Fanboy Flick Pick: When It Comes to Tom Clancy, Kenneth Branagh Don’t Know Jack


We need to talk about Chris Pine’s face.

No, I’m not talking about how pretty it is. I’m not some big brother complaining about how terrible my sisters’ tastes in boy bands are, and you’re not a true Belieber telling me I’m just jealous. Fact is, I admit Pine is a handsome guy, I sure wouldn’t mind looking that good, and I actually think he’s kinda cool. You have to have skills to step into Shatner’s uniform and not totally piss me off.

I’m talking specifically about the way his face looks in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Something is distractingly wrong with it.

First, there are his lips – they don’t appear able to move much and seem slightly more swollen then I remember, like Dr. McCoy’s injection from the first Star Trek film still hasn’t worn off. Then his eyes, which look red, tired and pained. It honestly looks like for most of the shoot, he went out heavily drinking every night and getting collagen injections he couldn’t remember the next morning. In Russia, of course, this seems entirely plausible.

“Chris, I’m gonna need you to walk that straight line for me”

Because Jack Ryan’s last “origin” story, the Ben Affleck-led The Sum of All Fears, apparently wasn’t origin-y enough, it’s reboot time again. Perhaps thinking that it was too unrealistic for a rookie agent to save the world from nuclear war, the filmmakers, working with their first non-Tom Clancy adaptation, have pit the young agent against a dastardly Russian (director Kenneth Branagh) who wants to…start a massive economic depression in the U.S.?

Okay, we all do realize that it doesn’t take an external villain to make that happen, right? Good. In fairness, the timeframe is non-specific – we begin with Ryan in college when 9-11 happens, then as a volunteer Marine in Afghanistan, then back to the U.S., being recruited by the CIA right out of physical rehab. Never does it absolutely say we’re up to the present day yet, so maybe this is all pre-2008.


Now, pretty much everything I know about the CIA, I know from showing my late father-in-law movies like the Valerie Plame drama Fair Game, and listening to him point out every single inaccuracy on the screen (bear in mind he was sympathetic to Plame), so I’m just a tad dubious about the fact that Jack Ryan in this movie is hired as an analyst to secretly examine financial data under cover of a Wall Street job…then halfway through the mission gets upgraded to field agent. The whole point of having different people for analysis and field work is so that one person can’t compromise the mission too much if caught, and this rookie agent knows every damn thing about the case from the top down. Maybe the point is that he’s Jack Ryan and he’s SO awesome that he can do both jobs at once, but in the real world, his supervisor Harper (Kevin Costner) would probably be fired. Except here, too, Harper has a supervisory desk job and he puts himself right into the field shooting bad guys with a sniper rifle, risking a shit-ton of compromised missions if he were to be nabbed off the streets of Moscow.

One of these things is not like the others

I’m kind of okay with all that stuff, so long as you don’t tell me you’re explicitly NOT doing James Bond and being “real.” It’s as realistic as Keira Knightley’s misplaced American accent; isn’t Ryan’s wife supposed to be English?

I realize I’m poking holes in something that isn’t really meant to stand up to scrutiny. While all involved talk a good game, this movie really is a bit of a toss-off, a disposable date movie to enjoy momentarily and then completely forget about. On that score, it works; seeming hangover aside, Pine is an enjoyable screen presence with a good sense of timing and delivery, while Costner’s more fun as an aging action guy than he ever was in his (tedious) prime. Branagh’s a more difficult nut to crack – it feels like he couldn’t bear to play a completely unsympathetic villain, so while his Viktor Cherevin begins the movie as an uber-badass holding all the cards, he rather quickly folds into the least effective spy-movie nemesis since Dr. Evil, who at least had frickin’ lasers. Cherevin’s best weapon is a mercury-laden eco-lightbulb – granted, he does indeed make it frightening in context, but still…a lightbulb?

If they must continue this movie franchise – and inevitably they will, even if it’s yet another reboot – I’m fine with Pine being the guy, though I suggest maybe next time shooting in a country with less constant partying (hard to blame the guy; with his looks and health, I’d be out late too), like a Muslim country. Actors aren’t everything to this series, however: the once-dependable Harrison Ford never did much for me as Ryan, while surprisingly Ben Affleck was more appealing than usual. Fans of Ryan, I would think, want Tom Clancy’s stories in the equation, and rightly so. The author may not be turning in his grave, but a slight bout of restlessness is probably to be expected, as his spirit goes, “dammit, Branagh, even a non-military critic guy sees the holes in your logic!”

You could do worse for a January date movie. I hope next time, they’ll do better.