BEVERLY HILLS, California - In "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," Tom Clancy's emblematic Cold War hero gets a big-screen reboot on Friday with a familiar villain: Russia.
In this post-9/11 era, Soviet Union no longer exists and American spy agencies are tracking non-state militant groups instead. But director Kenneth Branagh said Ryan's longtime nemesis is still relevant.
"It felt as though there had been a shift around, and the classic Cold War adversary, America-Russia, had done this flip," said Branagh, who also plays the film's principal villain, Russian oligarch Viktor Cherevin.
"Now, the new financial power, the new empire is Russia," he added, "and the wood-paneled club rooms of Wall Street feel like they're connected to an old empire that's somehow connected to the makers of the American economy in the late 19th century."
The film backed by Paramount Pictures crafts a new origin story for CIA hero Ryan, portrayed by Chris Pine. It recasts the agent as a finance wizard and millennial who uncovers what appears to be a Russian plot to dump $2 trillion onto the open market in coordination with a terror attack on the United States.
The film's Kremlin-blessed conspiracy is masterminded by Cherevin, whose weakness is romance and drink, and is intended to create a run on banks in the U.S., plunging the country into a second Great Depression.
"Shadow Recruit" begins on September 11, 2001, in London, where a 19-year-old Ryan is completing his Ph.D. at the London School of Economics.
Ryan immediately abandons his studies when he feels the call to enlist in the U.S. military for the Afghan War.
"I very much liked what David Koepp did in taking it out of the Cold War context, putting it into a credible, modern threatening situation, (in) which this civilized, modest, I would say, gentlemanly man with a brilliant mind is put at risk," said Branagh, a Northern Irishman best known for his film adaptations of Shakespeare. Adam Cozad and David Koepp wrote the script, which was not based on a Clancy novel.
'A QUESTIONING MAN'
Much like the baby boomer Ryan of best-selling novels "The Hunt for Red October" and "Clear and Present Danger" that were adapted for the big screen, he has his military service cut short by a helicopter accident and later is recruited to the CIA by agent William Harper (Kevin Costner).
Ryan, who struggles to keep his CIA job a secret from his girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley), unwittingly goes from being an agent tracking financial transactions to an operative fighting Cherevin's multi-layered plot that he suspects but has no way to prove.
The Ryan character is now in his fifth big-screen iteration. He last was in theaters in 2002's "The Sum of All Fears," about black market nuclear weapons and a white supremacy conspiracy with Ben Affleck as the spy.
Pine, who navigated the expectations of playing William Shatner's beloved Captain Kirk character in the new "Star Trek" films, said he was familiar with the Ryan persona portrayed by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford in the 1990s but leaned on the script for his own, post-9/11 Ryan.
"I wanted a very questioning man who was very cognizant of the world, who engaged with the world, a man who was aware of what had happened in the CIA with extraordinary renditions and water boarding and torture," Pine said.
"Fear was really my central thing, his experience in the war being injured, emotionally, psychically, physically, how does PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) play a role in someone who fights again?" Pine said.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Amanda Kwan)