Jack-Ryan-Shadow-Recruit

 

How can a film about intelligence have so little of it?

Paramount Pictures attempts to revive the Jack Ryan franchise this week with Chris Pine in the lead and director Kenneth Branagh at the helm of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. This is a character that would have been better left on the bookshelf.

Jack Ryan is an ex-Marine recruited by the CIA to covertly work as a compliance officer at a large Wall Street firm and look for any funds that may be diverted to terrorist groups. It’s a desk jockey job that befits Ryan’s perceived pencil-pusher ways.

During a routine trip through the company’s computers, Ryan discovers dozens of hidden transactions linked to a single account in Russia. Ryan reports the findings to his higher-ups who, despite Ryan’s objections, insist he head to Moscow to investigate the matter firsthand.

Upon arriving in the Kremlin city, Ryan is assaulted by a purported bodyguard who attempts to kill him with a silenced pistol. Subduing his would be murderer, Jack connects with his handler, William Harper (Kevin Costner) who informs him that he’s now an operational agent and must formulate a strategy to stop the man behind the covert Russian accounts, Viktor Cherevin (Branagh).

With help from his wife (Keira Knightley), Jack steps fully out from behind the desk and into a new role as a true agent of espionage.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a stupid movie. Yes, that’s a reductive and petty statement without a shred of insight whatsoever but it’s also incredibly apt. Just because this is a Branagh film doesn’t mean it has to be Shakespeare, but it would help if it made any sense whatsoever.

Instead, Ryan contains more plot holes than it does plot elements that actually make sense. They’re endless and as the film unfolds more and more pile up in a Gordian Knot of nonsense.

There’s too many that are spoilers to really discuss, but let’s examine the aforementioned wife showing up in the middle of Moscow. She essentially ruins an important operation just by showing up on a whim. This happens in a world where we have a CIA that’s capable of doing absolutely anything. They couldn’t stop her from getting a last second Visa to Russia or getting on an airplane? Also, how is Jack not completely put off by this borderline insane behavior?

And this is the least objectionable plot hole: They just get sillier and more frustrating from there.

It’s a film that becomes laughable and ludicrous as it develops. With no logical sense of where to go, it simply parades spy plot tropes across the screen with no regard for whether or not they fit the film’s idiom or have been properly established as even belonging inside the story. Reason simply doesn’t figure into this film on any level, and the lack of it is just so glaring that it becomes a distraction.

Unfortunately, that’s not all of the film’s problems – Branagh also has a terrible issue in managing its tone. Cherevin essentially has the power to ruin the world. This incredibly high level and high stakes espionage we’re dealing with that the film takes very seriously. Except when it doesn’t want to. Except when it wants to toggle into some sort of a fish-out-of-water spy movie comedy where it’s no big deal if things don’t work out. The tone is actually less consistent than the plot in this regard and it can never settle into the movie it wants to be.

Despite all its shortcoming, Ryan is never boring. It may elicit groans and unintentional laughter, but it never elicits groans. The film is solidly paced and doesn’t let up, even when it’s spiraling out of control. It’s a ridiculous ride, but it’s fun enough no to be completely lousy.

Though this franchise deserves more than just “not completely lousy”.