Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher, James Bond, Jack Ryan; one thing all these characters have in common, other than their name beginning with the letter J, is that they’re secret agents working for their government on the most covert of ops. Breaking one of those commonalities American Assassin’s Mitch Rapp, a college dropout who joins the CIA’s spec-ops unit not because of some patriotic duty to his country but because of an opportunity for revenge. But besides his younger looks and absence of a J, Mitch is still just another secret agent doing the government’s dirty work. It’s a plot we’ve seen play out time and time again, and American Assassin is no different.
After the death of his fiance at the hands of terrorists, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) devotes himself to getting revenge on those responsible. Between the mixed martial arts training sessions and trips to the gun range, he’s been busy infiltrating the terrorist group on his own so he can take them down from within. Naturally, this catches the eye of the CIA and they intervene before he gets himself killed. Rather than lock him away in prison, they offer Mitch the opportunity to train with an elite team of special ops agents led by veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). For his first mission, Mitch along with the team pursue the actions of a mysterious new player named Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) who always seems to be one step ahead of everyone as he builds a nuclear bomb capable of decimating an entire city.
American Assassin is nothing we haven’t seen before. The film features many of the same tropes of all action thrillers; the highly-skilled but kinda an ass mentor, a villain in possession of a weapon that can destroy the world, and of course a double cross you can see coming from a mile away. Despite knowing all these things, American Assassin isn’t necessarily a bad film. The action is solid, and I was largely impressed with Dylan O’Brien’s transition from teenage heartthrob to action hero secret agent. He fits the role well as someone who hasn’t already cemented himself as the best there is but is well on the way to becoming the next Bourne or Reacher. There are still plenty of things he needs to learn.
I also found it surprising at just how brutal the film is. The opening scene is when the terrorists invade a beach resort and kill Mitch’s fiance along with a bunch of other hotel guests. We see the gunshots and the blood spatter as people die all around. The violence is not like most action thrillers where you simply see people fall down like in video games and are presumed dead. No, it’s much more rough and realistic.
If you’re looking for a film with solid action, then American Assassin is a safe bet. There’s nothing nuanced about it, but sometimes it’s good to be in the shadow of something familiar. Mitch Rapp might stand out a little bit more among the Jacks and James’ but at the end of the day he’s still just one of the boys.