Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Blu-ray Review: They Didn’t Know Jack

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a perfectly entertaining generic action movie. It’s not a very good Tom Clancy movie at all, but I was never bored. I think it’s likely this franchise will need its third reboot in a row to continue, so while I will analyze what Shadow Recruit got wrong, I can still say I had some fun watching it.

Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) recruits Jack to the CIA, and in the present Ryan uncovers a plot to ruin the American economy via a combination of terrorism and insider trading. The plot is a lot easier to follow than the earlier Jack Ryan movies, because it is far less sophisticated. I suppose it’s hard to complain about a movie being easier to understand, but even when I’m a little lost in Clear and Present Danger, I know someone did the research. Clancy at the very least, if not the screenwriters themselves.

They did action it up for the new Jack Ryan, despite comments that they’d intended to stick to his intellectual side. Jack fights a gunman in his hotel, there’s a raid on a garage headquarters that leads to a car chase, and a motorcycle chase finale. There were always a few set pieces in Jack Ryan movies but not enough to fill the Jerry Bruckheimer action quota. You could even count the helicopter crash in the prologue, but it’s a chaotic shakycam mess so I’ll let it slide as backstory. There is, however, a Mission: Impossible style routine in the middle of the movie with a ton of close calls and slick handoffs.

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Listen, I love action movies but I know that’s really shoehorning Jack Ryan into a different formula. They’re great action scenes full of real motorcycle stunts and fight choreography, I assume performed by great stuntmen. That motorcycle comes from a colleague of Ryan’s who was introduced early in the movie, so it is even set up for a payoff like your usual generic action movie. In most movies, I’d be disappointed if the motorcycle didn’t come back later, but when it does in Jack Ryan, it felt distracting. The movie is certainly not slow, packing all of this and a plot too in under 100 minutes before credits roll.

I think bringing Cathy along for the adventure is a lot more Hollywood than Clancy. It feels like they want to create a role for a major star like Keira Knightley, but they got big stars in the past without making her a Bond girl. I’m all for feminism but Cathy Muller is just a prop. She’s there to get kidnapped and she contributes a bit of useful information near the end, like most non-central characters in movies do. Knightley is also sporting a valley girl accent for a character who’s from D.C. She’s a great actor, but having grown up around D.C. myself, that was distracting.

The Blu-ray looks great. It’s a new release so it’s going to be of the most up to date tech specs. The Moscow scenes in this movie look way more attractive than the ones in A Good Day to Die Hard. It has to do with simple things like actually lighting the scenes and composing the shots.

The bonus features are mostly generic, where they get all the actors to talk about their roles while they’re on the set. It may be interesting to hear the filmmakers’ intentions for creating a new Jack Ryan, juxtaposed with the generic movie that resulted. They also claim at one point that there’s no shakycam, and clearly there are scenes where the handheld camera is jerking around. Maybe they thought SHAKYCAM (TM) was a brand name and they’d gone with the mom and pop brand of unsteady camera.

There is an interesting historical feature about the Cold War and aftermath which runs over 20 minutes and illustrates the worlds in which various Tom Clancy stories took place. Branagh and Lorenzo di Bonaventura give an audio commentary and keep talking throughout the whole film, so they are engaging. This is a mild recommendation for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit but I had some fun with it. It’s as entertaining when it’s wrong as it is when it’s right. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.