Chris Pine has been quick to point out that his incarnation of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, previously played by Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, and Harrison Ford, isn't your typical CIA agent in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. He doesn't have a license to kill. He's not a Bourne super soldier. He's a man with a cover job at a Wall Street brokerage firm meant to watch terrorist transactions. After a helicopter crash in Afghanistan almost left him paralyzed 10 years earlier, three years after 9/11, he's seen enough combat in his life to leave the espionage to the pros anyway. If anything, he's more on par with a literary hero and thinker like Alex Cross, albeit much more patriotic.
But those serious talking points are just hub-bub and not 's strength as an actor, nor do they serve to gain the series new followers who grew up playing Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell on the PS2 and PS3. Sure, he should separate himself from the thrill seeking Captain Kirk to prove his worth as a leading man - which he does very well as he reluctantly fights off the movie's first assassin or when he's interacting with his confused wife, played by . He doesn't have to be as far out there as someone like Vin Diesel's XxX, but what he displayed in ' Star Trek films and where he shines most here is when he's being a manipulative smart aleck that's almost too good.
Luckily, there are several of those moments in between car chases, hacking computers, and panoramas of New York City and Moscow, a city that movies like this would have you believe solely consist of the touristy Red Square. His presence and the movie are most enjoyable when he's interacting with Victor Cherevin, a Russian stereotype played with wink by the film's director, , that's addicted to "vanity, vodka, and women." He's an appropriate foe to Ryan as he exerts his own brand of patriotism, even if it comes across as unequivocally evil. It's enough to make it feel like we're living at the end of the Cold War when the main man of Eastern Bloc entertainment was Zangief from Street Fighter II.
But this is a post-9/11 world where Russian PR - from anti-gay legislation, the imprisonment of Pussy Riot, to the capturing of orcas to display in Sochi during the Winter Olympics - has been sketchy and outrageous at best. But Russia's desire to modernize in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit tread old territory in a fun way, all the while ignoring American snafus like the NSA or Syria. After all, the CIA's Thomas Harper, played with a suave, low key nature by crowd pleaser tells the audience that his unit isn't involved with bad things like waterboarding. It's ultimately a lighthearted approach to serious issues that were far too dark - culturally and cinematically - in Jack Ryan's last outing, 2002's The Sum of All Fears.
Although the movie feels stitched together with predictable plot points, like Keira Knightley wondering if her husband is cheating on her instead of knowing he's a homegrown American hero, it luckily doesn't dwell on them for too long. And while it doesn't have the sublime relationship dynamics of a movie like True Lies - which this movie mirrors - it steps up to the plate with an ambivalence that it will hopefully leave behind if it's successful enough to have a sequel.