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Film Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is an exciting new beginning for the franchise.

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In the decades after the Cold War, much of the landscape of clandestine warfare had transformed itself from the confines of blacklists and microfilm to the vast ether of information and data across the globe. Spies and their craft had changed, and with it, Hollywood’s portrayal. The practice had gone from jabbing someone with a poison-tipped umbrella to taking down entire nations with access from a computer; and so Hollywood had to evolve its sleuths from uber charming, yet seemingly unflappable womanizers to flawed, troubled and broken men. Jason Bourne became the modern day spy. James Bond became Jason Bourne and almost every spy since, has had a Bourneness to them that we, the movie-going audience seem to relate to. There’s now a vulnerability grounded in reality. Where once luxury sports cars turning into submarines was acceptable, it is now the norm for our agents to be armed with nothing more than a pistol, some training and their wit, facing their greatest of enemies in the reality we all find ourselves in.

Jack Ryan, perhaps author Tom Clancy’s finest creation, has been off grid since the Ben Affleck-starring The Sum of All Fears in 2002. It was an admirable entry into the Jack Ryan series but lacked the tension and imminent fear that presented itself in previous Jack Ryan outings- most notably in the still terrific The Hunt For Red October. In the ten or so years proceeding, much has changed in the world, and while nuclear threat seems to loom far in the background, the prescient danger continues to be that of technological warfare threatening to undermine our most treasured of security: finance. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the official reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise and sees our protagonist continue his Benjamin Button act since Harrison Ford last donned the title in 1994’s Clear And Present Danger. The character’s genesis is beginning at a younger age we are given more of his development before delving into the primary plot of the film.

Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan falls somewhere between Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford’s; young enough to be brash and reckless, but at the same time, boasting a quality that convinces audiences he will grow into the Jack Ryan of old. Pine is surrounded by a pretty well-to-do cast that includes Kevin Costner (playing Ryan’s mentor and super-agent William Harper), Keira Knightley (Ryan’s eventual love interest and femme fatale Cathy Muller) and the irrepressible Kenneth Branagh (pulling double duty serving as the film’s primary antagonist Viktor Cherevin, as well as its director). The film is stronger for their parts, and while Costner’s role is quite restrained, there is an air of importance to him that works within the confines of the film. We’re also given a colourful palette of characters breathing out the warm air of nostalgia with its heavy Russian-villain lean. It’s the film’s most prominent connection to the spy films of old, and perhaps, beneficial in giving Shadow Recruit a sense of freshness. Surprisingly, Knightley’s character displays the cast’s biggest single nitpicky flaw. Knightley’s strikingly beautiful accent is stripped of its allure as she yams and yahs through a pretty terrible American accent. It’s the ‘Charlize Theron in Monster’ of accents (and not in the ‘winning an Oscar for the performance’ kind of way).

Unlike The Sum of All Fears, we’re given the less far-reaching plot of espionage cloaked in today’s turbulent and volatile financial landscape. Jack Ryan, CIA analyst, is tasked on uncovering a Russian plot to destroy America by crippling its financial structure. It’s all smartly done with the kind of explanatory tone that never breaches into condescension or overly smart. We’re given a look into the evolution of the Jack Ryan character- from tired economics student to battered and broken marine, and finally to the film’s primary voice; the analyst. While the film progresses over the course of a decade, it never grows tiresome and moves briskly through its narrative stages. The action is thick and heavy, and we’re once again grounded in the kind of hand to hand combat The Bourne Identity cemented as the preferred palette. The pace is comfortable and the dialogue smart, and much of the film exudes the kind of excitement and tension The Hunt For Red October is noted for.

Branagh’s direction resonates beautifully amongst the steel and structure of both New York City and Moscow; and in a particularly harrowing scene between himself and Knightley’s character, given a real sense of isolated terror and impending doom. Who knew lightbulbs could be so dangerous?

The spy genre may be one of the fields of film that has excelled the most in the post 9/11 world. They’re more grounded and realistic and to that extent, far more believable. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is an exciting new beginning for the franchise, and while it may not be as alluring as the original Jason Bourne outing, the Jack Ryan franchise hasn’t felt this right since the early 90s.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is in the cinemas now. 

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Adam Cozad, David Koepp
Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 105 minutes

Film Reviews

Film Review: It Chapter Two

The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans

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The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.

It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.

The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material). 

It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.

The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.

As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.

Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.

It Chapter Two is in cinemas now

IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes

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Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw

If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion

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Hobbs and Shaw

It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.

When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.

Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.

Vanessa Kirby
Vanessa Kirby is one of the highlights of Hobbs & Shaw

Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.

The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.

In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.

HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes

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