Jack Ryan was not born to be an action hero, even if he had a healthy respect for them. Ryan first appeared in The Hunt for Red October, published in 1984 by the U.S. Naval Institute Press (because nobody else thought readers would be interested in that kind of technical minutiae), for which Tom Clancy was reportedly paid $5,000. In the midst of the Clinton era, the settings of the novels shifted from actual history to America's imagined future. Ryan became the Commander-in-Chief with whom conservative readers desperately wanted to replace the one they had in real life.
But even then, our hero gave executive orders, rather than carrying them out himself. A decade and a half before 9/11, Ryan morphed from analyst to hawkish political sugar daddy, giving those who fought America's enemies a mandate and the necessary funding to unleash righteous anger. Clancy loved his supersoldiers, to be sure, but Ryan was never—until today—one of them.
Hollywood, mostly, which has little room for heroes or stories that are much different from the ones we got a week before. Jack Ryan isn't such a beloved character that reimagining him would feel sacrilegious. And the character we get in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is not the complete antithesis of his literary namesake.
It's just that "reimagining" feels and sounds like too generous a word for a movie this generic. David Koepp, who wrote this film along with Adam Cozad, also wrote for Mission: Impossible, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Panic Room, Spider-Man, War of the Worlds, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdomof theCrystal Skull.
Those are some wildly successful and well-plotted movies, but they aren't exactly character driven. And the ones that revolve around established characters do little to flesh them out. The Koepp formula is simple: get objects in motion and let Newton's first law take over from there. Similarly, with little more than Microsoft Word's "search and replace" function, Shadow Recruit's story easily could have been Bourne 5 or another Mission: Impossible film.
There's not much to say about the story. The Russians want to send America into the second great depression by combining insider trading with a well-placed car bomb. Why? No reason exactly, other than international jealousy and the possibility that playing a Bond-style villain may be the only thing Branagh could think of to make the six people in America who didn't watch Thor forget he is the greatest Shakespearean actor of his generation. When Ryan notices a pattern of suspicious financial accounts, he goes off to Moscow to investigate.
That's the set-up, but the movie itself could have been set pretty much anywhere. Ryan's fiancée, finding out that her boyfriend is a spy, says what any self-respecting American woman would: doesn't she get to play too? So there's flirting at a restaurant. There's needlessly complicated stealing of keys and codes. There's downloading of computer files as handlers whisper into earpieces that the hero needs to leave now. And, of course, there's a digital display on a bomb's detonator that ticks down as the hero fights a madman with his finger on the button. Even the visual palette is generic: chrome and black with lots of glass for the banking district, rain to reflect the teal lights at night, and an amber hue for domestic interiors.