Subscribe To Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Set Visit: Get To Know A New Version Of Tom Clancy's Spy Updates
The calendar may have only just switched over to 2014, but Hollywood isn’t waiting long to launch the year’s first action blockbuster. After many years of development, going back to 2006, Tom Clancy’s most legendary hero is coming back to the big screen on January 17th in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. It’s been a long wait for fans of the great spy character, who last appeared in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears, but now he’s coming back, and what’s more he has a fresh face.

The countdown clock is winding down for the film’s theatrical release, but it was actually a little more than a year ago that I got a very special sneak peek at the new adventure. It was almost exactly one year ago that I first got to tell you about my trip to the set of the film – then simply called Jack Ryan. Along with a small group of other reporters, I flew out to London, England, and while camped out in a small bar called The White Horse Pub right near Liverpool Station, we had the opportunity to spend some time watching the production of the new action movie and talk with some of the key people who made it all happen.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, who fine-tuned his action chops making Thor in 2011, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is set in the present day and tells the origin story of the titular hero in a modern context. The film begins as Ryan, played for the first time by Chris Pine, ships off to fight terrorism in Afghanistan after 9/11. The war has a powerful and traumatic effect on him, but when he returns to the U.S., the experience doesn’t deter him from wanting to do everything to help his country. Getting a job as an analyst within the Financial Intelligence Unit of the CIA, he is shipped off to Moscow, but when he uncovers a Russian businessman’s (Branagh) terrifying plot to destroy the United States economy he is forced into action, working alongside his veteran handler William Harper (Kevin Costner). Ryan must work to save the day with his wits and smarts while also protecting his fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley) from his dangerous line of work.

As fans of the character know, Jack Ryan – who was first introduced in the 1984 novel The Hunt For Red October -- isn’t quite the same as many of his action movie brethren. While other big screen spies can rely on their experience, strength, and skilled marksmanship, those aren’t really the strongest tools available to the eponymous spy in Shadow Recruit. Just watch this fumbling brawl with Nonso Anozie in a clip from the film and you’ll see what I mean:

As Pine explained to us in an interview between shots, "Bourne has his body – he’s very adept at kicking ass, and Bond looks great doing it, and he’s kind of brooding and complicated and he wears a suit well and drives great cars."

So what is Ryan’s prime skill set? That would be his incredible intelligence, which the actor went as far as to call a weapon. The challenge comes in making smarts become cinematic, and in the new film it comes through both in the hero’s reaction time and quick thinking as well as the complex, interesting plot that is worthy of his intellect.

"He thinks and moves with his mind faster than other people," Pine said. "In the Clancy world and with Clancy plots, oftentimes the lead of the story is the story itself. Even with Hunt for Red October, I thought the plot with [Sean] Connery was even more fascinating than any one of the particular characters. I think with the Ryan character, the challenge is you have to excitingly move the plot forward. You can't rely on anything in particular and you kinda just have to let the thinking do the work."
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

The character was first introduced into the pop culture universe during the late years of the Cold War, but don’t be confused by the movie’s Russian setting and villain, as one of the key words through the development of the project was "contemporary." The setting may remind some audiences of the Soviet era, but the issues that Jack Ryan needs to face down all spring from the world as it exists today.

"Our world right now faces incredible economic uncertainty," said producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. "The notion of what is a super power has evolved and who can carry what muscle, and what is America’s role in the world. Terrorism. All of those things exist in this movie. It feels incredibly contemporary, particularly the economic aspect of it in the sense that a lot of the larger earthquake-like moves that predicate this movie have to do with what is the economic order and who is trying to take control over it. It’s not a movie about economics, but the effect of what’s going on in the world is very, very driven and very clear in this movie."

Of course, it’s impossible to address the issues of global politics, terrorism and America’s place on the international stage without recognizing the importance of September 11th, 2001 and the World Trade Center bombings. Instead of just mentioning the tragic events, however, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit makes it an incredibly vital motivator for the lead character. In fact, di Bonaventura even went as far as to say it may be "the first post-9/11 spy movie" because of its significance in the story.

While changing the context and setting of Jack Ryan’s origin story may unnerve those who have been reading about the character’s adventures for decades, the reality is that the important threads are being kept intact. For example, Clancy’s books had a young Ryan involved enlisting in the military and seeing his career come to an early end after a helicopter crash resulted in a permanently damaged back. The new film features similar events, albeit set during the War on Terror in Afghanistan. What’s more, the movie won’t have him making millions of dollars working for Merrill Lynch like he does in the novels, but the rebooted version of the famous spy does have an expertise in economics that he is able to put to use in his field work.

Said director Kenneth Branagh, "If there were a subtitle at the moment for the ever-evolving ‘What’s the film about?’ it would at least be partly 'What does it take to be a patriot?' How do you make a contribution that is not to do with nationalism, but is to do with this very interesting concept of what love of country may mean. That’s a concept sometimes people can understand, but really, whether in the military, sometimes in politics, but in our own my ordinary, smaller lives, you may say, we’re mostly interpreting that through interaction with people, individuals. Or how you relate to your fellow soldier, your fellow worker, or your partner in your life. We were so full of these things springing out of this, what we hope is a very good yarn."

Stay tuned for more of our coverage from the Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit set visit later this week!

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