Monday, January 27, 2014

Rohan vs. Ryan

(Rohan Morbey, who blogs at Stop Thinking For Yourself UK, is so upset by Shadow Recruit, the new reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise, that he shared his thoughts here before even posting them on his own blog. We're always happy to include his posts here [and will enjoy the exclusivity, while it lasts], and recommend that you follow Rohan on Twitter.) 

Since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass left the Jason Bourne series, the franchise has really gone downhill as the studio keeps on churning out sequels. First it was Jeremy Renner, and now it’s Chris Pine who takes over the mantle... wait... what’s that? This isn’t a Jason Bourne spin-off?

O.K, you get where I’m coming from. Here we have another ‘post-Bourne’ style action thriller which is completely without an identity of its own, clearly designed to capitalise on the success of a film making style which peaked in 2007. When the producers of the James Bond series attempted to copy the style for Quantum of Solace in 2008 we all saw through the facade and the film makers learnt their lesson, so it comes as a great disappointment to see Paramount Pictures taking a perfectly fine franchise like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series and making the same mistakes.

Jack Ryan, however, is not James Bond or Jason Bourne. He’s not an action hero but he gets caught up in action because he’s the only one who has the intelligence and detailed knowledge of the enemy; whether that be a Soviet submarine captain, a Columbian drug cartel, or a neo Nazi group starting WWIII, Ryan’s analytical skill holds the key. These films are filled with action sequences, but often Ryan isn’t the one doing the shooting and fighting; he’s just trying to get out alive. The Hunt For Red October, Clear And Present Danger, and The Sum Of All Fears are complex novels which were made into both mature yet crowd-pleasing films (all taking over $100 million at the US box office), by directors like John McTiernan and Phillip Noyce who took time to build stories infused with tense action sequences which looked like nothing else on screen at the time.

Fast forward to 2013. In Shadow Recruit (a title which makes no sense whatsoever) Chris Pine's revamped Ryan is fighting and killing like Bourne, riding motorbikes at high speed like Bourne, and hanging off of speeding trucks like Bond. This is not the Jack Ryan who grows up to be a senior CIA analyst (which is something the Ben Affleck film nailed) but just another indestructible action hero. I have nothing against indestructible action heroes, but when Jack Ryan is turned into one just so a film can get financed in the hope his name will bring in audiences where an original character might not (see Phillip Noyce’s Salt to prove that’s not needed), I do take offense and I will call the film out for what it is.

What it is not is interesting, exciting, or intriguing. The plot in this film means nothing feels at stake because, yet again, New York City is threatened by a bomb which we know will not detonate. (The film opens with Ryan watching the events of September 11th on TV which only reminds us that a film like this can’t present us with anything much worse than what has happened in real life.) When Ryan isn’t being an action hero, the scenes of analysis and hacking are flat and uninvolving because there’s nothing exciting about watching someone downloading files and tapping on a keyboard whilst code flashes on the screen.

Frustratingly, the film shows flashes of what could have been if it were not ripping off Bourne. Anyone who has read the novels would hope that Ryan’s early life, his military background, and the money he makes on the stock market could make for an intelligent thriller based on a story which Tom Clancy perhaps only touched on. Alas, all of this is wrapped up in the opening ten minutes, all rushing towards him being picked up by the CIA so the action can begin. It’s a real waste of an opportunity to make a reboot which could have added value to an established series, and that’s the biggest disappointment.

Chris Pine is perfectly fine in the action role but is given nothing to stretch himself, but Keira Knightley is woefully miscast as his American girlfriend. Of all the hundreds of young American actresses which could have been cast, why did Knightley get the role? It’s a question as unfathomable as the choice to have Kenneth Branagh direct, for his approach to the genre shows precious little originality; he’s a film maker who should be attached to better material than this. If unoriginal, I will say the final action sequence is certainly well made but it holds no thrills and the film is way beyond redemption at that point.

By making a Jack Ryan reboot in this fashion Paramount have defecated on the series which brought them so much success. Of all the intelligent and complex Ryan novels yet unfilmed, why they chose to make a second rate story such as this would be beyond me if it were not sadly so obvious. No one wants intelligent and complex thrillers anymore, so we get Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit instead. It’s an insult to Tom Clancy’s legacy.

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