CIA analyst Jack Ryan must thwart the plans of a terrorist faction that threatens to induce a catastrophic conflict between the United States and Russia’s newly elected president by detonating a nuclear weapon at a football game in Baltimore.
Year 3, Film #3
THE GOOD: I’ve seen the three previous Jack Ryan films (The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger) but it feels like The Sum of All Fears brought something to the table that I never realized in the other films: how great a character Jack Ryan is. Ryan (Ben Affleck) isn’t a spy, he isn’t a James Bond kind of a character that can go into foreign situations, kill a bunch of people, and gets the good guys to win; he’s an analyst. He writes reports. He’s the guy who sits behind the desk and tells the covert operatives what to do. A character like Jack Ryan has to work at the success he gets and that makes him relatable and in some ways more entertaining than your run-of-the-mill Bond spy.
A big focus of The Sum of All Fears is the threat of nuclear weapons and part-way through I found myself thinking, “I hope this nuke goes off.” Very few films or television shows actually deal with the aftermath of a nuclear explosion because the agents are always able to stop the nuke before it explodes (I’m looking at you 24 and Jack Bauer, except for season 6 when one did go off). And then, sure enough (spoiler alert) the nuke does go off in Baltimore which leads to quite the escalation between the United States and Russia. It was quite nerve-racking and suspenseful seeing what would happen next because, unlike other films where it ends when they find the bomb, The Sum of All Fears really starts after the bomb goes off.
THE BAD: While I did find many great things to enjoy about the Jack Ryan character, many of which were never really apparent before, Ben Affleck left much to be desired in terms of his portrayal of the character. Many of the new things I learned about the character came from the situations and the writing in this film as opposed to Affleck’s performance. Both Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford (the two actors who portrayed Ryan in the three films before this) embodied Ryan so much better. While their performances shrouded some of the more appealing qualities of Ryan that I wasn’t aware of until now, they commanded a presence that was lacking with Affleck’s performance. Jack Ryan may not be a James Bond spy, but he’s also not some weak guy who doesn’t stand up for himself. Affleck was on the verge of showing that level of confidence, but he hid behind William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) and dutifully did as he was ordered (with very few exceptions).
One of this film’s biggest oversights I feel is the importance of the Russian President Alexander Nemerov (Ciarán Hinds). When he first comes to power at the beginning of the film (after the death of the incumbent due to health related circumstances) he commands a certain level of intrigue that’s hard to match. We’re not quite sure what to think about him yet. Many think he’s a hardliner and wants to attack the US whereas Jack Ryan, who predicted he would be the successor, thinks he’s a peaceful man. After we’re introduced to him though and establish who he is, he disappears for much of the film until the nuclear escalation at the end. For a character as important as Nemerov, the film forgets about him for quite a large portion. We should have seen, or at least heard, more about him scattered throughout the film instead of just being in the bookends.
THE TAKEAWAY: A great addition to the Jack Ryan franchise that illuminated more of a fantastic character that I was previously unaware of. Ben Affleck may not have done as great a job as his predecessors Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford but there is still much to like. And story-wise, The Sum of All Fears explores territory not often covered by similar films which is a breath of fresh air and a pleasure to watch.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5