There are few greater crimes in cinema than wasting the talents of a quality actor; Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse offends at a level that’s almost mind-boggling. How does one take Michael B. Jordan—one of the most charismatic stars around—and make a boring action movie? It’s not clear what that process looks like behind the scenes, but somehow the creators of Without Remorse figured out how to do so.
The film follows Navy SEAL John Kelly (Jordan) as he attempts to find the final member of a Russian hit squad who attempted to kill him and killed his pregnant wife, Pam, in the process. He gets some help from former SEAL teammate Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith), CIA officer Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell), and Secretary of Defense Thomas Clay (Guy Pearce). Pearce too is utterly wasted in the film, getting very little screen time and being relegated to a two-dimensional authority figure role despite being the biggest star in the movie behind Jordan.
It’s difficult to describe the plot of Without Remorse in detail because things just kind of happen. The word “convoluted” may be a tad overused in describing film plots, but it seems particularly apt here. I found myself rewinding every now and then under the impression I’d missed some key detail that explained what was currently happening—it didn’t help. The truly weird part of it all is that the plot didn’t have to be this way: Despite being promoted as Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, the film has little to nothing in common with the plot of the famed writer’s novel of the same name. Spy stories are often complex, and Clancy made a career of figuring out how to do complexity in a way that enthralled and entertained. This movie could have used more of his influence beyond just giving the protagonist the same name and a few of the same attributes as in the novel.
The plot is bewildering, the dialogue is so-so, and the third-act twist feels incredibly unearned and lazy: In short—and to cut down on spoilers—the Russians who tried to kill Kelly were part of a conspiracy trying to provoke war between the United States and Russia. The whole plan relies on John not being in bed when the assassins came for him and then not being fatally shot when he engaged in gunfire so he can then go for revenge.
While the action is not outright bad, it’s generally dull and by the numbers. There’s only one fight scene that is creative in any real way: Kelly winds up in prison and fights off a team of prison guards in riot gear in his cell, covering the ground with water from his sink to create a slick surface and using the small space to his advantage. Everything else is so generic it could have been pulled from almost any B war or spy film of the past decade.
Without Remorse heavily hints that there are future John Kelly (AKA John Clark at the film’s end) films planned—there’s even a mid-credit scene where Kelly tells Ritter he’s putting together a team, which in a post-Avengers cinema landscape seems almost like parody. If this is intended to launch a Clancy-verse—God help us. And God help Michael B. Jordan, this can’t be any fun for him either.