I’ll preface this review stating that Tom Clancy’s work has never really engrossed me and while I’m familiar with the movies and video games based on his books I never considered myself part of his fanbase. So when Amazon announced the release of a new adaptation called “Without Remorse” I could have easily chosen to skip it seeing as this clearly wasn’t a franchise I was invested in. However one thing I try to do with this blog is give a casual viewer’s perspective for people who, like myself, might not be as familiar with the material, so I decided to give it a shot after all and see how well it entertains outside of the Clancy fandom. “Without Remorse” stars Michael B. Jordan as Navy SEAL John Kelly and, like the 1993 novel it was based on, explores the soldier’s origin story and eventual transformation into the future commander of Rainbow, the titular counter-terrorism unit of one of Clancy’s most popular novels “Rainbow Six”. The story sees Kelly hunt down members of the Russian military after they take revenge on Kelly’s unit for a previous mission. Conspiracies, gunfights and action clichés abound in a story that feels terribly generic yet overly complicated with a surprising lack of energy to keep the experience afloat.
“Without Remorse” for me was a difficult movie to get into even going in with an open mind wanting to enjoy it as merely some action movie escapism. Things start off on solid ground with John Kelly introduced as a member of a Navy SEAL team engaging in an extraction mission that shows off Kelly’s individual skills and establishes his relationship with the secondary cast, including pompous Deputy Director Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell) and Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith). What seems like a standard mission raises suspicion from Kelly when he discovers the enemies were Russian leading to several months later when the main plot kicks in as the Russians take their revenge leading to the death of Kelly’s wife and unborn child. In a half hour’s time we get an idea of who Kelly is and what motivates him for the rest of the film. It’s a brutal introduction and at first it seems like the story is going to explore Kelly going on a revenge tour to take down the rest of the Russian’s that went after him continuing a cycle sparked from nothing more than him doing his job. This could have been a nuanced story about one man’s emotional turmoil and how the United States tends to forsake its military heroes. That would have been a much more intriguing and character driven story than what we actually got. Instead “Without Remorse” devolves into a conspiracy-laden franchise builder meant to lead in to an eventually “Rainbow Six” movie rather than explore Kelly’s character beyond those first 30 minutes.
That’s not to say that star Michael B. Jordan doesn’t do his best with the character though. Jordan is by far the best thing this movie has going for it inserting just enough nuance and emotional depth in his mannerisms, facial expressions and line delivery alone to make Kelly a serviceable character as well as a convincing badass. There’s one scene early in the movie where Kelly just nonchalantly makes a move on a chess board. It seems extremely random but the deliberate nature of Jordan’s movements forces you to remember that little moment which comes back later in an exchange near the end of the film. Little things like that prove how good Jordan is at taking something bland and generic and making something memorable from the pieces he has to work with. Sadly, even Jordan himself can’t hold up an entire movie and while he certainly makes a good John Kelly, including clearly taking some pages from his training for “Creed” during an excellent prison scene, it doesn’t make up for the flaws that litter the film proper.
My biggest complaint about “Without Remorse” is that it’s clearly more worried about building a franchise than building a character. The story, what you can decipher of it anyway, revolves around getting from point A to point B rather than diving deeper into John Kelly as a person beyond his traumatic origins and the true depths of his anger not just for the Russians who killed his wife, but also for the country that has taken him for granted. Much of this depth is explored with simple one-liners during character exchanges or cliché moments of attempted self-sacrifice that feel hollow because they seem to serve only to present Kelly as a badass more than dive deeper into his humanity or lack thereof. The action itself also feels very generic and while there were some cool moments there’s not a lot here that we haven’t seen done better. The film gets caught up in its gunplay and set pieces and forgets to be much more than the standard mindless revenge thriller but even forgets to be that half the time as it loses its way once the revenge mission actually gets going to provide us with a twist conspiracy plot that washes away all character motivation before the final showdown. I get what they were trying to do by ending Kelly’s revenge mission with him realizing there are bigger battles to fight, but the poor execution made it all feel rushed and random rather that properly building up to what could have been some pretty deep character moments. If the purpose of this movie was to establish the future commander of Rainbow I feel the film failed but putting more emphasis on introducing us to him rather than making us relate to him on a deeper level. We know the basics of why he is the way he is and what motivates him, but nothing more. Overall I was just bored and lost interest in the action and story long before it got to its finale.
“Without Remorse” definitely wasn’t made for me. This feels like a movie made for people already invested in Tom Clancy’s work and characters. It unapologetically works to pander to their expectations more than being a genuinely good action thriller or taking full advantage of what could have been a deep dive into a conflicted character’s psyche or a thought provoking examination of a soldier who has been left to rot by his country. In spite of Michael B. Jordan’s highlight performance and some notable action and combat scenes, I just found the whole experience to be boring, convoluted and driven by standard clichés keeping it from establishing an identity all its own beyond serving as the springboard for a potential “Rainbow Six” cinematic franchise. It’s not unwatchable by any means, but it’s certainly a “shut your brain off” kind of experience and those who are invested in the Tom Clancy novels, games and films will probably find plenty of value in what it has to offer. If you’re a fan of Clancy’s material, or hell even just looking for a mindless action movie to waste some time, this will probably do the trick but otherwise it’s nothing I’d recommend to the average viewer.