The reboot is on the other foot in this newest adventure for Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst, which effectively does away with all his previous incarnations – Baldwin, Ford, Affleck – by re-inventing him as a post-9/11 do-gooder taking his first wary steps in the murky world of international espionage.
It’s a bold move that just about succeeds, though only by stripping away much of the geopolitical complexity of Clancy’s original novels in favour of a Bondian caper that comes complete with its own larger-than-life, scenery-munching villain.
Indeed, there are times Kenneth Branagh – here working both behind the camera and in front of it – seems to be auditioning to direct the next Bond and be its baddie as well. If Sir Ken does get to be Daniel Craig’s next nemesis, though, we really hope he won’t base his performance on the Compare The Market meerkat, the evident inspiration for the scowly Russian oligarch who becomes Ryan’s first adversary. (“You think theez eez game, Jack?” he seethes, showing a cavalier disregard for the indefinite article that instantly identifies him as a bad ’un.)
Shadow Recruit is on firmer ground when it comes to Ryan himself, played by Chris Pine as a nervy newbie who, unlike his cocksure Captain Kirk in the Star Trek films, is only too aware of the depth he is out of.
Sent to Moscow by Kevin Costner’s veteran spook Harper to thwart a plan to crash the dollar, Pine looks convincingly aghast when his driver tries to kill him (the cue for hotel room fisticuffs, shamelessly lifted from the Bourne series).
He is also credibly distraught when his fiancée gets caught up in the action, tearing around like a man possessed in pursuit of the car in which she’s being menaced with a light bulb.
A light bulb? Yes, for some reason that does appear to be Ken’s torture implement of choice. Its usage, though, isn’t nearly as baffling as his decision to cast Keira Knightley as distressed damsel Cathy, a largely subordinate character the actress manages to make the most irritating girlfriend EVER.
Is it too much to ask for yet another recast before the next instalment in what’s fast becoming an unkillable movie franchise?
A solid outing for a re-Bourne hero that could, with a few key tweaks, generate another round of vehicles for the Clancy cash cow.