Halfway through Without Remorse, Michael B. Jordan rips off his shirt, wraps a wet towel around his knuckles and takes out an entire team of riot police, snapping every arm, leg and neck that gets in his way. You can’t imagine Alec Baldwin ever doing that…
Tom Clancy adaptations have come a long way since 1990’s The Hunt For Red October (in which Baldwin starred as Jack Ryan), and the leading men who have played his characters on screen lead us through a potted history of what Hollywood thinks action heroes are supposed to look like – moving from Baldwin to Harrison Ford (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger), Ben Affleck (The Sum Of All Fears), Chris Pine (Shadow Recruit) and John Krasinski (Jack Ryan) before casting Jordan in a planned two-part film series designed to reboot the Ryan-verse. More ruthless than his predecessors but slightly less interesting, Jordan finds himself leading a middleweight actioner that feels caught between its own influences – not as smart as Bourne, as quick as John Wick or as bombastic as Mission: Impossible – Without Remorse is still a solid slice of old-fashioned action that feels fun, even if it doesn’t feel fresh.
Originally written in 1993 as a gritty revenger about a Vietnam vet beating up Baltimore pimps, the entire plot of Clancy’s novel is thrown out here apart from the basic backstory of John Clark (Jordan) – a no-nonsense Navy SEAL who isn’t afraid to do the kind of dirty work Jack Ryan shies away from. We meet him in Aleppo as he joins a group of SEALs on a hostage mission behind enemy lines, quickly getting into trouble when they stumble on a secret Russian arms depot that shady SEAL chief Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell) may or may not have already known about.
Three months later, someone starts taking out the SEALs. When the hit squad gets to Clark’s house, he manages to shoot back – but not before his pregnant wife (Lauren London) gets caught in the crossfire. Bloodied, bruised and out for revenge, Clark goes rogue with the help of his old SEAL-mate Karen (Jodie Turner-Smith, from Queen & Slim), the possibly-suspicious Ritter, and the definitely-suspicious CIA secretary Clay (Guy Pearce).
Clark is an enigma. Taking out roomfuls of goons with Wick-like precision, he’s also the kind of guy who walks past chess games and stops to suggest a winning move. He’s a thinker, but he also interrogates a guy by setting his car on fire and shoving him into the back seat. Jordan has real star presence, but it’s a shame we don’t learn much more about Clark besides the fact that he’s smart and capable and violent. After decades of action-man evolution (remember Bond crying in the shower? Wolverine’s angst in Logan?) Without Remorse isn’t so much a backwards step as a side roll – a movie that could sit just as comfortably in the ’90s as it does today.
Director Stefano Sollima brings the same grit he lent Sicario 2 and Gomorrah to the action sequences, and it’s here where the film feels far bigger than its basic revenger premise – packing in a handful of big, exciting set pieces that land with real weight and authenticity. One mid-act plane scene stands as the film’s money-maker, but it’s the sharp, brutal firefights that work even better – all original enough to stand out from the crowd of other military shooters, and all gripping enough to make you want to re-play Call Of Duty as soon as the film finishes.
The ending gets signposted from the start if you’ve seen literally any other movie about a wronged spy/cop/soldier, and it drags on for far too long trying to set-up the sequel (Rainbow Six, now in development), but as the first chapter in a new old-fashioned action series there’s still plenty here to get excited about.
- Director: Stefano Sollima
- Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith
- Release date: April 30 (Amazon Prime Video)