From the Archives: American Dad: The Adventures of Jack Ryan–Part 4

From the Archives: American Dad: The Adventures of Jack Ryan–Part 4

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

I am 34 years old. I am unmarried and I have no children. I don’t really have a career to speak of, and I am nowhere near considering buying a house. Basically, I’m doing things right, at least by way of me never wanting to give up my ability to do whatever I want at any given moment without answering to anybody for any reason at all. Yet despite my inclination to shirk any and all adult responsibilities I still feel a little bit like a dad. I tend to reject hip, new things, oftentimes purposefully mispronouncing the cultural item in question just to show how proudly out of touch I am with kids these days. I identify with the guy at the end of every tool commercial who folds his arms while giving a proud “job well done” look into the camera. I like what I like and I have no room for anything else, except shitty puns. I love shitty puns almost as much as love scoffing in general. So yes, I am becoming a total dad. As such, it’s about time I let some Tom Clancy into my life, don’t ya think?

I sure do! And having never seen a single Jack Ryan film, I’m going to cross them ALL of of my Shame List! Read the whole series here.

Oh, and just to be clear: I’m never having kids. They’re way too sticky for me.

The Sum of All Fears (2002)

Director: Phil Alden Robinson

Writers: Tom Clancy (novel, yes I will continue to credit him), Paul Attanasio, Daniel Pyne

Stars: Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Bruce McGill, John Beasley, Philip Baker Hall, Bridget Moynahan, Colm Feore, Ciarán Hinds, Liev Schreiber

Jack Ryan played by: Ben Affleck

Plot: A young Jack Ryan is a new recruit in the CIA or something. He’s navigating work/life balance with his new flame (and future wife), while trying to prove to the brass that he’s not just some cocky kid. Meanwhile, a neo-Nazi faction detonates a nuke on American soil in an effort to cause conflict between America and Russia.

Review: Nostalgia is a crazy thing. Nothing seems abnormal or categorizable while it’s occurring, but bank a few years and suddenly it all takes on a new flavor. What I mean is that The Sum of All Fears is one of the most “2002” movies I’ve ever seen. This was released May 31st of that year, just 8 months out from the attacks of 9/11. The concept that a foreign enemy (specifically one unaffiliated with any national power) could pull off an attack on American soil was a brand new concept for those of us who only knew Pearl Harbor as a Michel Bay film. I honestly don’t know how it was released so quickly after that fateful day. Then again, the Schwarzenegger thriller Collateral Damage, in which the beefy Austrian seeks vengeance against the terrorists who killed his family, was delayed from an October 2001 release to February of 2002. With that more aggressive film in the rear view, a slightly more nuanced political thriller is certainly easier to swallow. Either way, here in 2019 it’s remarkable how quickly our entertainment landscape bounced back to normal (kinda makes the complaints that Man of Steel looked a little too much like 9/11 seem pretty dumb — which they always were).

Even the visual effects, which hold up generally well, recall the time in which the film was made. When the nuke goes off, Jack Ryan is flying in a nearby helicopter which is ripped from the sky by the explosion. It’s an effective visual, and when it occurred, I immediately remembered the trailer for the film. The shot of the chopper getting blasted was the central image of the ad. In fact, it’s really the only thing I remember about it. Looking back, this image feels very “of the era” to me. The same way that particle physics currently define our film visuals, or the way that “getting T-boned while driving through an intersection” dominated the action cinema of the mid-to-late 2000s (and “getting cut in half, but not realizing it until your body splits in two” dominated the decade prior).

This might be the silliest entry in the series so far, and I believe this is due to the “reboot” nature of it. Because really, that’s what this is. Granted, it never took off from here, as this was Affleck’S sole rodeo as Jack Ryan, but you can see all of the pieces being set up for a more “modern” take on the character/series. Now that I’m writing it out, it makes sense to bring the series into a post-9/11 landscape. If Jack Ryan were a real guy, of COURSE he would be involved in picking up the pieces after such a tragedy. The films up until this point has been all about preventing an attack on American soil, while The Sum of All Fears is specifically about our response to a successful terror campaign.

Another way that this film tries to make everything more “hip” is in the clear inclination to make Jack Ryan both sexy and humorous. There’s quite a bit of comedy in the film, much of it taking the flavor of snarky quips in the face of bureaucracy. But most of it is resultant of Ryan’s many failed attempts at having a quiet, sexy evening with his new girlfriend. A running gag throughout the film involves Jack and Cathy (Bridget Moynahan) finding themselves either in bed or out on a date when suddenly Jack is called into action. He can never reveal to her what he’s doing (national security and all), which causes a handful of madcap moments. Cabot (Morgan Freeman) eventually gives Ryan permission to reveal the nature of his secretive duties to Cathy, and she “hilariously” doesn’t believe him. No matter what happens between them, it’s clearly of importance to the filmmakers to frame both Jack and Cathy as sexy individuals. You couldn’t do this with Alec Baldwin (who is a distinctly unsexy presence) or Harrison Ford (whose appeal comes from charm much mora than his looks). So with Jack Ryan being characterized as a young, unmarried, childless hunk, where does that leave the dads of the world?

