Thursday, 25 February 2010

The Marine 2 (2009)

The Marine films are united by their love of muscular
men leaping away from explosions in slow motion

Just when I thought I was done with WWE Films, they pull me back in, and with a DTV sequel to 2006's The Marine no less. It's a sequel in name only, linked only by the protagonist's occupation (Marine), the kidnapped-wife plot, the copious amount of fiery explosions and an acting-deficient wrestler in the lead role. Apparently John Cena is too big of a star for DTV now, so he's been swapped out for some wrestler I've never heard of, Ted DiBiase Jr. Apparently a different wrestler-I've-never-heard-of, Randy Orton, was supposed to play the lead role but stepped out at the last minute due to an injury. Like Cena, DiBiase has a similar combination of boyish looks, beefy physique and no-nonsense haircut. What happened to all the wrestlers with greasy mullets and a face like a sack of ham hocks?

After a disastrous reonnaissance mission in Bangkok, Marine sniper Joe Linwood (DiBiase Jr) travels to an island resort with his wife Robin (Lara Cox). Robin works for the owner of the resort, an asshole millionnaire named Darren Conner (Robert Coleby). Conner has also written a highly successful get-rich-quick book titled Why Shouldn't You Have It All? and it must be pretty good because even in the middle of a swinging cocktail party there's a lady curled up on a couch reading it. People are always namedropping it, even hard-bitten mercenaries are leafing through a copy. It's more popular than the The Davinci Code. Joe and Robin also meet a former-Army-Ranger-turned-scuba-operator named Church (Michael Rooker), who takes them to a secluded beach with a hidden cave that leads directly back to the resort. Gee, I wonder if that's going to come in handy later?

Sure enough, a gang of masked terrorists storm the resort during the middle of a fireworks display, taking everybody hostage (including Robin) and demanding "tribute" (ie ransom) as repayment for years of Western exploitation. Apparently this is inspired by a real-life hostage situation that occurred at a resort in the Phillipines, but I'm not sure if they were single-handedly taken down by a WWE wrestler, which is what happens here. Die Hard may be over twenty years old, but The Marine 2 proves to us that Die Hard rip-offs are the true John McClane's of action cinema.

This is one of those movies that takes place in a fictional country, despite the opening scene in Bangkok, the Thai actors, the Muay Thai fighters etc. This is not Thailand, got it? I can see why they do it but it's really kind of insulting, suggesting that these tiny countries in South America/Eastern Europe/South East Asia are all so interchangable that you could slip in a fake one without anyone noticing. Anyway, this fake country has a pretty interesting ethnic makeup, because the terrorist leader, Damo, is played by a Maori (Temeura Morrison) and his brother Shoal is played by a Thai (Sahajak Boonthanakit). Although a great actor, Morrison is not at all convincing as an Asian, so I don't really buy that he and Shoal are supposed to be brothers, unless it's meant in the sense that all men are brothers, which is doubtful.

The rest of the movie follows the Die Hard playbook to the letter. They send in a gang of mercenaries who get completely wiped out. Joe goes in solo and starts taking out the terrorists one by one. Shoal does the bit where he gets frustrated and starts tearing shit up, letting Joe's wife know that her husband is the one running loose and fucking up their operation. There's also the slimy government bureaucrat who betrays them and the guy on the outside who has retired from being a hero but steps up at the end to save the day. Unlike Die Hard, however, the act of terrorism is not the cover for a heist. It's just plain old terrorism.

So like the first film it's fairly predictable, but the tone is completely different. Although I loved the utterly tasteless opening scene, I wasn't a big fan of the goofy, tongue-in-cheek approach of The Marine. I prefer my action movie stupidity straight up, not watered down with self-conscious winks to the audience. Unfortunately the sequel goes a little too far in the opposite direction. It's way too dour and serious, without any hilarious stupidity or even any decent one-liners. At least the wussy PG-13 rating of the first film has been ditched in favour of a squib-friendly R, allowing a couple of grisly moments such as where Joe dislocates his wrist to escape a set of handcuffs or tortures a terrorist with a steam press.

This one is directed by Roel Reiné, the Dutch DTV veteran who brought us Seagal's better-than-average Pistol Whipped. The cinematography is very impressive for DTV, lots of wide shots, saturated colours and beautiful helicopter shots of Phuket. The action has it's moments too, the centrepiece being a great fight where Joe takes on a couple of Muay Thai fighters. It's done in several long takes as a steadicam rotates around them. Impressive stuff. There's also an amusingly ridiculous part where Joe knocks out the supports from a seaside shack without even breaking stride, ramming them with his meaty forearm so it collapses onto the pursuing bad guy. That made me laugh. Mostly though, it's just a lot of gunfire and explosions.

This is better-than-average DTV, although I'm still trying to decide whether this is one of those rare DTV sequels that surpasses it's theatrical predecessor. I think it really comes down to what you thought of the goofy humour of the first film. If you didn't like it I think you'll like this one better. If you did like it you might as well skip it and spend the 90 minutes picking bugs out of your hair or doing whatever else it is that tasteless simpletons enjoy doing.

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