This is the fifth espionage thriller revolving around Tom Clancy's CIA operative Jack Ryan, an intrepid character previously played by Alec Baldwin ("The Hunt for Red October"), Harrison Ford ("Patriot Games," "Clear and Present Danger") and Ben Affleck ("The Sum of All Fears"). "Shadow Recruit" is not only a prequel, detailing how Ryan was recruited into the CIA, but also the first story not based directly on one of Tom Clancy's novels.
Fiercely patriotic, Ryan immediately joins the Marines, only to be blown out of the sky over Afghanistan. Recuperating at Walter Reed, he falls in love with Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), the med student in charge of his physical therapy. He's also spotted by Naval Cmdr. William Harper (Kevin Costner), who sends him back to get his economics degree and then places him as a systems analyst on Wall Street, covertly reporting to the CIA.
When Ryan suddenly becomes suspicious of his firm's financial dealings, he's dispatched to Russia for an audit, which infuriates manipulative oligarch Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh) and his government minister boss (uncredited Mikhail Baryshnikov), who have concocted an elaborate tech scheme to launch another terrorist attack and crash the U.S. economy. Meanwhile, Cathy decides to surprise Jack by joining him at his Moscow hotel, unwittingly placing herself right in the middle of the dangerous action.
As director, Branagh handles the derring-do with finesse, but the cliched plot is so familiar and predictable that it seems to be on recycle mode with by-the-numbers filmmaking. Having established himself as youthful Capt. James T. Kirk in the "Star Trek" reboot, Pine gamely grapples with the pure physicality of Ryan, particularly when he's engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a huge Ugandan assassin.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is an efficient, escapist 6, a midwinter popcorn picture.