Without Remorse – Marketing Recap

How Amazon Studios is selling Without Remorse.

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is a movie that was originally intended to come out about 25 years ago, shortly after the release of the book it’s based on. Like most of the first several books from the prolific Clancy, the story is rooted in the generational experiences of those who came of age in the 1960s, living through the Vietnam War, America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union and other conflicts both militaristic and political.

The original book, published in 1993, follows Navy Seal John Kelly through a series of personal vendettas in the U.S. and CIA assignments in Vietnam, ending with him assuming the moniker John Clark and becoming one of the CIA’s leading clandestine operators. It was the first time Clark had been moved into the spotlight after becoming a favorite supporting character in some of Clancy’s earlier books. Clark went on to be featured in Clancy’s Rainbow Six, which served as the foundation for the popular video game series.

On the big screen, Clark was previously played by Willem Dafoe in 1995’s Clear and Present Danger and previous attempts to adapt Without Remorse have had Keanu Reeves, Tom Hardy and others attached. But this week it’s Michael B. Jordan finally bringing the character to life once again in a modernization of the story that’s similar to what Paramount Pictures did in 2014 with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, though this doesn’t seem to be connected to that Chris Pine-starring movie.

With a new, younger lead, the story has also been updated and largely changed. Clark here is already a CIA operative whose family is killed by Russian agents after he disrupts their mission in Syria. After recovering from his own wounds, Clark embarks on a vendetta against those who enabled the attackers with the help of his friend and colleague Lt. Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith).

The Posters

Released in February, the first poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts) shows Clark armed and ready for anything while in the middle of a very dangerous situation based on the amount of bullet holes in the wall he’s hiding behind. There’s no copy about the story itself here but you can tell what kind of audience Amazon is going after by the inclusion of “From the author of Rainbow Six” toward the top.

That same appeal is made on the second poster, released earlier in April. This time it’s a close-up of a very sweaty Clark that forms the primary image, the background showing the smoke from an explosion on one side and the Kremlin on the other.

The Trailers

In November of 2019, when the movie was still on Paramount’s release schedule, Skydance released a brief teaser showing flashing video of trauma and violence projected on Clark’s face, showing the kind of past he’s dealing with and problems he has to overcome

The full trailer (7.2 million views on YouTube), teased ahead of time, finally came out in March of this year. It begins with Kelly recovering from injuries sustained when a group broke into his home and killed his family and almost him. After a few shots from his past military career as well as his happy home life we see the reign of terror he goes on to avenge his family and find out who’s responsible for his loss.

The final trailer (21.6 million views on YouTube), released in early April, offers the same basic pitch, but with the additional detail that someone on the inside is working against Clark and Greer, telling the bad guys exactly where the team will be and how to stop them.

Online and Social

No website, but Amazon did create stand-alone social media profiles for the movie and provide support on its own brand channels.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

Jordan was named CinemaCon’s “Male Star of the Year” in March of last year, when the movie was still slated for later in 2020. He was also named “Sexiest Man Alive” for 2020 by People back in November.

In April 2020, Paramount moved the movie’s release back by two weeks as it shuffled much of its schedule due to the Covid-19 outbreak. A bigger shift was announced in June, as the movie was pushed all the way to February of 2021.

A few months later in July reports emerged that Paramount was in final negotiations to sell the movie to Amazon Video, one of many titles the studio was taking off its books as the pandemic dragged on.

This one seemed different, though, because it showed a studio abandoning what was intended to be a potential franchise-starter. It was unclear if future films that may have been planned were included in the deal as well. Before that deal was finalized, Paramount took the movie off its release calendar with no context given for the change. Amazon finally acquired the title in January, adding it to its “Jack Ryan” series as another Tom Clancy property it managed.

Amazon’s Super Bowl commercial in February for Alexa didn’t explicitly sell the movie as well but, between the fact that Jordan stars as the personification of Alexa and that a bus with the film’s branding appears in the background of one scene, it certainly was meant to help.

What kind of workout the star engaged in to achieve his Navy SEAL physique was covered in this interview.

Shorter cutdowns of the trailer were used as TV spots and online promos, with these videos mostly focusing on the action and big emotions of the movie.

A featurette from early April has Jordan, Smith and others talking about updating the story from the original book, honoring the characters, the legacy of the popular video game series and more.

An interview with Solima had the director talking about bringing the story into the modern period and his overall approach to telling big action stories and more. Turner-Smith was interviewed about what drew her to the role, what it was like to film such action-heavy scenes and more.

IMDb shared a short exclusive featurette on filming some of the action sequences.

Additional interviews with Jordan included him talking about his acting process and how he felt about being a black man playing a character written as white and previously played by a white actor. There were also a couple interviews with Lauren London, who plays Clark’s ill-fated wife whose death kicks the story into gear.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Omaha Steaks, which offered a custom surf-and-turf package that people were encouraged to order in time to enjoy while watching the movie.
  • Scotch Porter, which offered an exclusive movie-themed bundle of grooming products.
  • 511 Tactical, which ran a sweepstakes for a collection of its pseudo-military gear.

