Film Face-off: 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' vs. 'Jack Reacher'

Film Face-off: 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' vs. 'Jack Reacher'

Jan 20, 2014

Let’s get this first one out of the way… you don’t know Jack, but after reading this article, that goal will be well behind you. In fact, not only will you know Jack, you’ll know which Jack is better. Last year, Tom Cruise played Jack Reacher. This year, Chris Pine takes over as Jack Ryan in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Both films are based on characters from novels, but we’re not here to talk about books and words, we’re here to talk about movie stars, big screens and chase scenes. Let the Film Face-off begin with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit vs. Jack Reacher.



Jack Ryan

Why so serious? The movie starts with Jack watching the events of 9/11 on TV. That sets Ryan in motion to serve our country. An injury sets things in motion to meet his fiancée (Keira Knightley) and work for Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) in the government.

Jack Reacher

Why so serious? There is no dialogue for the first eight minutes of the film. This sets the tone, as an unknown sniper kills what seems to be random people. Reacher knows the accused, and when he shows up the film shifts tone to explain he’s almost a super hero vigilante of sorts. The film goes back and forth from there.

Winner: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Yes, I asked the question that movie posters for The Dark Knight asked, but unlike that film, the fantasy element is a little more muddled in Jack Reacher compared to Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Of course the beginning of a film sets the tone and Jack Reacher is uncomfortably serious, and set in the horrific real world. Reacher is not of this world. He’s the closest thing to a superhero without magical powers and everyone treats him as such. When Ermerson (David Oyelowo) introduces us to Reacher’s backstory, it feels like it’s from MacGruber. Sure, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit has its problems, but those come into play later. Side note: the previews for Shadow Recruit make it seem like Ryan has to figure out who to trust, and loyalties will be tested. That has nothing to do with this film. Just a terrible job by the marketing team.



Jack Ryan

Pine plays Ryan as an in-over-his-head analyst who has to keep stepping up to the plate (the plate where he has to do spy things and save the world). His back still bothers him from a war injury, and he doesn’t love the idea of killing anyone.

Jack Reacher

Cruise plays Reacher as a man who is the perfect killing machine, but he doesn’t like to hurt anyone, until he gets the chance to hurt someone, and then he loves hurting them. For a guy who tries to stay hidden within our society, he sure does shine a pretty bright spotlight on himself.

Winner: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Pine is the best part about Shadow Recruit. I found myself completely invested in his journey. For a prequel, reboot, or whatever we want to call this, Pine does a fantastic job of showing he's vulnerable and nervous. It’s perfectly encapsulated in a bathroom scene where he’s trying to fight off a villain. This also shows a little bit of range from his James T. Kirk bravado. Speaking of bravado, Cruise attempts an inhuman level as Reacher. It’s fun, but takes a while to get used to. For a while I didn’t know if I was giggling at Cruise or with him. I know I said we wouldn’t be talking about books, but the fact that the Reacher character is much bigger than Cruise makes sense.



Jack Ryan

Kenneth Branagh did a good job with Thor, dutch angles and all. Here, he casts himself as the Russian villain Viktor Cherevin. His previous films haven’t exactly been action blockbusters.

Jack Reacher

Christopher McQuarrie directed The Way of the Gun. More importantly he’s the man that wrote The Usual Suspects.

Winner: Jack Reacher. Branagh gets a few points as the villain, but that’s not enough to make up for the sloppy direction. Too many times the action can’t truly be seen, or the exciting part is regulated to computer screens and looking up information. Jack Reacher is about the simple pleasures of an action movie and when Cruise fights, you feel like you can see it. The most important question here is, which director do you want to do action films in the future? I thought it would be Branagh (because of Thor), but now the easy answer for me is McQuarrie. He’ll get his chance to prove me right as he’ll be directing Mission: Impossible 5, which for me is the best action series going right now.


Supporting Cast

Jack Ryan

Pine gets to play along with Branagh, Knightley, Costner, and then it’s all smaller roles after that.

Jack Reacher

Cruise’s costars are Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, Jai Courtney, Robert Duvall.

Winner: Jack Reacher. After rewatching Jack Reacher, and before watching Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, I thought Shadow Recruit would be winning this category. After all, Pike doesn’t do much, and it’s one of the few wasted performances by Jenkins. I forgot how insanely campy (perhaps by accident) Herzog is as the Zec, but it's great fun to watch. Courtney is a good evil sidekick, and Duvall is somehow comforting as the grandpa who shouldn’t be shooting a gun. In Shadow Recruit, Costner gives the exact performance you would hope, with the aid of a dog in one scene. Here’s one tiny comment: whoever decided that Costner should turn up his collar, and push of the sleeves of his navy jacket at the end of the movie is an idiot. Knightley does OK with her American accent, but has zero chemistry with Pine, and it’s really needed in this film. She only has one good scene and it’s opposite Branagh.


The Chase

Jack Ryan

Ryan’s fiancée is kidnapped, and he must chase down the bad guys, who are in a van. He’s driving a BMV, and getting help from Harper with the coordinates.

Jack Reacher

Reacher is suspected of killing a woman, and instead of sticking around, he chases after the bad guys, while the cops chase after him. He’s driving a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS.

Winner: Jack Reacher. Let me be clear about this, as far as action films and chase sequences go, Jack Reacher gets everything right, and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit gets everything wrong. With Jack Reacher, the stage is set by a silent look between Reacher and Emerson. There are sustained shots of Cruise clearly driving (and driving fast). There are crashes, moments of silence, and you feel like you are clearly seeing everything. It helps that the car is cool. In Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, their are quick cuts, dizzying lights flashing for no good reason, and technology is overused, like the tracking device. Plus, in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit they throw in another chase (this time motorcycle vs. ambulance) that follows all of the first chase’s problems.


OVERALL WINNER: Jack Reacher beats Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, 3-2.

Reacher beats Ryan in this Jack-off. Jack Reacher is almost a great action movie, with its tone and star slightly holding it back, but it’s very rewatchable. The longer Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit goes on, the messier and more generic the film becomes. It’s not Pine’s fault. That’s the good news. I am totally fine with Pine doing more Jack Ryan films. He’s not as good as Alec Baldwin, but I’d put him on par with Harrison Ford and a step ahead of Ben Affleck. I am hopeful that if they do continue the series that Branagh will follow the same path he did with Thor and step away from the sequel.




Categories: Features, In Theaters
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