Unremarkable to a fault, Shadow Recruit is nonetheless exciting entertainment.
The characters are underdeveloped, especially Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) and Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh), but also Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) and William Harper (Kevin Costner). Because the characters have minimal definition, we care less about them.
Their relationships are just as underdeveloped. Cathy and Jack supposedly love one another, but we do not see (or feel) their connection.
The performances are fine, neither remarkable nor poor. Branagh is the best of the actors, but even he is not memorable.
The plot line is compelling but not inventive. We feel we have seen this movie before.
Ditto that for the action sequences. In part because Director Branagh frames many shots too tightly, we are never awed by the visual spectacle before us. Also, none of the sequences are inventive. Car chases, brawls in confined spaces, remarkable acrobatics, etc. All of these things are action movie staples.
Thematically, Shadow Recruit has limited application. Perhaps it is making a statement on managing relationships, or maybe on international interconnectedness, but it doesn’t focus on theme and therefore doesn’t resonate.
Technically, Branagh’s direction is far from great but also far from mistake-ridden. The camera might move a bit too much, but Branagh offsets this flaw with strong editing choices that guide our eyes and attention appropriately.
In other words, almost everything about Shadow Recruit says ‘average.’
Except for one very important element: fun. This film is always fun.
From Branagh’s exaggerated Russian villain, to the screenplay’s commendable expository restraint, to rapid pacing, Shadow Recruit is constantly exciting and entertaining. Here is where Branagh makes his best directorial decisions; he doesn’t try to craft an art house masterpiece. He creates a thrilling action adventure, and nothing more.
He has his actors keep the same focus. Knightley, Pine and Costner never delve too deeply into emotion, never overwhelm the picture with acting skill or serious interpretation. They keep it light.
In other words, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is not going to inspire its audience. It won’t make anyone think or seek social change, but it will entertain.