Hollywood’s current obsession with reboots, origin stories, or reboots featuring origin stories isn’t exactly new, in fact it’s proven to be the quickest (if not exactly cleanest way) to keep a franchise going in the event of some necessary damage control. When it works, it can admittedly rejuvenate a franchise to reach all new heights, but when it doesn’t, it can just feel infuriatingly pointless and serve to dilute whatever wonders the franchise previously had.
A case for the latter is the jumbled timeline and multiple re-castings that have plagued Tom Clancy’s CIA boy scout, Jack Ryan, ever since Alec Baldwin excitedly claimed he knew what was going through the mind of a Russian submarine captain back in 1990 and then suddenly morphed into Indiana Jones only two years later.
When Harrison Ford walked away from the role in 2000 after only portraying the character twice, the noticably younger Ben Affleck was chosen to take up the mantle of cinema’s most openly honest CIA operative which meant that was all the powers that be needed to pull that big lever on the wall marked “reboot” and hope for a jackpot.
After a large, unexploded nuclear bomb is dug up after the jet carrying it crashed in 1973 by a Syrian scrap collector, it gets swept up on the black market and ends up in the hands of a neo-fascist group lead by an Austrian billionaire. God, don’t you just hate it when that happens? Anyway, these bomb wielding assholes are about to time their Insidious plans just right as the change of leadership changes hands to the newly minted Russian president Alexander Nemerov and the CIA immediately start looking to their analysts to find out if this guy really is the Stern, hardliner he’s allowed his military to think.
However, analyst Jack Ryan is convinced that he’s actually got more of a reformist steak who plays the tough-guy role to gain confidence within his government and CIA director William Cabot, seeing great promise in Ryan, takes him under his wing and brings him along to Russia to help oversee disarmament. Of course, Ryan being the observant bugger he is, he starts to notice little things that seem to be worryingly off, like the missing Russian scientists you’d need to build a nuke and he begins to worry that something is amiss.
Things escalate when rogue Russian military working on behalf of the neo-fascists launch a chemical attack on Chechnya and put Nemerov in an awkward position as he can’t admit what actually happened in fear of seeming incompetent, so Ryan, alongside steely eyed operative John Clark, travel to try and figure things out.
They’d better check their watches, however, because that bomb is already on it’s way to Baltimore to give a football game the explosive ending that nobody wants and if it does go off, surely World War III isn’t going to be that far behind…
Leapfroging The Cardinal Of The Kremlin due to its complicated nature and instead focusing on 1991’s The Sum Of All Fears, the script manages to keep the basic plot the same but also panel beats the shit out of everything else in order to make this fourth outing double up an origin story too as Jack tries to juggle thwarting international terrorism with his burgeoning relationship with his wife-to-be, Cathy. The problem with this is that Jack Ryan technically already has an on-screen origin story in the form of The Hunt For Red October and it’s attempt to mold a continuing chapter into a character ground zero just feels forced and actually takes away from the main story of political skullduggery and big-ass nuclear bombs.
Whether simply casting younger and then continuing as if nothing has happened á la James Bond would have ended up being less distracting is something we’ll never know, but surely if the movie had hit the ground running it would have been a bit faster paced than this. The stuff concerning Jack and Cathy courting while the world is teetering on the world collapsing into the abyss of world war is actually genuinely sweet (Bridget Moynahan finally manages to do more with the character than just “smiling/doctor/wife”) and newly Ryan-minted Ben Affleck does well in the quieter moments – but when shit gets more serious and desperate, the one-time Daredevil and future Batman noticably lacks the jittery confidence of Baldwin or the innate Harrison Fordness or Harrison Ford that’s necessary to convince us that Ryan can convince political leaders that everyone, everywhere is wrong about everything. Affleck does a decent enough job of being decent, but in the high pressure moments where Ryan would lay out his measured hunches in measured tones of desperation, Ben seems to whine and screech which takes away some of the nuance of the character. Yes, in this film he’s a newbie at defusing doomsday scenarios and so the panic makes sense to a certain degree, but it’s jarring step back when we’ve already seen him be so capable in other adventures.
On top of this, while it’s also nice to see Ryan get another mentor in the form of Morgan Freeman’s William Cabot – tagging out from James Earl Jones’ James Greer – due to my lack of Jack Ryan knowledge, I have to admit that I initially thought the Freeman was also playing a rebooted Greer and his confidence inspiring banter and (Spoiler!) untimely fate doesn’t do much to dissuade you of this notion. In fact, the movie’s far most intriguing character ends up being the hugely underutilised field agent played by Liev Schreiber who, not only gives us the Ben Affleck reunion from Phantoms that no one asked for, but gives us a nice line in cold bloodied government spook that he got to do far better in Angelina Jolie’s spy opus, Salt.
This leads us to another issue that The Sum Of All Fears has and that’s the curious fact that a lot of its cast beyond Freeman and Schrieber has turned up in countless political thrillers before and because the presidential cabinet contains such faces we’re used to seeing in countless war rooms and oval offices and such, it doesn’t exactly make this movie stand out much.
Still, it’s undemanding spy stuff that contains the odd scene or two that manages to stir the interest. A massive bomb going off in Baltimore raises the stakes while lowering the house prices considerably, a climactic cull of political ne’er do wells to classical music recalls The Godfather II nicely and a bit where Morgan suggests Affleck come clean about his CIA employment to Moynahan to explain cancelling a date inspired genuine chuckles.
However, due to it’s been-there-done-that ambiance and a Ryan who hasn’t yet grown into the role, The Sum Of All Fears is one sum that doesn’t quite add up.