There is a formula when it comes to political thrillers, and Tom Clancy proved
early on that he was the insurance agent-turned-novelist who defined and helped
create the genre. His best-selling novels were adapted into popular,
commercially successful films ("The Hunt for Red October", "Patriot Games",
"Clear and Present Danger", "The Sum of All Fears"), and his two most famous
leading men - Jack Ryan and John Clark - have been portrayed by the who's who of
Hollywood. Even decades after his most well-known character was first introduced
to readers, the newest iteration ("Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan") has two seasons with
a third in the works at Amazon Prime.
In "Tom Clancy's Without Remorse", the first film in a two-picture package also
at Amazon, John Clark is brought to life in an origin story that paints by the
numbers, but ultimately pops off the screen only because of the skill, charisma
and irresistible screen presence of Michael B. Jordan. Star power is usually
important for these high octane flicks - what is "Indiana Jones" without
Harrison Ford - but it isn't always as simple as having an attractive, talented
face to keep complicated political action films from face-planting.
"Without Remorse" isn't a particularly labyrinthine story. John Kelly, Clark's
real name before he had to change it to avoid fulfilling a murder conviction, is
a Navy SEAL with the instincts and response time of a bobcat. His no-nonsense
approach puts him at constant odds with CIA hotshot Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell)
who is immediately our prime suspect for doing bad things...and we really can't
get more specific than that because, if we're being honest, we just don't
understand what about Ritter's actions are getting Clark's panties in such a
twist. Ritter isn't clear with the team about a mission's specifics, and his
bedside manner lacks tact and taste. At least, Clark has a comrade and
confidante in his superior officer Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith).
*A woman has yet to join the Navy SEALS, let alone hold a higher title, but we
commend the film for not only hypothesizing the possibility/inevitably, and for
giving us a strong, unemotional powerhouse so deftly portraying by Turner-Smith.
Following a seemingly routine mission, members of Clark's team are picked off
one by one. Though the others are murdered in clean, quick manners, Clark's
assassination is planned for the dead of night in his multi-story suburban home.
The job is botched, and his pregnant wife Pam (Lauren London) is the unintended
victim. Clark kills all but one of the intruders, and he survives with serious
wounds. Like the origin of most super heroes, Clark's evolution from a
by-the-books operative to a revenge hound thirsty for blood is almost immediate.
The ending is especially problematic. The climactic action sequence concludes
with 20 minutes of running time still on the clock. Those closing moments have
two requirements: tie up a major loose thread to give Without Remorse something
resembling a conclusion and set up future installments (Jordan is already signed
to appear in at least one more film, although its production has been delayed
indefinitely due in part to the pandemic). The result is sloppy, rushed, and
generally unsatisfactory. With the momentum slowed and the air out of the
balloon, the filmmakers fail to give us a strong reason to remain involved in
Johnís life and the final confrontation is riddled with hard-to-swallow
There are some predictable turns and daring skirmishes that follow, but even
those feel strategic, like they were conceived separately as visually nifty
sequences sure to leave an imprint on audiences and tied together with a flimsy
string of Clark's decisions and emotions. A means to an adventure, not an end.
We jump from killing a Russian bigwig who reveals the name of Pam's surviving
killer to the assumption he's in Russia which leads Clark, Greer and crew to fly
under the guise of a passenger jet where they plan to skydive to their
destination. But wait! The Russians have found them out! So the plane goes down
and Clark proves that his ability to hold his breath is better than Aquaman's.
Sarcasm aside, it isn't that we don't enjoy extending our disbelief; the action
can be quite fun. No, the issue is that we see the con coming. The curtain is
drawn back, and the Great and Powerful Oz is nothing more than the revival of a
property with commercial appeal (and potential tie-ins with concurrent
television programming on the same streaming site), an attractive, skilled lead
and a faulty script plagued by the nearly 30 years it spent in development hell.
It's a marginal first installment for those with undiscerning eyes and zero
expectations at being wowed by the ingenuity of the film's premise.