Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review

poster from the Paramount Pictures film Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit

I was looking forward to this movie. I liked the previous Jack Ryan films and since the world’s biggest ‘fun’ spy franchise (James Bond) has become ultra-serious, realistic, and confusing, I thought that Jack Ryan (previously ultra-serious, realistic, and confusing) might switch places with it. I was led to believe this from the fact that they chose Chris Pine and stopped basing the plots on Tom Clancy novels.

A CIA analyst is reluctantly pressed into action after he uncovers a Russian plot to take down the American economy.

While Shadow Recruit was certainly a thrilling thriller, that was (relatively) easy to understand and (somewhat) realistic, it lacked the element of fun I was hoping for. It’s moved away from the usual tropes of the Jack Ryan franchise but hasn’t taken over the ones James Bond abandoned, so it comes off a little bland. I worry about its staying power as a franchise.


For Shadow Recruit, the character of Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) was lifted from his original Cold War timeline and placed in a post 9-11 timeline. Jack is studying economics in university when the planes hit the towers and inspire him to join the Marines. After a helicopter crash in the Afghan mountains leaves him with a mangled back, he meets Cathy (Keira Knightly), the doctor who becomes his love interest and Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) the CIA agent who will become his boss.

Jack meets Thomas Harper from the Paramount Pictures film Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit

We heard you have two brain cells to rub together. Want to be a spy?

Super number-smart Jack becomes an analyst, working undercover at Wall Street to try and track down terrorists by following their money. Unfortunately, when they updated the story to modern times they forgot to update the villain, so instead of stateless ideology-based militias, Jack is pitted against Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), a high level Russian agent, like it’s the Cold War all over again. Only this time instead of nuclear weapons, the Russians are threatening them with economic collapse.

Viktor shoots a goon from the Paramount Pictures film Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit

I vill shoot you in your stock markets, Capitalist pig-dog!

As 2008 taught us, economic collapse is scary and realistic, but it’s also boring to watch on screen, because it mostly consists of typing some things into a computer. In order to make the action more actiony, the writers stipulate that the economic collapse must be precipitated by another terror attack on the United States. In doing so the writers reveal themselves and their machinations to the world.

Jack on a laptop from the Paramount Pictures film Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit

We tried to make the typing more exciting by not giving Jack a chair.

Hilariously, Jack seems to be the only person in the CIA capable of putting two and two together, so he’s dispatched to Moscow to uncover the attack plans and quickly finds himself embroiled in spy action. The fact that Jack used to be a Marine smacks of the writers trying to have their cake and eat it too. On one hand, his soldier training makes it more believable that he’d be able to thwart his own surprise assassination without any weapons.

Jack drowns an assassin from the Paramount Pictures film Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit

Gosh, it’s lucky I don’t have a bad back or anything!

On the other hand, if he’s already combat trained, why didn’t the CIA make him an operative in the first place? And if this isn’t the first time he’s been in combat, why does he seem so out of his element? And: if he’s been taught how to behave when people are shooting at him, why does he insist on running headlong into the fray, unarmed? Seriously, the only reason he survived this movie is because Harper sniped all the bad guys out of his way.

Harper covers Jack from the Paramount Pictures film Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit

For Pete’s sake, at least duck your head or something.

Another thing that annoyed me was the characterization of Cathy. Her poster tagline is ‘accomplice, asset, weapon,’ which makes it seem like she’s important to the story, but in reality she’s the same stupid action hero’s girlfriend stereotype all over again. She follows him to Moscow because she thinks he’s cheating, tries to help him by waving her rack in the bad guy’s face, and then gets kidnapped. To borrow a phrase from my friend the Bare Knuckle Writer: ‘asset’ my entire ass!

Cathy and Viktor from the Paramount Pictures film Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit

So Viktor, my spy–I mean fiancĂ©e!– tells me you like lady parts.

I could complain until I’m blue in the face about Shadow Recruit‘s script-related problems. It treats computer data like hard copy. The characters are able to fly from Russia to the United States in about 10 minutes. Jack becomes a one-man CIA for the last third of the movie.

Cops spread out from the Paramount Pictures film Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit

Jack? Jack? At least tell us where you’re going, you f***er!

But the one thing that I can’t argue away is the fact that it is thrilling – just as a thriller should be. My spazzy leg was jackhammering like mad for the second half of the movie as Jack snuck into secure buildings, stole computer files, charged into hailstorms of bullets, and chased down a bad guy with a big bomb. So if you want to be carried away by some well-shot action, go see this movie.

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