10 Big Questions Left Unanswered By ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’


The thing that separates Jack Ryan movies from the James Bonds and the Mission: Impossibles and the Bournes, etc., is that Ryan is an analyst for the CIA. That means they should be smarter than your average spy thriller. Sometimes they’re at least as smart. However, the latest, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, is one of the dumbest, more cliched entries of the genre. It’s an embarrassment of plotting and exposition, with so many instances of presumed circumstances that fortuitously turn out to happen that it may as well be called “Jack Ryan: Lucky Duck.” To put it in modern context, it’s like a bad episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet has a lot less interest in characters and the logical choices they’d make.

Questions I had leftover at the end of Shadow Recruit may be explained in Tom Clancy’s Ryan novels, but that shouldn’t matter. This isn’t even an adaptation so much as an “original” story inspired by those books and featuring a character with the same name. I wouldn’t be surprised if fans of Clancy find it no more a true Ryan installment than Die Hard fans found A Good Day to Die Hard recognizable as a movie fitting into that series. Feel free to give me clarification or suggestion of an answer to any of these, and remember that, though it should be obvious, this post is full of SPOILERS if you haven’t yet seen the movie.

1. Why Doesn’t Ryan’s Bad Back Factor Into the Action Later?

I’m aware that Ryan’s (Chris Pine) helicopter crash and broken back are Ryan novel canon, and with this being a new origin story reboot it makes sense to include that point. But to what end? This is still an enclosed narrative and everything on screen should be important. We don’t just hear that he broke his back, we watch his recovery and there’s even a scene of him running after the ten-year shift forward in time, in which he’s wearing a brace. So why not add that weakness to his obstacles when he finds himself suddenly on a mission where he’s running, jumping and fighting? I kept wanting Bane to show up and break his back again just so the thing could come back into play. Plus the evil plot in this movie seems like something that very villain would have done in The Dark Knight Rises.

2. If Harper’s Team is “The One That Makes Sure [9/11] Doesn’t Happen Again,” What is the Rest of the CIA Doing?

I don’t mean all of the rest of the CIA, maybe just those responsible for waterboarding and other forms of torture that Ryan states disapproval of. Harper (Kevin Costner) defends his part of the Agency when Ryan brings up the negative reputation, claiming that’s not his area and that his team is the one that makes sure terrorist plots are thwarted. Just him and his couple of underlings? I don’t think so. Never mind all the thousands of CIA agents working to get information on terrorism around the world, though. The torture that’s brought about so much controversy isn’t just for fun. Or strictly for finding out what happened on 9/11. It also typically relates to finding information and stopping terrorists before they strike again. Was Harper just making up an appealing statement to win Ryan’s interest? Probably.

3. How Was It Not Obvious to Cathy that Jack was in the CIA?

Cathy (Keira Knightley) met Jack at Walter Reed, he was a war hero, he must have gone through some sort of training during a time when she knew him and now he’s going on a sudden, shady trip to Moscow? Clearly he’s a spy. Okay, maybe not clearly, but getting that idea wouldn’t be any crazier than thinking he was a cheater. First of all, girl, your first accusation in 10 years of knowing him is because of a single Film Forum movie ticket? Nobody has affairs at the movies (especially not in the uncomfortable seats of that arthouse theater, which is typically too crowded anyway). They go to hotels. There wasn’t even two stubs. Obviously he just took a break in the day to go watch some Barbara Stanwyck. Relax. Instead you surprise your boyfriend in Moscow, a trip that apparently was difficult to manage, because you think he’s, what, taken another girlfriend to Russia for some romance in Red Square? Or he’s doing local hookers? That sure would have been an expensive and awkward way to catch him in the act. This is a guy who seems pretty nice, who has apparently been trying to get you to marry him for years, and you’re wondering what’s wrong with him? But Ryan isn’t off the hook here, either. Why didn’t he just give his cover of taking a break when she brought up the idea of going to see the exact same relatively obscure revival film out of nowhere? Obviously she saw the stub and is testing you, dude. Nobody brings up Sorry, Wrong Number as if it’s some popular title everybody knows and is dying to see.

4. Why Would the CIA Trust Cathy So Quickly, So Easily and So Much?

So Cathy has flown all the way to Moscow, that suspicious nut. She nearly couldn’t get a VISA, but she did, which I would think would trigger some kind of alarm with the CIA while her husband is involved in some major mission of theirs. Even if they missed her getting onto the plane, maybe they could have picked her up at the airport for safety’s sake. Instead they let Jack tell her everything he’s been keeping a secret because they’re not married. Then, they explain the whole mission. Then, they bring her into the operation in spite of her having no training and no clearance and no certainty of not cracking. She’s not even just a prop. She’s a distraction, one that has to be able to fake a fight and do some very convincing acting. Who in the audience or CIA doesn’t see it coming that Cathy will be a hostage at some point?

Rather than a reject, Christopher Campbell is a film school dropout. But he has since gotten a master’s degree in cinema studies and has been blogging about movies since 2005. Earlier, he reviewed films for a zine (a what?) that you could buy at Tower Records (a what?). He is married with two children.

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