Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Imposters #30, Bonus - Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

[2:06PM UPDATE: I added videos, fixed the missing 4th poster, and reworked the opening paragraphs. Sorry to the 17 of you who already read this once]

So now Harry Potter is over, and Twilight is over, and Hunger Games is 3 books, and you don't hear about sequels for the Dragon Tattoo remake (thank heaven), so no one knows which the hell franchise they should be shoving down our throats.

Thus, since the Jack Ryan books... exist, and were very profitable, it was decided to reboot the whole thing, with an original story based on Clancy's work.

Now, here we are (again), with Jack Ryan. I liked the paperbacks well enough, when I was in my early/mid teens. Yet the history of this role in film is just terribly odd.

The Hunt for Red October gave us Alec Baldwin as an intelligent action lead, and it's amazing that his blockbuster star never took off, given his off-the-charts youthful charisma. Despite tHfRO's success, Baldwin was busy with Broadway (or business?) when the second film came around...

After which point we got Patriot Games, a sequel that swapped Baldwin for the super-low-key Harrison Ford.

I really didn't like PG, especially since I read the novel and knew how... cliched Games was, and how much it made the antagonists into caricatures.

And then we got the sequel to that, Clear and Present Danger, a movie that I want to just relentlessly mock. Sure these novels were invariably about war and patriotism, but CaPD was like watching someone play checkers with a chess set. And then, mercifully, it all just stopped.

The next time we rejoined Jack Ryan on film was when Ben f--king Affleck stepped into the role for The Sum of All Fears. Ugh. It's not that I hate Ben, but the jump from young-ish, to way older, then even further back to too young-looking - it was all very annoying.

Ford was a "safe" (but not good) choice for the part. And Affleck was everywhere at the time, so I felt that he also got picked for the worst reasons.

At least the studio is trying to give Shadow Recruit every chance to succeed, which includes a strong barrage of posters. I just wish these promos were... well, here's the one for Kenneth Branagh's character - he's playing a villain.

And even if the ad-makers didn't see the sense in putting the actor's names on these, he's also the director of this reboot, so his name does make it onto the graphic.

For my part, I think that a lot of espionage movies are about how "complex," and "murky," and "grey" everything is. So having the enemy reduced to these three words doesn't really appeal to me. The first is boring, the last is overused, and the middle one is (kind of) both at this point.

I like how they off-set the type so they're not in line, but I don't see much of a connection between those three words, or that they magically get me engaged with the material.

Maybe I'm being too harsh, but the tag words applied above are less interesting than in the promo for the guy who actually plays Jack Ryan:

Now, I haven't heard of a genuinely good movie that Chris Pine has been in, and he plays Cpt. Kirk as a sh--ty teenager in Abrams' Star Trek reboot, so there's really no love lost here. What is it with Paramount and this guy?

Anyway, "recruit/agent/target" feels a lot more engaging than what Branagh got. That last word especially adds some tension and urgency, and I appreciate that. (Also, it creates the acronym, "rat")

But then we get to the third graphic:

Is that a good picture of Costner? Yes. Do "operative" and "spy" mean essentially the same thing in this context? Yes.

As if the redundancy weren't annoying enough, we get the final, "mentor," which is... well, a solid attribute to point out, but it's g-d boring. Dude doesn't seem terribly young, nor does he look dumb. If he's a spy and he's not young, it sort of makes sense that he'd be somebody's mentor, right?

Anyway, "mentor" undercuts "operative" and "spy," making me think he drives a hybrid station wagon and eats dinner no later than 7PM. Ever.

BONUS! Last weekend, I noticed that there was yet a fourth public advertisement, for JR:SR's third biggest name, Kiera Knightley. In the same way that the pictures of the older cast members match - Costner and Branagh are both slightly-off head-on shots - the two younger actors are both shown in profile.

Personally, I am middle-of-the-road as to KK's blurb, which reads "accomplice/asset/weapon." It certainly is more engaging and descriptive than some of the others. However, I must admit that it was only with this poster that I noticed the words "In Theatres and IMAX January 17." So I guess these ads were meant to run in the UK and then were brought to NYC with no alteration...

And, in the end, the individual images are perfectly-good - they are nice photographs. But they are still just big shots of the major names in the film. Bonus points are earned for not plastering their names on the image, and Branagh and Costner are almost unrecognizable, but...

