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The Ending of ‘Without Remorse’ Explained

‘Without Remorse’ nimbly sets up an adaptation of another Tom Clancy classic.
Without Remorse Jordan Turner Smith
Amazon Studios
By  · Published on May 2nd, 2021

Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. This time, we explain the ending and sequel potential of Without Remorse.

When it comes to adapting a Tom Clancy story, one thing is for sure: it’s gonna be thrilling entertainment. From the 1990 film The Hunt for Red October to Amazon’s Jack Ryan series, the author’s style always translates to the screen in exciting ways. And Stefano Sollima’s Without Remorse is no exception.

Based on the 1993 novel of the same name, the action movie follows US Navy SEAL John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) on a quest for revenge following the murder of his pregnant wife, Pam (Lauren London), by Russian operatives in the Federal Security Service (a.k.a. FSB). They also picked off members of Kelly’s team, one by one, in retaliation for the SEALs killing the son of the FSB’s leader during a hostage rescue mission in Syria.

Kelly first inflicts his vengeance upon a Russian diplomat and is subsequently sent to prison. But Kelly has quite a bit of fight in him, and being locked up doesn’t exactly deter him from achieving his goal. Fortunately, SEAL commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) pulls him out of prison and allows him to accompany her team on a mission to get Victor Rykov (Brett Gelman) — the guy who killed Kelly’s wife. 

After a couple of shootouts in Murmansk, Russia, the SEAL team realizes that the mission was actually a setup by Americans in the CIA to set up a war between the two countries. Rykov wasn’t actually working for the Russians. He was planted by the US. And Kelly was only allowed out of prison so he could help to start this war with the Russians. 

The reason for this? Back in DC, Secretary of Defense Thomas Clay (Guy Pearce) confesses to Kelly that a war would resuscitate the economy and ultimately make the American people more patriotic. Kelly realizes that it was Clay who was behind Pam’s death, not the Russians. So he drives them both off a bridge, plunging them into a river, and without remorse, Kelly watches Clay drown.

Kelly realizes his work isn’t quite over. Greer helps him to avoid finishing out his jail sentence by agreeing to assist him in faking his death. She then gives him a big duffel bag of cash and a new identity: John Clark. As the mid-credits scene shows, Kelly takes this new identity and runs with it. He discusses a new counter-terrorism team with Deputy Director Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell) — with the codename “Rainbow.”

Hello! Do we have any Tom Clancy fans in the house? You know what that means. For those who aren’t familiar with Clancy’s work, though: just the mention of the word “rainbow” is perfect sequel-bait. But let’s back up a bit. What, exactly, are the clues Sollima gives us that Without Remorse is, indeed, going to have a sequel?

For starters, the name John Clark, a character who pops up a lot in the Jack Ryan franchise — including in the movies Clear and Present Danger (1994) and The Sum of All Fears (2002). His character can essentially be summed up as the ultimate bad-ass. He continually takes missions that Jack Ryan himself won’t touch.

Okay, so what is all this “Rainbow” business, then? It is obviously a nod to Without Remorse’s book sequel, Rainbow Six, an adaptation of which was announced as being part of the plans for Michael B. Jordan’s casting three years ago. The 1998 novel follows John Clark, a CIA operative at the head of a counter-terrorist team called Rainbow. 

Things start to ramp up when there is a sudden surge of terrorist attacks. And these attackers are hoping to wipe out a majority of the human race. So, you know. No pressure. One of the attacks is nicknamed “the Project” and is led by Dr. John Brightling, the head of a prestigious biotech company. His evil plan involves injecting the “Shiva virus,” which is a deadlier version of Ebola, into the population.

Unsurprisingly, things go from zero to one-hundred pretty quickly. Just like Without Remorse, an adaptation of Rainbow Six would inevitably be action-packed and exciting.

It should be noted, however, that the adaptation of Without Remorse is pretty different from its source material. The book is set during the Vietnam War and has a deluge of B-plots, including some involving drug smuggling and prostitution rings. So the Rainbow Six movie probably isn’t going to be exactly like the book. But it’s safe to say it’ll have some beyond-evil super-villains and a pretty awesome rendition of John Clark.

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Aurora Amidon spends her days running the Great Expectations column and trying to convince people that Hostel II is one of the best movies of all time. Read her mostly embarrassing tweets here: @aurora_amidon.