Opinion: First poster casts doubts over direction of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Yesterday we learned the sad news that prolific best-selling author Tom Clancy had passed away at the relatively young age of 66. The author, who personified the modern military/espionage thriller, died following a brief illness and left behind an astonishing legacy of books, film and game adaptations.

Yesterday also saw Paramount Pictures, with the worst timing imaginable, release the first poster for the newest film based on a Tom Clancy character, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

This poster, which depicts a crouched Chris Pine surrounded by dark, mist and shadow, looking forlorn and tightly gripping a gun, gives a strong indication that the film is going to go down the tried and tested dark, brooding hero role. If this proves to be true then it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Jack Ryan the character.

It is worth noting that while this is the fifth Jack Ryan movie, and Chris Pine is the fourth actor to portray the role, that this film is the first to be based on an original story, and not on one of the sixteen novels sets around Jack Ryan or in that universe. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, as conceived by screenwriter Hossein Amini, is a new origin story and a reboot of the franchise.

For those of us that grew up reading the novels, and watching Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford define Ryan on-screen, this departure is a radical one. The last effort to reboot the franchise, which featured Ben Affleck as Ryan, was a noble failure, but was set in the same cinematic universe, and was based on one of the Tom Clancy novels. Deviating from the source material allows for a new interpretation on Ryan, but it needs to remain true to why Ryan has lasted in fiction for almost 30 years. Going down a dark and broody path is not how to do this.

Jack Ryan as written is a teacher, turned CIA analyst, turned reluctant CIA agent, turned even more reluctant government official. Sure he has the military background, but that training in his early 20s is as an officer, not a spy. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty to protect his family, but he is not Jason Bourne or James Bond. Ryan is closer to Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills from Taken, but without the particular set of skills. He’s the guy that you would like to believe that your dad would be if the shit hit the fan and IRA terrorists did try to take out your home.An ordinary guy to whom increasingly extraordinary things happen. Above all else Ryan is a family man. You can set a film or book before he becomes this, but the character arc must lead to a place where we as an audience would believe that this guy is capable of being a family man.

The new poster has me seriously doubting that the film-makers understand this. The title, which is appallingly bad, makes me doubt it even further. Nothing about Jack Ryan, other than the fact he works for the CIA, is shadowy. Secretive yes, but not shadowy.

The new film centres on a threat to the American economy, as a Russian financial expert attempts to devalue the dollar, and bring the US to economic collapse. This forces Ryan to use his financial abilities, and analytical skills to counter the threat and save the day. Quite how that requires a sombre Ryan holding gun I cannot answer. Also I can’t fathom why if a movie is centred on a cat-and-mouse battle of wits has initial marketing that is this dark and this focused on an action hero.

It’s not all doom and gloom. The reassuring thing about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the talent in front of and behind the camera. Kenneth Branagh is a good director, and proved with Thor that he can handle films that are not based on the works of Shakespeare. Chris Pine is a strong and engaging screen presence. He’s also ably assisted by Branagh on villain duties, Keira Knightley as his wife, and Kevin Costener as his CIA mentor. These three are all awards calibre actors so that bodes well.

Paramount is unsure as to the release date for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which was initially scheduled for December this year. With the release date of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street in flux it is likely that they will push Ryan to 2014. The lack of a date on the poster highlights this uncertainty.

We will know a lot more about the direction that Paramount is going with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit when the first trailer lands in the next few weeks. Until then pencil us in as having grave concerns.