Hollywood action hero, thy name is vengeance. Our hero is a man who is a shell, a ghost of his former self. All has been taken from him, and others must pay. But he is at heart a good man, a patriot, so we as an audience want to see him win. After all, he may be a man now without a country as he goes deep deep off the grid, but he is an American–a patriot if you will. He takes down the bad so that there may still be good in the world. In a way, our hero is taking back the name of our country, no matter which political side you land on.
Yes, yes, we’ve heard of this guy before. He may be called Jason Bourne, or Ethan Hunt, or heck, even Rambo. This time, his name is John Kelly, a modern Navy SEAL, best of the best, who is sent on a covert operation in Aleppo, Syria that winds up with a lot of dead… wait… Russians? Kelly’s team knows that something ain’t right, in fact it is very wrong when the SEAL team gets picked off one by one months later upon return to the U.S. John Kelly’s wife and unborn child are dead at the hand of Russian operatives, and John himself barely survives. But he survives enough to be MAD.
Without Remorse has a fresh, original screenplay with lines like:
“Now we’re gonna play by MY rules!”
“What’re you gonna do, John?” “What we do best. Disappear.”
And the emotional climax, “I was wrong about you.”
Poor Michael B. Jordan does his absolute best to rise above the rote bullets-and-fists noise. That said, there is a least one kind of exciting action sequence involving a plane crash, but it is only the first of at least a couple scenes that seems to illustrate that Navy SEALs are called that because they are basically Aquamen. And like a Super Friend, Kelly is apparently self-healing as well, grunting with pain and wounds, only to have a spring in his step and be halfway around the world in the next scene. Thankfully, we do get one fight sequence where Kelly takes off his shirt. For extra effect (and because he looks good wet), Kelly makes a point to pour water all over the floor before smashing skulls. Water, why? Because he is a SEAL! (I guess? It’s never explained.)
It’s not really even worth mentioning that people like Guy Pearce and Jamie Bell are in this (because you have to have at least one white guy float to the top as the villain–I won’t spoil it!). Casting Jodie Turner-Smith as Kelly’s trusted commander has a smidge of inspiration. But the best casting? Blink and you’ll miss it, but indeed that is Parks and Recreation‘s Jay Jackson on the TV news at one point, analyzing the US/Russian tension. Perd Hapley has moved up in the world since Pawnee!
Without Remorse is clearly meant to be an origin story that will inevitably spawn a new action franchise. Michael B. Jordan is a natural fit as an action hero, and certainly has the chops to make an intriguing character. But the generic Tom Clancy Cold War tropes adapted to fit modern times just smells like a bad 80s action movie. And don’t we deserve something a little more complex than that? OK, maybe we don’t. But franchises like the Mission Impossible series show that action movies can be both exciting and smart in the right hands. Without Remorse, alas, is instead derivative and predictable.