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Summarizing Nukes

It’s unnerving how unusually prescient the Jack Ryan films tend be. Not long after 9/11, as nations stood on alert for Middle Eastern terrorists, Sum of All Fears put Americans and Russians in a nuclear stand-off – with Nazis creating dissent. That’s a distressingly plausible 2018 headline.

Predictive or not, Sum of All Fears is a slog until the second act. Ben Affleck takes the role of Jack Ryan from the reigns of Harrison Ford, a reset of sorts that places Ryan at the start of his career. That’s cause for comedy, Ryan outmatched by political superiors, and awkward in his platitudes. The script zips between nations, inserting a cavalcade of characters with minimal definition before being whisked off to the next locale.

The scenario seems probable, only dry. Affleck lacks the charm of Ford, more an awkward, fresh-out-of-college kid than certain hero. That matters given Sum of All Fears second hour, a ferocious pace that asks audiences to believe in Ryan’s skillset and that his girlfriend (Bridgette Moynahan) can survive the shockwave of a nuclear blast. It’s a bit much.

After a nuke decimates Baltimore, the panic that follows evokes 9/11’s immediate fallout

Where the first half feels like a tug-and-pull of superpowers lifted up for nostalgic value, the second half is generous thriller material. After a nuke decimates Baltimore, the panic that follows, including uncertainty, evokes 9/11’s immediate fallout. With the swiftness of a Paul Greengass film, Sum of All Fears finds its footing. Ryan rushes through Baltimore’s remains, using early millennium technology in an attempt to stall an American nuclear strike on Russia. It’s well composed panic.

Both sides come off as war mongering, shifting radioactive arsenals into position. James Cromwell’s part as President Fowler turns the role into a personally vindictive leader. With limited intel, Fowler is unsteady, willing to strike more for an attempt on his own life rather than those who lost theirs.

The instigators though, a little seen underground group of fascist sympathizers, hardly matter. Sum of All Fears doesn’t even take them down in any satisfying form, instead showcasing the fallacy of diplomacy in the face of terrorism. People in power react like anyone else when threatened – violently – no matter their place in government.

Tom Clancy wrote Sum of All Fear’s source novel a decade before 9/11. There’s that prescience again. Without knowing of the political games that followed 9/11’s terrorist attacks, Clancy’s material isn’t kind to any nation or their response. That perspective is Sum of All Fears’ tightest talking point, even if the film around it chugs along, and even if Affleck is outmatched in a dazzling cast of stars.


The final Jack Ryan shot entirely on film, Paramount gives Sum of All Fears a clean 4K master. Detail runs high, with extreme texture. Satellite views of various cities show the format’s capability, resolving small buildings even at substantial height. Outside of cinematography, nothing dissolves Sum of All Fear’s sharpness.

Immediately apparent is color, dense and saturated with natural flesh tones. Primaries pop. After the nuke, Sum of All Fears takes on a green pallor. On Air Force One, red warning lights win out. In Russia, the warmth of fire overtakes interior scenes. Primaries fall away in this back half, but the hues utilized still have zest even if that minty-like green isn’t attractive (and it shouldn’t be given the circumstances).

Some crush is evident. This is notable in the Russian scenes where burned-in subtitles erode some detail. Shadows can’t pull away, losing themselves in the darkened scenery. Paramount’s Dolby Vision pass adds a glimmer to the contrast, somewhat reserved in brightness, if shining when in tandem with the black levels. Note that in the haze of the nuke, hyper contrast is used, bleaching out detail on purpose.

Grain resolves cleanly, significantly thinner than the previous trio of Ryan films.


A detailed TrueHD mix gives energy to scenes inside of a football stadium and sends jets passing between channels. Separation is clean. Rain effects fill the soundstage convincingly.

The key audio moment is, of course, the nuclear blast. Impact carries tremendous LFE response. That continues as the shockwave and winds bombard the city, whipping across the five available channels in a notable manner.

As war draws near, there’s a missile attack on an aircraft carrier with plenty to offer sonically, and then a bombing run with capable low-end thrust. Sum of All Fears can boast about having the essentials.


Two commentary tracks join the UHD presentation. Director Phil Alden Robinson is on both, joined by cinematographer John Lindley on one, author Tom Clancy on the other.

On the included Blu-ray is a 29-minute making-of with the production value of an early Laserdisc featurette. For visual effect connoisseurs, the five-part Creating Reality breaks down the key sequences.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Sum of All Fears
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Ben Affleck’s turn as Jack Ryan is a messy one, as Sum of All Fears relies on a tense second half for all of its energy.

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