But it's still not a good sign: we get no cast listing, just Clancy's name twice, Branagh listed as director, and the two writer credits are given. They are just banking on the name popularity of the source material, and that's especially lame given that the books came out forever ago.

Finally, I get even more annoyed when I see that Wiki has a totally different poster for the film. Look at that boring, typical (yet more informative) monstrosity on the right. It helps me feel justified in my snark, in the sense that they're reviving something just to secure ~3 profitable films in 7 or so years.

Hollywood managed 4 movies of varying quality over 12 years. Those first few were 6, 5, and 5 years behind the publication of the novels on which they were based. But by 1994, when Clear and Present Danger the film came out, Clancy had released 7 Jack Ryan books!

I disliked the Ford movies enough that I was happy to see the studio drop the series. I was already so skeptical by the time tSoAF was announced. This reboot just seems... super-cheap. Also, I skimmed the story synopsis via Wiki, and in JR: Shadow Recruit, the low-level analyst Jack Ryan is eventually "promoted to field agent."

I'm (a) pretty sure that's not a promotion, it's a transfer, (b) it is not Jack Ryan's novelistic career path at all, and thus (c) for f--k's sake, they're just gonna turn this into a younger alternative to Paramount's Mission Impossible films...

Just look at Chris Pine's body-language in that poster. I'm glad to know who else is in the cast, but I can smell the "bro" from off my computer screen.


  1. While I do agree that the casting for the Jack Ryan film leads seems to be very Benjamin Button there, I have seen Chris Pine in a couple of movies(yes,including the Star Trek reboots) and he's not a bad actor for the most part there. Granted, Zachary Quinto outshines him in the ST series but he certainly has more nuance and charisma than say,Channing Tatum(I so don't get the appeal of that guy beyond his looks).

    I did actually read Patriot Games,one of the few Tom Clancy books not loaded down with techno talk, and didn't mind the movie despite significant changes from the source material(it would have been cool if the Jack Ryan/Prince Charles meet-up had been included but I can see why they didn't want to go there). Those movies are pretty much take it or leave for me and while Hollywood is hoping to make Ryan their James Bond,just not gonna happen.

    1. Jack Ryan rescuing Charles and Diana was what's both best and worst about the novel. It leads to some real Mary Sue situations (Straw Dogs time with the Prince of Wales!) but at the same time, saving Lord McGuffington (or whatever the name of the royal VIP in the movie was) doesn't have anywhere near the impact.

      The big problem for the Jack Ryan films is that the techno talk was Clancy's greatest strength as a writer--it's stuff that really doesn't translate well to film. What's left is the stuff Clancy wasn't good at--characterization, emotional beats, etc.--which Hollywood scriptwriters can attach to Cliff's notes versions of Clancy's incredibly elaborate plots. It's a really bad fit.

    2. I agree with you, lady t, about the royal rescue. It would've been fine, but it's understandable that they removed it from the film.

      I also liked Patriot Games the book, but I was in my early/mid teens when I read it. Some passages and plot points stick out in my memory, which is a good sign, but I was hardly a master of literary analysis back then...

    3. DJ, I would say that Clancy was good at fleshing out his main character, and he did a little better by the character's in Ryan's immediate orbit.

      Everyone else got a vivid thumbnail sketch in terms of characterization, which I guess worked both for the type of suspense novels he wrote. Also, you are right that Clancy's strength was giving the reader technical and military information.

      However, that makes his micro-characterization work, too, because Clancy's characters tended to be people working a job. I feel he described his characters with that in mind...

  2. Shadow Recruit is a weird idea, since the Jack Ryan series already had two origin story-type tales, both of which were already made into movies: Hunt for Red October was the characters actual debut novel, and then Clancy made a prequel novel, Patriot Games, which kinda sucked as a novel, but is a weirdly watchable not-good movie.

    Of the three Jack Ryans I've seen, Baldwin was the only one who really understood Clancy's hero--young academic thrust into an operative role in the CIA. My thoughts are getting a little long on this, so I should probably spin it off into a post, but while I actually like Pine as an actor, I don't think he has the chops to match that performance, or a story that would give him that latitude.

    1. Yeah, I agree with you that Baldwin was easily the best portrayal of the character. It was so much more appealing than Affleck's or Ford's. He was... a much more distinct character under Alec.

      I, too, have little patience for more origin stories, but The Hunt was the best film in the franchise. I can't fault them for going in a different direction, but this does not sound like the right direction to go in. I liked PG (the book) better than you, but (again) I was just a kid.


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