Writer Tom Clancy is known for his long string of novels that center on geo-political intrigue. A good number of them, mostly the ones starring his CIA analyst character Jack Ryan, have been adapted into movies of various, but mostly good, quality. With Without Remorse, premiering on Amazon Prime this Friday, another of Clancy’s leads, former Navy SEAL commando John Kelly (Michael B Jordan) to step up to the plate. Unfortunately, his first time at bat in the big leagues is a resounding strike out.
On a mission to retrieve a captured CIA agent in Syria, John Kelly and his team discover that the agent was being held hostage by ex-Russian special forces operatives and not the terrorists they were led to believe. A few months later, back in the United States, several members of Kelly’s team are attacked and killed in retaliation. The raid on his own home leaves his pregnant wife dead and himself severally wounded after disposing of three of the four assailants. After months of physical therapy, Kelly is strong enough to report for duty, wanting to take part in a mission that would bring justice for his murdered wife and comrades. But the attack has heightened tensions between Russia and the United States, leaving the Secretary of Defense unwilling to engage in any action that would escalate things further. That leaves Kelly to embark on his own mission of vengeance.
As one can see, the film’s script, based off of the Clancy novel of the same name, feels assembled by picking random tropes out of a box full of action film and spy movie clichés. Is the hero a member of or just leaving some profession that makes him a lethal badass? Check. Is he hoping for a quiet life with his beloved? Check. Is it a bad time to be that beloved? Check. Does his quest for revenge uncover a massive plot against the world that he will then have to stop? Check. Is there a smirky government agent type who may be a bad guy? Check. And on and on.
While there is nothing wrong with using any or all of these elements in conjunction with one another, Without Remorse fails to do anything interesting or surprising with them. In the end, we are stifling a yawn rather than letting out a cheer for when Clark finally triumphs.
Another of the film’s issues lies with its pacing. Or rather, its lack of pacing. For a thriller, Without Remorse has a surprising lack of stakes to propel the story along. The screenplay mostly just depends on our being emotionally invested in Kelly’s quest for revenge on those who killed his wife. But having done such a poor job in establishing that with the audience, that interest is only going to carry the film so far. There is still a stretch of film to traverse between where our interest in his revenge ends and when the film finally gets around to its late third act reveal of the real villain of the piece and their motivations.
A good portion of Without Remorse‘s second half is taken up with the mission to capture the remaining member of the Russian assassin team. This had the potential to be a real set piece that would alternately turn up the heat on Clark, then cool down just a bit before making things even hotter for him. Instead, the entire sequence is flat with no sense of rising and falling action. It all just maintains a flat, almost detached air about itself never inviting the audience to invest themselves with what is going on. The atmospheric score by Icelandic musician Jónsi does little to inject any energy into the proceedings. Star michael B Jordan certainly went out and got into prime physical shape for the film and that is a good thing as he has a lot of heavy lifting to do with this film. But even he can’t carry the whole thing across the finish line.
There is little doubt that Amazon is hoping to launch a franchise off of this film. They already are having success with series based on Clancy’s Jack Ryan character and they have access to the sales numbers of Clancy’s John Kelly books as a way to gauge interest and fanbase size. And this film ends with the prerequisite scene setting up the next installment. Hopefully, though, they will improve on the poor job done here.