The Sum of All Fears and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit on 4K UHD Blu-ray
The Jack Ryan 5-Film Collection is now available on 4K Blu-ray. Please note the screenshots used in this article are Blu-ray sourced and do not represent the superior 4K transfers.
This article is the continuation of a review of the Jack Ryan film series, which was recently released on 4K Blu-ray in a new box set. You can read the previous article covering the 1990s Jack Ryan trilogy here:
After the trilogy, the property was revived twice for reboot movies in 2002 and again in 2014, each an origin story of sorts that ignored all previous entries, but without remaking any particular novels.
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (2002)
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
I vaguely remember watching this when it first hit DVD, hating it, and then putting it out of my mind completely. I was irritated that it ignored the continuity of the previous films, and didn’t much care for Ben Affleck in general, and certainly not as a fitting replacement for Harrison Ford. Why the hell weren’t we getting a reunion of the Clear and Present Danger cast doing Executive Orders or Rainbow Six? The groundwork of introducing novel mainstays John Clark and Ding Chavez was already done. Now that would be something truly incredible.
Clearly, this was a missed opportunity, and those movies still would’ve been preferable to this one, but the simple truth is that I never gave this film a sporting chance. I’m still disappointed by what it’s not, but what it is — isn’t bad.
Releasing just months after the 9/11 terror attack, but finished before it, The Sum of All Fears — which is in a large part about a foreign bomb being used to attack Baltimore — is oddly both prescient of the real terror act and, chronologically, overshadowed by it.
Ever the smartest guy in the room, Jack believes the attack, attributed to the Russians, is actually a strategic play by an unknown third party to goad the two superpowers into war. With the help of CIA Director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman playing a spiritual successor to James Earl Jones’s Greer) and field man John Clark (Liev Schreiber), he sets out to prove his theory, clear the Russians, and prevent an all-out war which could quickly escalate into mutually assured annihilation.
The Sum of All Fears is probably the least of the series. Affleck’s version of the character feels a little dopey, and the CG effects hold up poorly. Despite these criticisms, it is much better than I allowed myself to give it credit for. It’s a huge missed opportunity that things didn’t progress with Harrison Ford and company doing the further Jack Ryan stories with the established cast, but taking this film for what it is, rather than resenting what it’s not — it’s fine. Most critically, the important thematic thread and core of the character — doing what’s right despite the immense pressure to give up — is still intact.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
I’m not sure what forces of judgment and persuasion could possibly have led to Irishman Kenneth Branagh taking on the quintessentially American Jack Ryan, but by gosh does it work like gangbusters.
It’s (sigh) yet another reboot, but that’s perhaps the only real downside in this well-made film that brings believable everyman Chris Pine to the role.
Unlike The Sum of All Fears which was post-9/11 only in terms of its calendar release, Shadow Recruit is a response to it. The opening finds a college-age Jack Ryan arriving at his campus to find that everyone is numbly gazing at TVs, watching the developments as planes crash into the Twin Towers. This was immediately disarming for me, the exact experience that I, and many people my age, remember vividly.
Despite being nearly finished with his doctorate, Ryan exits college and enlists in the military to fight the terrorists, eventually getting injured in combat and sent home to recover. Equally impressed by his resilience are his therapist Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), who becomes his wife, and CIA Agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), who recruits him to serve his country in a new way: using his skills as a financial analyst, operate as a CIA mole in crooked Wall Street corporations, spying on his employers and clients, looking for suspicious activities, like terrorist funding, lurking in the numbers.
Ryan makes just such a discovery, uncovering some business transactions by his employer’s Russian partner which point to some scary implications — by coordinating a terror attack on Wall Street with responsive trading, a foreign agent could both devastate the US economy and stand to make a massive profit.
Under the pretense of a routine business audit in his role as a compliance officer, Ryan heads to Russia to investigate Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) — and quickly finds himself in way over his head dealing with people who are ready to kill him, and trying to hack their state-of-the-art security systems in order to divine the nature of a terror attack he’s now certain will come. Things go from bad to worse when his wife Cathy, unaware that he’s a CIA agent, makes a surprise visit and becomes a pawn in the deadly game.
To come right out with it, Shadow Recruit strays away from the franchise’s roots with a radically different style and a story that’s not based on any established Tom Clancy novel. But as a result, the filmmakers gave themselves the freedom to make what’s probably the most exciting film in the series, leaning more in the heisty, action-packed direction of a Mission: Impossible or Bourne film than the studious, political Jack Ryan films past — while still playing things smart.
It’s not the best of the series, but it could very well prove to be the most rewatchable, thanks to its quicker pacing, a personified villain, and a constant escalation of suspense. But the most unique aspect of this new vision is that it is the job of Ryan and his division to prevent another 9/11 from happening, and the echoes of that event meaningfully bookend the story in a way that is both reverent and resonant.
I posted an unboxing of the 4K box set which shows the packaging in detail, available here:
These films look gorgeous in 4K, with a noticeable upgrade for The Sum of All Fears, which previously had a weak Blu-ray transfer. Shadow Recruit on the other hand already looked amazing on Blu-ray, so its upgrade is less apparent (IMDb also notes that it has a 2K intermediate, so it’s likely this disc is simply an upscale). That said, if you’re going to to get slight to moderate upgrade, a box set is by far the best way to justify it.
The 4K discs each are each dedicated to a movie-only presentation, while all special features except commentary are housed only on the Blu-ray discs.
Special Features and Extras — The Sum of All Fears
- Commentary by director Phil Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley
- Commentary by the director Phil Robinson and novelist Tom Clancy
- The Sum of All Fears: A Cautionary Tale — Production (17:00)
- The Sum of All Fears: A Cautionary Tale — Casting (12:55)
- The Sum of All Fears — Visual Effects (27:48)
5-part featurette analyzing 5 major effects — The Carrier Attack, The A-4 Jet, The Hospital, The Motorcade, and The Helicopter
Special Features and Extras — Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
This is a very solid set of featurettes that incorporate interviews with many cast and crew members.
- commentary by director/actor Kenneth Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura
- Deleted & Extended Scenes (5:03)
- Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in the Room (13:37)
On adapting the character for a new generation, with the previous context of the character as a template
- Sir Kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit (9:49)
A featurette about Branagh, who both directs and play the film’s villain
- Jack Ryan: A Thinking Man of Action (5:19)
A look at this young and untested version of the character, with a focus on the hotel fight.
- Old Enemies Return (21:13)
30 years after the publication of the Hunt for Red October, the Russians continue to make good movie villains. This featurette focuses on global politics and intelligence with insights from expert commentators.
Get it at Amazon:
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All 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the Blu-ray disc (not 4K) with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.