'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit': What the Critics Are Saying

3:45 PM PST 01/17/2014 by Ashley Lee

Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley star in Kenneth Branaugh's reboot of the Tom Clancy franchise.

Chris Pine is the latest actor to try his hand at the Tom Clancy character in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, following in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck in what also amounts to an origins story about the spy's trial by fire in the CIA as he attempts to save the United States from another 9/11-sized catastrophe.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh and also starring Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley, the film is Paramount's second attempt to push Pine forward in a rebooted franchise (after playing Captain Kirk in Star Trek). After being delayed from a Christmas Day opening, Jack Ryan hits theaters today.

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Read a sampling of what top critics are saying below:

The Hollywood Reporter's chief film critic Todd McCarthy noted that "commercial prospects look solid, if not spectacular, for this efficient, if ultimately rote, political thriller." He said of the performances: "Pine is fine as the uniformed-turned-covert patriot; he lacks the physical stature of his predecessors and it's not entirely believable that he could prevail over the African bodyguard who turns on him. Beyond Costner, Branagh and Knightley, all good to have around, the cast doesn't possess the sort of depth or number of prominent players that the earlier Jack Ryan features did."

The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday called the film "yet another example of the franchise obsession on which the industry depends to survive." She particularly disliked Branagh's cinematic choices: "Directed by Kenneth Branagh in a jumbled blur of dizzying close-ups, revolving camera moves, hand-held action sequences and deceptive layers of shiny surfaces, Shadow Recruit threatens to become less a resuscitation of the beloved Tom Clancy brand than yet another jumbled, jarring action flick that isn’t nearly as smart as its brainy protagonist."

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis said of the production, "Although Mr. Branagh folds in plenty of mood- and scene-setting locations — including postcardlike shots of the gaudily gorgeous St. Basil’s Cathedral — the movie often has the canned, unlived-in feel of a back-lot fiction. Like other directors who struggle with large-scale productions, Mr. Branagh doesn’t simply use his more elaborate sets (a stadium-size restaurant, Cherevin’s disco-den office), he also flaunts them with long, wide, useless shots that suggest he’s only trying to show his bosses where some of the money went."

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Rolling Stone's Peter Travers considered the film so formulaic that it seemed "untouched by human hands" in reviving a franchise with Pine the way Star Trek has soared since he became the new Captain Kirk. And of his performance in a role already played by so many others, he said, "Is there any juice left for an actor to squeeze out of the character? Pine does his damnedest, finding the conflicted core of a brainiac who feels out of his element when the call comes for action."

Nevertheless, TIME's Richard Corliss is entertained enough, praising that Costner "retains the star’s gift of seeming both alert and relaxed; his Walker is the CIA ideal: smooth, tough, an unerring shot and a terse parrier of Jack’s questions about waterboarding and rendition" and that Branaugh "flashes a creepy Slavic charm when he’s not jackbooting subordinates or stuffing an LED lightbulb in a lady’s mouth." He added, "Still and all, consider the January competition and praise Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit for being the year’s first movie with a three-digit IQ."

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