Four men have played the role of Jack Ryan in the film adaptations of Tom Clancy’s novels: Alec Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October, 1990), Harrison Ford (The Patriot Games, 1992 and Clear and Present Danger, 1994), Ben Affleck (The Sum of All Fears, 2002) and now Chris Pine with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. No offense to the other men, but Pine just might have the others beat.

Instead of continuing on where the studios left off, Paramount decided to start over from the beginning, sort of. Although not based on any one novel, Shadow Recruit shows the beginnings of Jack Ryan’s career with the CIA. While it could be considered an origin story, Shadow Recruit doesn’t spend much time on the past and is a good plot that stands well on its own.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh (who does double duty acting as the bad guy as well), this story shows a very different Jack from the previous films. Unlike the more self-assured characters that the first three actors presented, Pine acts a lot more like a fish out of water. Although properly trained for just such occasions, he is a nervous wreck. He is also noticeably different than his other, more recent role as Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek franchise.

The movie story begins on 9/11 with Jack studying at college in London. He is so moved by the event that he joins the service. The next thing you know, he gets recruited by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) to become a CIA analyst. Jack thinks he’s getting a fairly easy office job, but he’s in for a big change during his visit with Russian business leader, Viktor Cherevin (Branagh). He is already stressed with the fact that he has to keep his fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley) in the dark regarding his occupation, which puts a strain on their relationship. 

Without going into detail, let’s just say that things don’t go completely as planned in Russia. This film is calm one moment and then suddenly whips around in action, making it a fun ride. Through it all, Jack keeps up his Boy Scout image without a hint of cockiness.

Unlike the previous films, the storyline for Shadow Recruit is simpler to follow. In some ways, it feels like it has been “dumbed down” a bit, but compared to the convoluted storylines of the previous films, this is a welcome change. Cathy’s character is given more to do as well. 

As for the swearing and violence, they are at a minimum. That’s not to say that there isn’t any fighting – there is, but it is not very bloody and anything that is, is shown off-screen. Some will have an issue with the fact that Jack and his girlfriend live together and that Cathy isn’t in any hurry to tie the knot.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit stars Chris Pine (Star Trek, People Like Us), Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Carribean, Anna Karenina), Kevin Costner (Man of Steel, Dances with Wolves) and Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). It is rated “PG-13” for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language.

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