Kenneth Branagh’s efficient but surprisingly bland thriller punches no cosmic black holes on the high-definition front. It’s a pretty release on blu-ray but is a must only for those who enjoyed it on circuit.
Trailers for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit did absolutely no justice to the film. They made it look bland and generic, something of a cinematic melange between James Bond and Jason Bourne with a touch of True Lies; a very typical “hero races against time” narrative, complete with nifty edits, stylish fast-paced action clips, and text blurbs about “trusting no one” and other such trite trailer crutches. Unsurprisingly, the film lived up to its full promise of mediocrity. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit may be the slick, smooth Action thriller the trailer promises, but those external qualities are about all the movie has going for it. It’s a classic example of a movie that’s little more than a rehash of others like it; it throws its hat into the arena but throws nothing novel alongside it. It’s passably insipid and entertaining on a very basic level but bland nonetheless.
To enjoy Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, it’s best to focus on the film’s most basic aspects. It’s very smooth and slick in its craft and execution; every scene a perfect example of modern filmmaking techniques flawlessly realised. The names attached to the film are not disappointing either and some very satisfying performances make it all a little more exciting. The action is well done and surprisingly limited; Branagh wanted the movie to be defined by its character and story rather than its action, but despite this approach piquing my curiosity, I realised that it’s almost impossible to get into the movie on any level beyond the superficial, largely because there’s simply nothing of value going on underneath. All of its emotions, even the ones that sort of work, are built on the backs of recycled character interactions and dynamics. The film absolutely fails to build the relationships to the point where the audience cares. What’s here is fully transparent, with no real surprises about where the movie is headed, why it’s headed there, or what the ultimate outcome will be. It’s play-it-safe filmmaking 101, the quintessential example of a movie with no real purpose or value beyond empty entertainment.
The Blu-ray of Jack Ryan features a crisp and proficient video transfer. The film looks every bit as good as it did in theatres and exhibits all the qualities it should. Colours are strong, black levels are deep and skin tones are relatively well-saturated. Detail is excellent, with clean, sharply defined edges (sans any ringing or halos), revealing fine textures and a properly filmic veneer of grain. The presentation is problem free, without anything in the way of significant banding or aliasing. Jack Ryan may not have engaged me at every turn, but its video encode certainly did.
The soundtrack is equally incredible with its precise DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack. All aspects of the film’s audio spectrum are highlighted but never overwhelmed by music or the sonic mayhem of the action sequences. This is a top-notch reference title when it comes to visuals and audio.
Majority of the special features included on the blu-ray are quite standard but interesting nonetheless. Along with audio commentary by the director and producer and some extended and deleted scenes, included are 2 behind-the-scenes featurettes which focus on the filmmaking process as well as how Branagh reinvented the character and franchise while incorporating bits and pieces from the series’ history, creating a relevant new-world plot, reworking the Spy film genre, character dynamics, and more. Of particular interest are two additional featurettes, the first entitled The Tsar of Shadow Recruit which is about Branagh himself and his on-screen performance (Kenneth Branagh, despite not hitting the nail on the head with this film, is an overall highly talented and fascinating individual). The other featurette in question is Old Enemies Return and is a lengthy look at the use of Russians as the film’s villains, examining US-Russian history and the nations’ present day relationship as it pertains to the film and the real world. A number of academics are interviewed in this fascinating piece with real-world geopolitical and historical knowledge value.
The Bottom Line
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit offers good, fundamental entertainment delivered by an almost completely hollow vessel. The story is weak and weary, wholly unoriginal and unimaginative. There are precious few surprises and the film plays out to conclusion just as one expects of a generic action-thriller. Jack Ryan will certainly be remembered for nothing more than upping its genre’s total film count by one, if it’s even remembered at all. Despite an impressive high-def presentation, the film’s quality only merits a recommendation as a rental.