James Bond was able to go through all of Ian Fleming’s books and even a few short stories, yet still has not stopped. Jack Ryan and Jason Bourne each had a good run, but attempts to turn Dirk Pitt, Bob Lee Swagger or The November Man into movie franchises have failed. Even Jack Reacher is struggling, and Swagger moved to TV. In light of that, Franchise Fred approves the first Mitch Rapp movie, American Assassin. I would totally see more Mitch Rapp adventures.
After surviving a terrorist attack that claims his fiance, Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) goes undercover on his own to infiltrate terror cells. The CIA catches him and sends him to Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) for training, and eventually on a mission to catch Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), an American working with terrorists to build a nuclear bomb.
O’Brien brings a volatile intensity to Rapp that makes him compelling in his antisocial drive. Hurley is one tough motherfucker, the likes of which Keaton relishes. It’s almost as if Carter Hayes or Peter McCabe were working for the good guys, but even then I don’t think I’ve seen Keaton bring this much heat to even his dangerous psycho roles. These are definitely two characters I want to see again.
The action is solid. The opening terrorist attack is harrowing, and training has a strong narrative build. It underuses Scott Adkins as a trainee whom Rapp can beat in a fight, but they both get to use solid MMA skills. Hurley’s psychological test is the most harrowing, but he’s right. Rapp will be useless if he’s a slave to his emotions. Rapp’s window entry game is on point, and a climactic fight on a choppy speedboat is pretty awesome. Director Michael Cuesta keeps the action clear, even when using some mild handheld, so he’s already got that over the Bourne movies.
Unfortunately, the female characters don’t fare so well in American Assassin. The three female roles are either victims, ineffectual suits or deceitful turncoats. It gets even worse if I get into spoilers. Perhaps those roles come from the source material, but if so there’s no reason they couldn’t be improved in the adaptation. Frankly, I don’t even want to assume the worst about author Vince Flynn without reading it for myself.
One very brief scene makes a minor but vital creative decision. A news report refers to “The American President.” Even if they filmed before the 2016 election, it would be very easy to dub in “America’s President Trump” if they wanted to say American Assassin takes place in the real world. Whether because the real presidency would have been a distraction that took viewers out of the movie or if they were making a statement that Trump is not president in their world, it was the right call. I wonder if they would have omitted Clinton’s name though, or Obama’s if it were made earlier.
I would also love to talk about the poetic justice of Ghost’s ultimate plan but it’s a spoiler. Let me know if you feel Ghost’s target is apropos considering it’s Taylor Kitsch playing that role.
American Assassin is a promising start to the Mitch Rapp franchise. It’s not going to make me go out and read all the books. I’m not there yet but maybe after the first trilogy I’ll commit to a multi-format franchise.