Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit movie posterSynopsis
Based on characters created by Tom Clancy, Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is an US Marine veteran who is recruited by CIA agent William Harper (Kevin Costner) to be a financial analyst after he was seriously injured when his chopper was shot down. When Ryan discovers a Russian scheme to collapse the US economy, he travels to Moscow where he goes from an analyst to an active field agent. Ryan must quickly unravel the plot before Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) can bring his plan to fruition, while at the same time keep his relationship with his girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightly).

I do not have much experience with anything Tom Clancy related, whether it’s his books, previous Jack Ryan movies, or the video games. So when I went into the theater to see Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, I had no expectations about the characters. I went to see it simply because it is a spy thriller and the trailer looked pretty cool. For me, this movie’s trailer maybe made me expect a little to much from the film and in the end, I felt let down.

The cast was fairly strong. Chris Pine has been the lead before in movies like Star Trek and does a decent job carrying the movie , but I think he does better when he has a larger supporting cast behind him. Kevin Costner does great as Ryan’s handler and it was nice to see Keira Knightly in something other than a period piece. But the strongest performance was from Kenneth Branagh. He brings a chilling class to his character.

Unlike most action/spy movies, this film does a good job not becoming too over-the-top. You won’t experience anything you haven’t seen in almost any other spy thriller, and frankly I wasn’t too engrossed in the ‘break America by breaking their economy’ plot, but it is a melting pot of the elements that make other spy films enjoyable. The only thing I was a little ‘eh’ on was when Ryan figured out the location of a sleeper agent. The way he jumps around and finally reaches the conclusion felt out of place with the rest of the movie.

Shaky cam really gets on my nerves. I don’t like it at all. Any time the action picks up in Jack Ryan, the camera immediately starts shaking violently and you can’t see anything, especially when several scenes take place at night. I miss the days when the cameras in action movies stayed in place and you could see the characters duking it out.

This is a bit spoilerish but it was something that bothered me about the trailer after watching the movie. The trailer makes Jack Ryan look like there is someone in the CIA out to get Ryan, which is a bit misleading. There is no element of “who can you trust?” at all. Everyone is on the same side and no double crossing. Normally I wouldn’t care, but it was such a dominate part of the trailer that I felt it needed mentioning.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit doesn’t bring anything new to the spy-genre table, but it does maintain the components that make them fun and enjoyable. Pine does well carrying the movie, but he seems to do better when he has a larger supporting cast to work with. It never becomes too over the top, mostly staying within the realm of reality. Jack Ryan isn’t a terrible movie, but it doesn’t do anything to stand out either.


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Trailer

Synopsis (from IMDB): Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

Unlike the other Jack Ryan movies, Shadow Recruit is not based on any specific Tom Clancy novel. Instead, it is an original story based on Clancy’s characters and is intended as a reboot of the franchise.  Given Chris Pine’s recent roles in action movies (Star Trek, This Means War), this role should be pretty natural for him.  It seems like producers have learned that naming movies after the book’s protagonist isn’t interesting (ie Jack Reacher, Parker, Alex Cross).  I’m most interested to see how Pine and Kiera Knightly play off each other.  If the scene in the hotel room with them and Kevin Costner is any indication, it looks like they should do well.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, directed by Kenneth Branagh (Director of Thor, Professor Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) who also plays the antagonist of the film, will be in theaters December 25, 2013.

[EDIT 10/24/2013] The release date has been pushed back to January 17, 2014.

The Chronicles of Riddick (Director’s Cut) Review

The Chronicles Of Riddick movie posterSynopsis
After hiding for five years after the events of Pitch Black, mercenaries chase Riddick to Helion Prime. There, he reunites with Imam (Keith David) who tells Riddick about the invading Necromongers. He agrees to help fend off the invaders after the leader of the “elementals” of Helion, Aereon (Judi Dench), pleas for help.

I didn’t really care for Pitch Black, but I did like the character of Riddick, so I was excited to see if his follow up film engaged me better than his debut. Much to my satisfaction, The Chronicles of Riddick is an improvement from its predecessor, and is much closer to my science fiction tastes.

One major distinction between the first two Riddick movies is the type of sci-fi film they are. Pitch Black is a B-level horror-survival film that has a cult following, but never really clicked for me, whereas Chronicles moves more towards the fantastical elements of sci-fi, more towards my inclination. The fantasy element is pretty prevalent throughout the film. Aereon is a wind elemental, so she can float around like a wisp. Then the leader of the Necromongers, the Lord Marshall (Colm Feore), can grab peoples souls. It’s and interesting blend of the sci-fi and fantasy genres.

The other main difference between Chronicles and Pitch Black is Chronicles actually has somewhat of a storyline. This film has Riddick working towards something tangible, rather than just surviving like in the first movie. In Chronicles, Riddick has two enemies to face: Toombs (Nick Chinlund), a mercenary also seen in the short Dark Fury, and the Necromongers, a warrior race determined to wipe out humanity. Normally, I would complain about no central villain, therefore losing focus on both parties, but the Director’s Cut’s 135 minute run time gives both villains enough screen time and doesn’t feel rushed or clustered.

Also, there is an added sub-plot about Riddick’s past and the fate of his home planet of Furya. It doesn’t really add much to the film itself, but I enjoyed these little tid-bits because it fleshed out his character more.

There is a diverse range of locations throughout the course of the movie, and the sets all look amazing. There are several starship interiors, the surface of a sun-scorched planet, cities, and Necromonger rooms, but my favorite was the prison Riddick was sent to after being captured. It was very reminiscent of the Alien films. Very well done.

As cool as the fantasy elements were, I think they also hurt the film the most. Pitch Black established the Riddick universe as a more grounded sci-fi, and although I applaud them for trying something different in Chronicles, it contradicts the tone established in the first movie. It also made for some weird plot devices (Surrounded by enemies? All of a sudden Riddick can shoot energy waves from his body.  Sure, why not?). They could have still done something different, yet maintain the mood of the Pitch Black.

Riddick is as bad-ass as ever, and Chronicles explores the character’s past, further fleshing him out. With alluring set design, energetic fight scenes, and a blending of science-fiction and fantasy, Chronicles of Riddick may not be the perfect sci-fi movie, but it’s a fun experience nonetheless.


For more of The Chronicles of Riddick series, check out my reviews for Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, and Riddick