Ben Affleck takes over from where Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin left off as Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan in The Sum of All Fears. The story was overhauled to handle the age discrepancy between Affleck and his predecessors, and many questions are raised: Can Affleck be the realistic hero that Ford and Baldwin were? Can the movie match the quality of the previous three films? And, most importantly, is the world ready to see Baltimore destroyed by a nuclear bomb?
Let's face it: The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger all are great political action films, making Jack Ryan the closest thing to an American James Bond. The stories are distinctly different every time and all three are well made. So, on the one hand, it really isn't fair to compare The Sum of All Fears to the others, since how can it really top them? Then again, if all three in the series so far have been A-grade movies, shouldn't this latest entry be held to the same high standards?
Unfortunately, The Sum of All Fears is not as good as any of its three predecessors... by far. I could sit down and watch any of the other Jack Ryan films as many times as I wanted and not get bored, because they are realistic, believable, action-packed, political, and engaging. The Sum of All Fears is realistic, almost too-believable, definitely political, but lacks the action and engagement that the other three succeeded at to draw the characters into suspense mode.
The Sum of All Fears is about a group of Neo-Nazi millionaires who buy a nuclear bomb on the black market and ship it into the United States. Once the bomb goes off (which it does), Russia and the U.S. are pulled into a world-threatening standoff as the U.S. tries to decide who is responsible, and Russia has to decide whether it wants to be annihilated or strike first. It is a game of political cat-and-mouse, and while that is the kind of thing that I like in stories, it wasn't exactly what I wanted, either.
The biggest problem with The Sum of All Fears is that it doesn't have nearly enough action, or at least suspense. Jack Ryan in this one is a young CIA analyst (who is annoyingly pulled out of chronology - he is younger than Ford by a long shot, yet the movie is based in 2002) who suspects that there are other forces at work besides the Russians. Unfortunately, he is just an analyst, so he basically spends his time running around trying to convince people that the Russians are not to blame, and only has two close encounters, which are both very brief and can barely count as action scenes. In the other movies, Ryan gets to shoot bad guys, save his family from killers, take on Colombian drug lords, and things like that... here, the closest he gets to any of that is an oversized guy that seemingly found his way over from a James Bond movie. Ryan's involvement in the scheme of things is probably realistic, but very disappointing... extremely disappointing.
Because of Ryan's lack of involvement, I didn't really feel any sense of suspense while watching the movie. In fact, I was barely engaged at all. Sure, things are tense, especially after the bomb goes off (wouldn't it have been nice if that wasn't revealed in the previews, and so it would be a gigantic surprise?), but from a purely political standpoint, and unlike The Contender or The Insider, which made relatively business-type situations harrowingly suspenseful, The Sum of All Fears does not do that great of job entertaining the audience. I don't think the people responsible for this film realized that an audience doesn't just want to see the cabinet members for Russia and the United States bicker among themselves about what they should do, and I know I definitely didn't want to see Ryan resolve the whole thing by <WARNING: SPOILER... SORT OF> simply writing a letter to the Russian President. It just doesn't reach the same level of excitement as in, say, The Hunt for Red October, where the world is also on the brink of nuclear war, but Ryan also has a more personal encounter with a Russian assassin).
Despite The Sum of All Fears' shortcomings, it still does have a very realistic picture painted. It is intriguing to watch pictures like this because things can potentially happen in this way. Of course, being released less than a year after September 11, and with nuclear terrorism more real now than it has ever been before, the question is raised as to whether America, and the world, is ready for a picture like this. For me, I don't mind terrorism movies, even now. Shortly after the 11th, I rented The Siege. I think realistic movies based on events going on in present day are important, and, to further the argument, aren't that much different from Russia vs. the U.S. movies made during the Cold War. Nevertheless, with the nuclear threat higher than ever (and, sad to say, almost inevitable at some point in time), it was shocking even to me to see Baltimore and the Superbowl get destroyed. The theater was silent, stunned. I don't blame The Sum of All Fears for playing on people's, well, fears, but the fact is that it does, and it still might be a little early for some people to see that kind of thing. However, while I think they should have stuck with Clancy's original formula, it's probably a good thing for the majority of the public that the enemies in the film were changed from Muslim terrorists to Neo-Nazis. The filmmakers were smart enough to do that, but were they smart enough to foresee other problems? Russia is more an ally than ever, and while there are tensions, if a nuclear bomb were to go off in the U.S., the first guess would be terrorists, not another nation.
As far as the acting goes, I was relatively impressed with Ben Affleck, although I do hold some reservations. The Sum of All Fears does prove that he can handle big movies like this, but in the back of my mind I had a nagging feeling saying that he just isn't the right guy for the job. When I look at him, I see Ben Affleck, not Jack Ryan (whereas Harrison Ford seemed to slip into the role much more smoothly). I think someone like Colin Farrell would have been a better choice (or, preferably, an older actor a little closer to Harrison Ford's age).
The Sum of All Fears is a moderately well made picture, but despite all the work that went into this film to make it realistic and politically exciting, the filmmakers forgot what makes a Jack Ryan movie work, and that is a moderate level of action and a more personally-involved storyline. It's worth seeing, but doesn't have the replay value that the other movies in the series have.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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