In theaters Friday, Jan. 17
3 stars (out of 4 stars)
"I'm out of my goddamn element!" Wall Street analyst and new secret agent Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) exclaims to his superiors after executing his first kill. Ah, but that quality is precisely what makes the character an action hero for the ages.
Still, he's been absent from the big screen for 12 years. (Ben Affleck last brought him to life in 2002's Sum of All Fears). Now he returns in a quick-footed reboot that does its duty as an escape from the January doldrums.
Let's put aside his onscreen brushes with Red October and the Irish Republican Army and start at the beginning. Young Ryan is a brilliant Phd candidate when he gives up his studies to join the Marines in the wake of 9/11. During his tour of duty, he saves lives in a helicopter crash that nearly paralyzes him. Thanks to that combination of smarts and guts, he's recruited to join the CIA. The plan is for him to work as a financial analyst and keep a lookout for any transactions that might link to international terrorist cells. Ryan soon deduces that the Russians are conspiring to sink the economy and carry out an attack on U.S. soil. Next stop: Moscow.
In terms of espionage plotting, this is admittedly boilerplate material — and it's nothing audiences haven't already been seen in the various Bourne and Mission: Impossible movies. But that doesn't make a chase around the Kremlin or the tricky double crosses any less gripping. The film also pulls off a nifty sequence in which Ryan and his team lifts the wallet of the smooth terrorist mastermind (Kenneth Branagh, also the film's director) right from under him and uses the security card to access files. Granted, Ryan is amazingly nimble for a wounded vet who could barely walk two paces in physical rehab. Go with it. We've come this far.
Besides, Ryan still has his emotional setbacks. This is a guy who's so uneasy as a super-spy that his hands shake after one mission. And the immensely appealing Pine — in a role also previously played by heavyweights Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford — is up to the challenge. For the first time in his career, the actor drops his winking bravura and shows a more vulnerable side. He even sells the hackneyed, too-cute romance with a doctor. (Poor Keira Knightley is mired in a thankless role that requires her to throw her arms around her fiance and bellow, "Thank god! I thought you were having an affair!" upon learning of his CIA job. Really?).
For the next installment, Ryan should just keep those blue eyes on the job. And yes, there kind of needs to be a next installment.