Overall

Initial reviews of the movie have not been great, calling it a grim and depressing throwback to Cold War military politics, but that doesn’t necessarily come through in the campaign. It’s certainly presented as a standard action flick, but that is elevated by Jordan’s charm, especially in the press and promotional component of the marketing.

While I’m a sucker for anything Clancy-related, that this movie seems completely disconnected from any of the other recent character reboots – including Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” series – is somewhat disappointing. And though the story seems to discard a lot of aspects of Clancy’s original book that are now likely seen as problematic (prostitutes and other women are killed with abandon), fridging Clark’s wife to spur him to action isn’t exactly an improvement.

Still, this campaign will likely appeal to die-hard action fans and get some moderate interest from players of the “Rainbow Six” video game series and Jordan’s fanbase.

The Super Bowl LV Movie Commercials

OK, but we can all still agree Tom Brady is the worst, right?

As the date of Super Bowl LV approached, there were a number of stories indicating Hollywood studios may not be throwing the game much support. Indeed, in a year where the number of overall commercials that were teasing their spots in advance – or releasing them in full – in advance of the game seemed to be low, studio advertising seemed to be following the trend.

The reality turned out to be slightly different. While the number of movie commercials was certainly lower than it has been in past years, there were more than appear to have been expected.

Reasons for the dearth of movie spots likely vary, but factoring heavily into studio considerations has to be that of the nine movies advertised during last year’s Superb Owl, six still haven’t come out. That’s in part because of the coronavirus theater closures and the insistence – on the part of the studios, filmmakers or both – that the movies go to theaters and not streaming. Of the remaining three, only two actually did get a traditional theatrical release, but only just under the pandemic wire. The other one – Disney’s Mulan remake – went to streaming via Disney+.

So what movies were advertised last night?

The Super Bowl LV Lineup

Nobody (Universal, 4/2/21): Bob Odenkirk as a criminal “auditor,” someone who comes in to clean up a mess someone else has left, may seem like an odd choice given it’s not a franchise or remake. But when you see that Universal is selling it as a slightly more comedic John Wick and consider Odenkirk’s profile is still high given his starring role in “Better Call Saul,” it makes a bit more sense.

Old (Universal, July): This is the first look at the new film from M. Night Shyamalan, who is enjoying a career and reputation resurgence, so Universal must have felt it had enough appeal to advertising during the game. It teases the usual Shyamalan mystery, clearly trying to get some word of mouth speculation and anticipation built up.

Raya and the Last Dragon (Disney, 3/5/21): Like Mulan, Disney will offer this Raya on Disney+ via “Premier Access,” meaning an additional fee on top of the standard subscription charge. I’m a little surprised, then, that the spot is so action focused and doesn’t offer more of a comedic pitch like the recent trailer.

F9 (Universal, 5/28/21): The only repeat from last year, F9 was one of the first movies to have its release date pushed an entire year, meaning unlike others it hasn’t gone through 13 cycles of “oh it’s coming out now…no, now…no, wait…”.

Coming 2 America (Amazon Studios, 3/5/21): The only pure-play streaming movie of those advertised, Amazon is looking for a return on the money it paid Paramount to acquire this film and so sells it using scenes and other gags that are likely familiar to fans of the first movie.

Without Remorse (Amazon Studios, 4/30/21): OK, not actually a full-blown movie commercial, but Amazon took advantage of Michael B. Jordan being in their commercial for Alexa (which oddly sexualizes technology in a way that we shouldn’t be wholly comfortable with) to also plug the Tom Clancy adaptation he stars in. The movie, another Paramount acquisition, got a new release date as well.

What Was Missing?

With just five movies making the cut, and knowing the struggles studios have had with release dates, it’s hard not to read into which titles were notable by their absence from the ad lineup.

No Marvel: You might think if Marvel Studios/Disney believed Black Widow was actually sticking to its early May release date, a commercial would have run. Instead, the only Marvel property to be advertised was the upcoming “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” Disney+ series. That decision may also represent producer Kevin Feige’s recent focus on series over movies, but still…

No HBO: This is actually the most surprising of the omissions. HBO has been releasing a number of commercials and other promos in the last two months to raise awareness and interest in the fact that HBO Max will stream Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 lineup day-and-date with theatrical release. So to not see a commercial here that touts the release of titles like The Suicide Squad, Godzilla vs. Kong and others – in addition to the rest of the service’s catalog, seems like a missed opportunity, especially after the success of Wonder Woman 1984 on the platform.

No Netflix: Similarly, Netflix made headlines recently when it announced it would release a new feature film every week of 2021. Given the…fungible…nature of studio release dates over the last 11 months, such reliability coupled with ease of access could have been a great boost to subscriber numbers. That’s especially true when you consider some of those movies are big-budget action films and comedies starring Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and others in addition to the usual mid-tier dramas and tear-jerking romances.