(SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit, however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.
On this evidence, Jordan’s exactly who he appeared to be at first sight: a talented actor who proved highly affecting when given sensitive, layered roles that allowed him to show his range left bereft once he bulked up and attempted to flex his muscles in paper-thin headline parts. Sound familiar? Look no further than a Christian Bale in Terminator Salvation. There’s a certain type of character actor unable to operate effectively in these star roles, no matter how much they’re repurposed. They need something or someone else to support them, be that a bat cape or Sly Stallone. Jordan is indistinct in Stefano Sollima’s largely indistinct, putrid green-washed picture – it could be another Matrix instalment – so he at least isn’t out of place. Unfortunately, the only time he makes an impression is when he decides to reveal his steroidally ripped bod, and you wonder if this is really the kind of physique – that of a human battering ram – suited to a nimble Navy SEAL.
It’s interesting to note the various production-hell versions mooted for Without Remorse over the span of nigh-on thirty years. Keanu. Milius. McQuarrie. Hardy. Goldsman (good grief). It’s understandable there was never a plan for a Dafoe solo movie, but wouldn’t that have been grand? It goes without saying that Clancy’s novel bears no relation to the final film, any more than Shadow Recruit looks like anything Clancy had in mind for Jack Ryan. But if you have a good, or even not so good, brand, why not use that licence to mutilate it beyond recognition?
So we have the increasingly overrated Taylor Sheridan, with Will Staples, offering a complete reboot, whereby John and his SEAL team are in Syria – you know, a “justified” conflict – only to become unsettled when they happen upon Russian military. Before long, John’s entire team, and his missus, are taken out, and John vows to become a one-man killing machine, eliminating the perps and getting to the bottom of some highly nefarious but also highly uninvolving conspiracy.
Cue John, in the celebrated and much – and rightly – ridiculed moment of pouring petrol over a car, lighting the petrol and then stepping into the car – somehow without burning himself in the process – in order to interrogate a damn Russkie. If the entire movie had maintained this Steven Segal level of nonsense machismo, perhaps Without Remorse would have a bona-fide lure. Instead, it persists in an indifferently sub-Gerard Butler manner, attempting to try one’s patience and largely succeeding. There are numerous additional action sequences, including a downed, flooded plane and a besieged apartment complex in Murmansk, but they’re singularly indiscriminate and tedious in execution. John drops through a skylight (without opening it) but he’s no Batman. Or even Dick Tracy.
Amid the mechanical action tedium, an explanation is offered for a century of manufactured East-West antagonism, which I guess constitutes a form of soft disclosure. Or is it just Biden-era predictive programming? Guy Pearce tells us “A big country needs big enemies. The best enemy we ever had was the Soviet Union. Our fear of them unified our people. Gave us purpose. The problem, John, is half this country thinks the other half is its enemy because they have no one else to fight. We give them a real enemy. One with the power to threaten their lives, their freedom. Freedoms you take for granted”. And some of that is accurate (although the internal feuding part is as manufactured as everything else).
Without Remorse culminates in John setting up a multinational counter-terrorism team, called Rainbow for personal reasons (something to do with possibly the least affecting familial slaughter ever). You know, for the sequel that simply will not happen. No one here is remotely plausible in their parts. When Jordan isn’t flexing or glowering in monotonous fashion, he’s giving you cause to ponder his fifteen stages of chin, so goodness knows how he’ll be if he ever gets porky. Jodie Turner-Smith looking very silly in an officer’s hat, but probably no sillier than Jamie Bell’s heroin-chic CIA officer, as these things go. Bell’s the red herring, except to anyone who has ever seen a movie where Guy Pearce isn’t the lead. In which case, he’s obviously the villain.
Without Remorse stood no more chance of working than Shadow Recruit, simply because Paramount had no idea of how to adapt an intensely Republican author’s material in a way that made him palatable and acceptable to its own “sensibilities”, all the while embracing furious and unapologetically wanton destruction. It’s appropriate that it ended up streaming, because it feels entirely like a straight-to-video movie of yesterday. Although those often ended up marginally more entertaining.