Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Tom Clancy is the author of a series of books that focus on a CIA operative named Jack Ryan. Those books have been adapted into a string of hit films over the past 30 years. Recently, Amazon adapted that character into a TV show that was incredibly done at least in its first season. This film could essentially be a spin-off or exist in the same universe as that TV show, except this film feels more like a vehicle for action scenes and establishing its main actor as an action star rather than leaning into the characters or being a true exploration of the sociopolitical issues of today. It might think it’s an intelligent thriller in the vein of Patriot Games (1992) or Three Days of the Condor (1975). However, as it plays out, it becomes no more intelligent than a Michael Bay flick.
It starts off on a wrong foot that I’ve noted several times just this year. It starts off with the idea of fridging. “Fridging” is a criticism of comic book stories but has since translated to other dramatic stories in books, films or TV shows. Fridging is when a male protagonist gets his motivation from the death of a woman. It’s not that women can’t be killed or female lives can’t be threatened. Such was the case in Patriot Games. That film never actually killed the male protagonist’s female love interest though. Yes, given the plot that writers Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples craft here, the idea of fridging is commented upon or itself critiqued in this film. It also might not be fair to bash the film for its fridging when it’s an idea that comes from Clancy’s 1993 novel.
Michael B. Jordan (Creed and Black Panther) stars as John Kelly, a Navy SEAL who is part of a Special Operations Unit. He lives in Washington, DC with his pregnant wife. Not much more is known about John or his wife, but rather quickly his wife is victim to “fridging.” Jordan can be very charming and even comedic, but after the fridging, he’s just a sociopath or like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in The Terminator (1984). He just becomes hellbent on revenge and all we get for pretty much the entire run is cold rage from John. There could be something entertaining about him acting with no fear because he now has nothing to lose, but the film never leans into that in an entertaining way, such as with Mel Gibson’s character in Lethal Weapon (1987). Jordan’s performance is mostly robotic.
Strangely, the set up to this film is similar to the set up in FOX’s 24: Legacy (2017). Only, that FOX series was able to avoid the fridging issue. Plus, it wasn’t as convoluted or as ridiculous in the overall villain’s scheme. It’s not as if the novel’s story isn’t somewhat convoluted, but it is about the Cold War and the proxy of the Vietnam War, which had more themes that were appropriate for that time. Clancy’s 1993 novel was also about the war on drugs, which was really started or exacerbated during the Vietnam War and the era of President Nixon. That book like many of Clancy’s books was about the Soviet Union and the threat they posed. In today’s time though, that threat is not the same.
Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3 and L.A. Confidential) co-stars as Thomas Clay, the U.S. secretary of defense. His character is the one that disconnects this film from the relevancy that it was trying to have and the line it was towing that was essentially throwing back to that Cold War that was Clancy’s favorite topic. I understand why this film would want to stay true to Clancy’s material, but this film has been in development for over 20 year and the world has changed, so I’m not sure this character makes a whole lot of sense.
The film cast Jordan as the lead, so having an African-American lead in this film is a departure from Clancy’s books. It’s unclear then why the film couldn’t depart from the Cold War obsession in Clancy’s books. This film was produced during the Trump administration, an administration that was marred by the revelation that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election, which saw the rise of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President. Yes, this film begins in Aleppo, Syria, where there has been criticism of Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War, so I get that it’s easy to make Russia, as the former Soviet Union, the villain or at least the scapegoat here.
Unfortunately, that’s not really the case in this film. The real villain here ends up being the American government. This film throws shade on the CIA as a villainous or antagonistic organization in a way that people wish it were portrayed in Black Panther. We did just get a little of that villainizing of the American government in Judas and the Black Messiah (2021), so it’s not as if the CIA or the U.S. government writ-large can’t be demonized, but I personally prefer the more nuanced depiction, such as in Homeland (2011). Yet, this film is less a condemnation of the government institutions and more a misreading of the underlying problems plaguing this country.
In one scene, Thomas Clay states that the United States is divided politically and the way to unite is by giving the country an enemy like the Soviet Union or Russia. This completely overlooks the fact that the United States does have an enemy, an enemy it practically created, that of Islamic terrorists. Specifically, because of the U.S. launching a war against Iraq needlessly, the Islamic terrorists, known as ISIS or ISIL, were formed. It might seem silly that the Defense Secretary would want to instigate a war with Russia, under the banner of uniting the American citizens, when the Trump administration was accused of being sympathetic to Moscow. It also might seem silly that the idea of making an enemy of Russia would unite the country, given Trump’s supporters opposed the Mueller investigation into that country’s interference in ours.
Putting aside the off politics, one might simply enjoy the action sequences, which allow Jordan to flex his muscles in more ways than one. Jordan was named “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine in 2020 and he proves why in this film with a couple shirtless scenes. Yet, he gets a lot of shootout and fight scenes, as well as other action scenes that can keep people’s attention, given that there are a number of them, as to not make this film feel like it’s slow in its pacing. The film creates scenarios that make it seem impossible that Jordan’s character of John Kelly could escape. The beauty then becomes about watching him do so and defy all the odds. In that, it’s somewhat entertaining.
Rated R for alcohol use, language and violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 49 mins.
Available on Amazon Prime.