This is the latest in a line of reboots – except this time we’re not dealing with a comic-book superhero, but a flesh and blood person. Jack Ryan was the central character from Tom Clancy’s multi-million selling series of doorstop size thrillers. These books sold in serious quantities, telling old school stories of technology, terrorism and CIA spying; one novel famously culminated in an airliner into a Washington government building. Some were filmed with varying degrees of success; then the franchise dried-up, 9/11 and Casino Royale and the Bourne movies happened. Ryan just didn’t fit any more.
Times have changed again, and now Ryan is getting the reboot. The film opens on 9/11; Ryan (Chris Pine) is an American student in London who sees the fateful day as the spur to a life-change. He joins the army, gets seriously injured in Afghanistan and finds himself in rehab. That’s where he meets his future wife (Keira Knightly) and he’s tapped up as an undercover CIA economics analyst by his mentor figure, Kevin Costner. That’s the new foundations laid: he’s still a Tom Clancy creation, but in an uncertain new world. What follows is an efficient, entertaining old-fashioned sort of thriller in a recognisably new world. Which all makes it sound a little dull, predictable.
Which it isn’t; mainly down to director and main villain-playing Kenneth Branagh. To do what he’s done with his Shakespeare films – to make them accessible to people who don’t like Shakespeare – there’s one thing you have to understand: the audience. He brings out the humour of Shakespeare’s comedies, the universality of the tragedies and the grandeur of the histories – all in ways newcomers can understand. That’s the same target that he’s needed to hit with these more recent big-budget films he’s been direction. With both Jack Ryan and Thor the key to success is in understanding what the audience of these films wants, and giving it to them in a way that will draw others in. Whilst this film isn’t quite as much a resounding success as Thor, it still does everything it needs to. The action set-pieces are well delivered without being violent or gory; the most exciting is an expertly delivered sequence which cuts between a break-in and the most awkward over-the-table dinner discussion on film for a while. It’s an excellent example of drawn out tension and the way intelligent editing can ramp up tension and audience engagement more effectively than expensive effects.
There’s nothing life-changing or especially profound here – it’s just a good thriller, doing its job well and not outstaying its welcome with an overlong running time. There’s clearly potential for more films here, and if that’s how this pans out, then it will be interesting to see how the series develops. For now enjoy this for what it is – decent entertainment, confidently and efficiently delivered. Enjoy.
I rated this film 3.5/5 on rottemtomatoes.com and 7/10 on imdb.com