If you’re intrigued as to how they could scale back Jack Ryan’s age thirty years (going from Harrison Ford to Ben Affleck, Changing Lanes), you might take an educated guess and suppose The Sum of All Fears is a prequel to the other three films in the series. You’d be right, of course, but you may develop a migraine trying to resolve the fact that this latest entry actually has a timeline AFTER the other three as well. The best advice I can offer is tell you to ignore the other three films outright and just enjoy The Sum of All Fears on its own independent merits, avoiding the hassle of continuity problems that can’t be logically resolved without involvement of a time machine.
The plot involves a failed attempt at a nuclear strike by the Israelis, leaving behind an active nuclear bomb found by poor local Arabs who sell it to an unscrupulous band of terrorists. The terrorist plot involves setting up an escalating series of events to cause the United States and Russia to head straight into all-out nuclear war, and the bomb is the tool to start the ball rolling. Jack Ryan (Affleck) is the history teacher turned CIA agent who knows the situation well enough to see the facade, but it seems to fall on ever-deafening ears from the advisors to the President. Now Jack is alone in trying to avert the destruction of all.
Jack Ryan purists may be annoyed, but then when have these guys been happy with the series? The Sum of All Fears is still a good film regardless of whether or not it is a Jack Ryan film. You don’t have to see any of the other films in the series to understand it and, in truth, it may actually easier to follow if you haven’t. In fact, most of the drama takes place independent of Affleck, who only really takes center stage during the climactic finale of the film. I suppose it’s only fitting, since it would be a little too farfetched for an unknown to be calling the shots all the way through the film.
Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams, Sneakers) delivers terrific tension, especially during a very frightening (and realistic) scene halfway through the film that, although well-publicized, I refuse to spoil by mentioning the details to for those not in the know. Although Ben Affleck takes a back seat for most of the film, the film does sport a terrific cast around him, including Morgan Freeman (High Crimes), James Cromwell (Space Cowboys) , and an especially impressive Ciaran Hinds (Road to Perdition) as the Russian President trying to keep control as things begin to unravel.
The Sum of All Fears is recommended primarily for fans of Tom Clancy (obviously) and those into political thrillers as a genre regardless of author. For those who keep up on world events, it also gets a recommendation, but people unfamiliar with the politics of the times may find The Sum of All Fears a little dry to be truly exciting, despite the fantastic moments. It’s a good start for Affleck, and if he can mature into the role in future outings, this should be a good series for many movies to come.