The new Tom Clancy thriller Without Remorse does not feature Jack Ryan, the hero of many a film based on Clancy's novels. While it may not be fair to compare badass-supreme Navy SEAL John Clark to Jack Ryan, Clark has appeared in one of the better films adapted from Clancy's novels, Clear and Present Danger. Clark was played by Willem Dafoe, a counter to Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan. How are the two heroes different? Well where Ryan would research in his pursuit of truth as he unraveled conspiracies in the US government, Clark solved his issues with shooting.
Playing Clark is Michael B. Jordan, a movie star who can carry a franchise and make no doubt, Without Remorse is setting one up. While Jack Ryan is an everyman, Clark as portrayed by Jordan is a superhero. This is an origin story as we see what turns John Kelly into John Clark. After a deadly mission in Syria, Kelly's team is hunted down and murdered by a Russian hit squad. They come for Kelly, kill his pregnant wife and stupidly leave Kelly alive. He is now on a mission to hunt down who did this.
The opening action set piece is competently filmed if a bit bland. The brutal killing of Kelly's wife reveals the film's shameless tactics for emotional engagement. Jordan can sell the hell out of grief and pain but the character is so heightened, he rarely feels real. This moment that is the catalyst for the whole film doesn't resonate as it should. Regardless, there is some fun to be had with the film. There is a great moment where Kelly douses himself in alcohol, plays drunk, sets a car aflame, jumps into the flaming car and interrogates, and then kills its occupant. It is a moment where the film comes alive and feels ferocious. It's too bad the film can't sustain that intensity.
One of the reasons Without Remorse loses its audience is the needlessly complicated plot. This is, at its core, a revenge plot and yet the film complicates things until it is hard to follow and you just don't care about the particulars anymore. Director Stefano Sollima has a knack for dulling his visuals into flat, bland action sequences. His sequel to Sicario abandons the visual style that made the first film so memorable, for example. The movie is brutal with its violence but never thrilling or stylish.
Jordan is a refreshing choice to lead a Tom Clancy series of films. He isn't bad as John Clark and one hopes future films give him more to do. It would be fascinating for future films to explore Clark's challenges as a Black man in a corrupt system. Without Remorse's pacing keeps the action coming but rarely slows down to offer anything more about his character. Guy Pearce, Jodie Turner-Smith, and Jamie Bell round out the supporting cast and all do a serviceable job here but the film is rarely interested in characters. Jordan is talented enough to deserve a better launch to his franchise.