Based on my dad’s tastes, it seems that dads generally have a finicky relationship with Ben Affleck. Some enjoy him, some don’t, but none outright love him. I don’t see him being too appealing to dads in this film, as he isn’t terribly good here.

But don’t fret, Liev Schreiber is here! Dads love Liev Schreiber, as indicated by them saying “Is that Ray Donovan?? GREAT SHOW!”

Whereas Jack Ryan represents the ideals that dads strive for (utility, intellect, “knowing better than you”), Schreiber’s John Clark represents every dad’s highest fantasy. Clark is a well-trained soldier who can bullshit his way out of most situations and shoot his way out of the rest. If only there were a scene in which he could demonstrate his ability to “measure twice, cut once” and he might as well be patriarchal Superman.

What else does this hip, young entry have to offer dads? Well, this is the story of Nazi Communists attacking America by blowing up a football game. Is there a better way to be a villain in the eyes of a dad? I don’t think so. Communism, Nazi’s, nukes, domestic attacks, and the destruction of football — it truly is the sum of all of my dad’s fears.


  • In keeping with the brand, there’s a scene which layers the national anthem over a montage of “America stuff” including a football game, soldiers doing work, men in suits pointing and yelling, and a Budweiser blimp.
  • Both our President and the Russian President are lefties. This speaks to me.
  • Predating Furious 7 by over a decade, The Sum of All Fears features a chain and wrench fight (but with considerably less fambly).
  • The source novel has Islamic extremists rather than Neo-Nazis as the villains. Apparently, prior to 9/11, director Phil Alden Robinson did not think that Islamic terrorists would have the capability to organize an attack within our borders. After 9/11 proved him wrong it was serendipitous that the script had already been changed, ensuring that the film remained palatable in the new national security landscape.
  • After watching this film it has become clear that I have absolutely no reference point for the size and scope of a nuclear blast. I have no clue how they work. I did, however, appreciate an offscreen character telling Jack Ryan that the fallout was blowing in a certain direction, and that he should move in the opposite direction to remain safe. That’s good enough for me!
  • John Clark is also being sexified in this entry. You’ll remember that he was previously portrayed by Willem Dafoe, and was depicted as being capable, but with not much by way of personality. Now he’s played by Liev Schreiber, whose take on Clark is just as professional but twice as smooth and hunky.
  • During a monologue the phrase “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” is used. This is, in my estimation, a reference to The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” This film came out right in the heart of the Bush Administration, and it shows. While the timeline doesn’t add up to determine this to be an explicit reference, I couldn’t help but remember Bush’s flubbed quote: “Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” The President also says “nucular.”  The more things change the more they stay the same, eh?
  • Colm Feore is back…playing an entirely different character.

Best line: A warning that Cabot issues before bringing noob Jack Ryan into an emergency board meeting:

“Choose your words carefully. Words have a habit of being turned into policy.”

Another great (and very Dad-paced) exchange occurs between John Clark and Jack Ryan. Clark is getting ready to do some dangerous, boots-on-the-ground action, and he needs Ryan to be his backup. Ryan, much more attuned to desk work, is resistant.

Ryan: “I don’t do that. I just write reports.”

Clark: “Ok, so write a report about it. Suit up.”

Worst line: Jack Ryan is looking to get some information about the attack from someone of a superior military rank and she’s just not having it. He angrily spouts the following.

“I don’t have time for this. I need to know where this bomb came from. I will settle for where it didn’t come from, but I need to know now. Otherwise there may not be a tomorrow.”

Continuity: This is the only prequel I can think of that occurs chronologically later than the previous entries. This is a young, single, childless Jack Ryan, but it takes place explicitly in 2002, a full 9 years after the previous entry. As I said in my previous write-up, the Jack Ryan films follow Bond continuity. Some are connected, some aren’t. Jack’s age and general demeanor changes, but all the pieces of the puzzle are generally the same. Also, Jack Ryan meets John Clark for the first time in this movie. He also meets John Clark for the first time in Clear and Present Danger.

Jack Stats

Age: Once again, Ryan’s age is not explicitly mentioned, but at the time of release, Ben Affleck was 30, making him our youngest Jack Ryan yet.

Job: “Writes reports.” That’s as much detail as we get before he takes on more responsibility under DCI Cabot. He does tell Cathy that he’s a historian since he can’t reveal the nature of his real job, but I don’t really know how much truth that lie is based in. So once again, he’s “government guy.”

Family: He does’t have any! At this point in the story of our new Jack Ryan, he’s not yet married and has only just started dating Cathy.

What we know about him: Nothing new. He’s got the same back injury that took him out of the military (although it once again doesn’t seem to have any affect on his ability to be in an action sequence). He is once again considered an outsider by the higher ups at the CIA, only this time it’s more explicitly about his age than it is about his lack of bureaucratic experience. It’s actually pretty cool to see a prequelized version of this character. He’s not yet a dad or a husband, but I can see all of the things which ultimately give Ryan Dad appeal. He wants to be a family man. He wants to be respected at work. He loves his country. Above all else, he’s going to follow his gut even if the powers which surround him aren’t willing to budge.


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