The Sum of All Fears (2002)

2012 #22
Phil Alden Robinson | 119 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA & Germany / English | 12 / PG-13

The Sum of All FearsParamount had a burgeoning franchise on their hands in the early ’90s with adaptations of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels. He first appears in The Hunt for Red October, where Alec Baldwin’s incarnation of the hero is thoroughly overshadowed by Sean Connery. Then Harrison Ford took over starring duties for a pair of successful follow-ups, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Why they didn’t lead to more, my quick look on IMDb and Wikipedia doesn’t tell.

Fast forward almost a decade to the early ’00s, and Paramount tried to re-launch their potentially-lucrative IP with a beginning-of-his-career younger version of Ryan (all the better to appeal to the young-skewing demographic who by then attended cinemas most), with man-of-the-moment Ben Affleck as the lead. Despite some financial success (nearly $200m worldwide from a budget of $68m), the critics weren’t impressed, and it seems they were listened to. Incidentally, another ten years on, they’re about to try the exact same thing again, with Star Trek’s Chris Pine the man-of-the-moment playing a young Ryan. Better luck this time, chaps.

But I digress — what of The Sum of All Fears? Well, actually, it’s a solid little thriller. A bit plodding at times, but engrossing enough. It doesn’t always adhere to believability, and it’s occasionally unclear what sort of timescale it’s all taking place in, but if you let that wash over you it’s fine. There’s A Big Twist in the middle that would easily have been one of the best bits about the film, had they not blown it in the trailers. Even still, it’s a bit audacious and I still didn’t quite believe it would happen until it did.

Get busy living or... no, wait...Ben Affleck is Ben Affleck, which means a lot of people won’t like him but he’s OK. Morgan Freeman brings instant gravitas to his role, though it’s not his most likeable or memorable part.

I can see why this failed to launch a new franchise. For one thing, a storyline about a terrorist attack on US soil coming less than a year after 9/11 was always going to be tricky. Even without that though, it’s a thrillery-thriller (as opposed to an action-thriller) made at a time when mass audiences were making a move to kids/family-aimed franchises as the main revenue stream for cinemas and Hollywood studios. There’s something in that about the general dumbing down of blockbuster entertainment and the increasing (and ongoing) infantilisation of mainstream American cinema, but The Sum of All Fears isn’t the greatest rebuttal, so it’s a case best left for elsewhere.

As I’ve said on films like this before — and, I suppose, as is indicated by my three-star rating — if you like this kind of film then The Sum of All Fears makes for an adequately entertaining two hours. Otherwise, it’s nothing special.

3 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2012. Read more here.

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