond, the two fan favourite super-spies have been in almost the same amount of movies since 1990 (five vs. seven, respectively). Still, while the Jack Ryan films have always done well at the box office, they were never quite able to turn the Tom Clancy hero into a viable franchise like his British counterpart at MI6. So, 12 years after Ben Affleck tried to reboot Ryan with "The Sum of All Fears," now it's back to square one again for Chris Pine and director Kenneth Branagh.
Based on the popular series of Clancy novels, but not focusing on one story in particular, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" offers up another origin tale for the CIA analyst turned reluctant action hero. After enlisting with the Marines following 9/11, Ryan (Pine) is first recruited by the CIA to go undercover on Wall Street, eventually joining them in the field to help take down a Russian businessman (Branagh, doing double duty) plotting to crash the US economy with a coordinated terrorist attack.
For years, Hollywood has tried to copy the Bond model, giving every mass-market hero their own potential franchise: Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher, Alex Cross. And even though "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" isn't a great movie, Ryan still seems like Hollywood's most viable option for developing an American 007. Here's why.
1. He's already been played by multiple actors.
Sure, everybody's got their favourite Bond, but the character isn't tied down to any one actor, which gives producers a license to reboot every 5-10 years, and is how the franchise has lasted through over five decades, 23 movies, and six Bonds. Likewise, Pine will be the fourth Jack Ryan in five movies, with only Harrison Ford playing him twice. And unlike the "Bourne" franchise, which has had difficulty moving on from Matt Damon, audiences are already used to seeing different faces playing the ass-kicking CIA agent -- which gives Pine a great shot at putting his own stamp on the role. No disrespect to Ben Affleck, of course.
2. There's a wealth of source material.
Thanks to Ian Fleming's string of novels, there's no shortage of story ideas for new Bond movies. Same goes for Ryan, though the "Shadow Recruit" screenwriters eschewed picking a specific book to adapt, instead drawing on the entire series to help reboot the character. Considering the boilerplate, surprise-free plot about a Russian terrorist attack on US soil that they ended up with, this may not have been the wisest course of action.
3. It's another origin story.
Even Bond was threatening to get stale after Pierce Brosnan, until Daniel Craig and "Casino Royale" director Martin Campbell breathed new life into the franchise by taking the character back to Day 1 on the job. "Shadow Recruit" does the same, going back to the beginning (but with a modern-day setting) to show us a young Ryan's early military heroics, how he met his future wife Cathy (Keira Knightley), and was recruited by the CIA. But the movie doesn't just stop there, following the "Casino Royale" playbook right down to Ryan's first kill which, exactly like Craig's 007, happens in a bathroom.
4. He's got a signature skill set.
Like Bond, Ryan's a man of many talents, which, according to "Shadow Recruit," include being really good at quickly analyzing a wealth of complex data and punching people. Expect frequent shots of Pine concentrating extremely hard, then miraculously coming up with the right answers, along with obligatory hacking scenes featuring a lot of beeping, flashing red lights and tense sweating to go along with the typical espionage slight-of-hand. What he doesn't have, however, is a Bond-esque signature drink. Because while we do see Pine's Ryan down his fair share of red wine on the job, for now at least, his drink of choice seems to be whatever he can chase Percocets with.
5. He also has a no-nonsense boss.
To be fair, few people can match Dame Judi Dench in terms of gravitas, but Kevin Costner is still a welcome sight in "Shadow Recruit" as Ryan's boss/mentor Thomas Harper. Unlike M, Harper actually joins Ryan on the job, helping him work through any first-day jitters. And while Ryan may ostensibly prefer being behind a desk to out in the field, at least he's got a more fun gig than working for the CIA's hotel turndown service.
6. The villains are foreign.
Thanks to the post-9/11 update, Ryan's no longer a Cold War hero, but that doesn't mean he can't still have Russian antagonists. Branagh's Viktor Cherevin is the type of scenery-chewing villain you'd expect to see in a Bond movie, minus the incessant monologuing about his dastardly plans and the volcano lairs. He's also one of the more entertaining parts of "Shadow Recruit."
7. His love life is complicated.
Unlike the womanizing Bond, Clancy's Ryan is happily married, but that doesn't stop "Shadow Recruit" from introducing a little strife into Ryan's relationship with his fiancée. Since it's tough to balance a healthy, trusting relationship with being a secret agent, the movie sees Cathy accidentally embroiled in the international espionage because she's worried Ryan's having an affair. She takes to the gig well (of course), but it's not exactly the freshest or most compelling B-plot.
8. They hired a respected director.
Following the post-"Casino Royale" route of hiring acclaimed directors to blow things up, "Shadow Recruit" enlisted Branagh. Granted, the former "Hamlet" director isn't as much of a left-field choice anymore after proving he could handle big budget action with "Thor," but "Shadow Recruit" feels like a much more workmanlike blockbuster than the courtly superhero movie, and Branagh seems like he's having more fun perfecting his Russian accent than his action-directing chops.
9. He deserves another mission.
With nothing but Oscar bait for competition at the box office, "Shadow Recruit" should be another moneymaker for the Ryan franchise, even if there's nothing particularly exceptional about the character's latest reboot. Still, with a better script behind him, it's worth seeing what Pine's Ryan could do with an actual Clancy mission. After borrowing Bond's signature line at the end of "Shadow Recruit" though, introducing himself to the President as "Ryan, Jack Ryan," the guy's just got to work on developing his own catchphrase first.
"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is now playing in theatres.