Like Spider-Man, Superman and Sulley and Mike from "Monsters Inc.," Jack Ryan gets an origin story in the new movie starring Chris Pine.
"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" introduces the title character on the campus of the London School of Economics in 2001. He is napping on a bench when he awakens and follows students rushing into a nearby building to stare at a television showing smoke billowing from the World Trade Center.
Ryan enlists in the Marines and lands in Afghanistan -- "I figured if I was going to serve, I'd serve" -- where he is nearly killed in a helicopter strike. He saves two of his men, and severely injured with shattered vertebrae and burns is sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh.
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language.
There, he encounters two people who will change his life: Cathy (Keira Knightley), a budding eye surgeon, and Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), a mysterious man who will recruit Ryan for the CIA so he can suss out funding for terrorist groups.
His cover is working as a compliance officer on Wall Street, and it's some financial funny business that sends Ryan to Moscow where he meets enemies who want to kill him. After all, as he reminds the agency, "I'm just an analyst. I only did three weeks at 'The Farm,' " or CIA training facility.
Ryan suspects a plot that could bring the United States to its knees and it's up to him to stop it. Along the way, he has to keep himself and his fiancee, Cathy, alive and safe in this reboot from director Kenneth Branagh, who also appears on screen as a wily Russian with a weakness for vodka, vanity and women.
"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp and based on Tom Clancy's characters, manages to acknowledge the importance of technology today but doesn't forget audiences want scenes that will set pulses racing with car chases, literal or figurative time bombs, and bold attempts to slip into forbidden spaces and not get caught or shot.
Mr. Pine, best known for the new "Star Trek" movies along with projects such as the runaway train thriller "Unstoppable," is not the first or even the youngest actor to tackle the character on screen. At 33, he is older than Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck although obviously not Harrison Ford, who twice inhabited the role.
Allowing Jack Ryan to be a young, inexperienced analyst who must evolve and mature before our eyes is a shrewd move. It puts moviegoers in his shoes, wondering what they would do as a desk jockey suddenly holding the fate and fortune of millions in their hands.
Mr. Pine looks at home racing through the streets or scrolling through computer files (although, thankfully, there is precious little of that), and Ms. Knightley is a refreshing choice for a woman who has an actual profession other than "girlfriend who looks like a model."
Mr. Branagh could have gone full Boris Badenov but keeps his accent and villainy in check in this thriller in which the Cold War meets an American society scarred by terrorism and ever fearful of a repeat.
Although Mr. Costner still turns up as a leading man, as with April's "Draft Day," he has reinvented himself with rich supporting turns such as Pa Kent in "Man of Steel" and Ryan's handler here. He speaks for the audience in asking Jack to put a monetary threat in layman's terms -- "Keep in mind, I don't have your Ph.D." -- and reminds the squabbling young Americans, "This is geopolitics; this is not couples therapy."
It is, however, solid, smart and welcome, just like this Jack Ryan.