Having already taken over the iconic role of Capt. Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek, Chris Pine guns for another A-list franchise in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. It’s a prequel that serves as an origin story for the badass CIA analyst embodied originally by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October, most famously by Harrison Ford in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, and forgettably by Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears. Fear not this belated fifth chapter.
Following the events of 9/11 — and thus messing with the series’ timeline, but get over it — Ryan trades studying economics for a stint in the Marines. Serving in Afghanistan, he endures a spinal injury in the process — an RPG-downed helicopter, to be precise — and while undergoing physical therapy is recruited by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner, talking out one side of his mouth as if simultaneously storing nuts in his cheeks and packing sunflower seeds and Skoal in his bottom lip) to be a spy under the CIA’s employ. Ten years later, working undercover on Wall Street, Ryan notices something fishy in a Russian corporation’s books and is sent to Moscow to clean it up.
Using U.S./Russia pipeline talks as a MacGuffin, director Kenneth Branagh (Thor) casts himself as Viktor Cherevin, the cirrhotic head of the Russkie firm plotting America’s economic collapse … and only Jack Ryan can stop him! Well, with generous assistance from Ryan’s fiancée therapist (Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game) and Harper, in an elongated heist sequence that recalls the set pieces of Paramount’s tone-similar Mission: Impossible films. (Pine even adopts Tom Cruise’s famous palms-flat/fingers-out running stance.) Knightley’s convenient appearance in Moscow just in time for the operation is a contrivance, yes, but one that works.
Although the Cold War long has thawed, Shadow Recruit presses the “reheat” button to recall the ’80s-Reagan flavor of the previous installments, all based on Tom Clancy novels. Working from a script co-written by first-timer Adam Cozad and old pro David Koepp (Jurassic Park), Branagh all but dispenses with the Clancy touchstones of geopolitical rigamarole and overtly right-wing rah-rah hoohah that oftentimes crippled the pace of the predecessors, and focuses on action. In doing so — and in bathing the screen in gorgeous saturated colors during moments of inaction — he delivers a surprisingly engaging spy tale, fleet of foot. You can feel it dividing itself into traditional thirds, each clicking neatly into place. —Rod Lott