By Leah Greenblatt
April 28, 2021 at 12:00 PM EDT
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You can't kill a Clancy man. Literally: The late author's famed espionage empire — that embossed-font cornerstone of airport kiosks and dad armchairs everywhere — has kept stars from Harrison Ford to John Krasinki gainfully employed for decades now across his estate's various film and TV properties; cool-squint ambassadors of the ever-expanding Jack Ryan Multiverse.

More than one marquee name, including Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber, has already portrayed the staple character of John T. Clark on screen, though Michael B. Jordan becomes the first actor of color to play him in Tom Clancy's Without Remorse (streaming on Amazon Prime Video this Friday). Which makes it that much more disappointing that the movie, once slated for wide theatrical release, plays as blunt and ludicrous as it does: a bloody, too-familiar litany of Cold War intrigue and pulp-paperback cliché.

The script is co-penned by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) with Will Staples, best known for his work on the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 video game, but it's the latter's first-person-shooter mode that dominates; by the time the opening credits roll, the body count has already staggered into double digits. Though to be fair, it is a raid: Jordan's Clark, a Navy SEAL, leading his team to rescue a CIA operative in Syria from Russian insurgents under the direction of an imperious agency officer named Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell).

Three months later those same team members start turning up dead on American soil, and when John's young family becomes the target, a revenge origin story is born. So too are a series of international set pieces that work best when they pivot from the whizzing thwock of bullets to something more hand-to-hand analog: An absurd but entertaining man-vs.-SWAT scene in a prison cell, a gasping deep-water plunge somewhere over the Bering Sea.

Director Stefano Sollima (Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Netflix's Gommorrah) aims to make John a hero of the highest order: He kills because he cares. Jordan, a naturally magnetic presence, does his level best to invest that with some (or any) kind of meaning, but it's a long walk. Meanwhile Guy Pearce, his hair tastefully silvered, drops in to represent Big Government and set various "This is highly classified" missions in motion; Queen & Slim's Jodie Turner-Smith, as a fellow SEAL, struggles to deliver wooden lines about caution and loyalty; and the gifted Bell, tasked with playing John's antagonist, is mostly saddled with Bravo-level bitcheries and story exposition.

As a vast Clancy-ish conspiracy that manages to be both vague and almost comically explicit unfolds, things go boom with numbing regularity and various faceless combatants die; best-laid plans go awry. Vengeance is wrought without remorse and even less sense. The only sure thing, judging by the promise of a post-credits scene, is a sequel. Grade: C

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