All things considered my first foray into WWE Studios movies wasn’t too bad. Sure it was average slasher fare but in all honesty I was expecting way worse. After See No Evil’s relative success WWE Studios’ next film was The Marine. Starring the WWE’s golden boy John Cena it came out during one of the most pushed times of his career. By the time it was released Cena was not only in his third WWE title reign but had put out a rap album. For the record the album was meh. Considering he had become the face of the company it makes total sense for him to star in the next WWE movie.
Thinking back I actually remember the company’s push for the movie pretty well. For what felt like forever they would show behind-the-scene pieces about the movie. We got everything from scenes of him doing stunts to having real marines say he could hack it as a marine. We even had the stars debating who would win in a fight John Cena or his character. Needless to say it was complete overkill. Now will the movie live up to its (admittedly biased) hype or will it be the first real stinker of Wrestling is Reel? Let’s find out.
John Cena stars as John Triton, a discharged marine and owner of the manliest name ever. His wife is kidnapped by jewel thieves for some reason. With his military training and unusually rectangular head (as seen above) he is off to rescue her. Explosions abound.
First and foremost I just want to say that John Triton is only a marine for 4 minutes and 20 seconds. After loving America and freedom too much he is dishonorably discharged. I don’t know how the military works but to me this makes him an ex-Marine. Anyway this movie is absolutely insane and not always in a good way. On its surface The Marine is a typical action movie. In fact I could easily see this being an 80’s Arnold movie. The problem is that it isn’t a good one. Despite being an action movie it’s pretty dull. For a movie that’s barely 90 minutes there is a lot of stalling. A lot of the film is taken up by watching people run around in a swamp. There’s dialogue but a surprising amount of time is spent watching John Cena chase fter Rome (Robert Patrick) and his jewel thief cohorts. Things don’t get better when the action actually starts.
In all honesty the set pieces should be right up my alley. Bank heists, abandoned warehouses, explosions everywhere, this should be my jam. Unfortunately this film is directed by John Bonito. A first time director Bonito’s style is fairly cut and dry. When there aren’t close ups and quick cuts obscuring the action it’s just feels uninspired. I don’t need John Woo but surely it can be better than your typical episode of 24. The best example of this is a car chase mid-movie. Cena is chasing the people that kidnapped his wife and it’s just driving. A roadblock here and gunshots there but for the most part just driving fast. It becomes tedious very, very quickly. The only thing that worked for me was the hand-to-hand stuff and that has more to do with Cena doing honest to god wrestling moves (CHOKESLAM! A Superman punch!) than anything involving the action. Then again I really shouldn’t be too impressed that Cena can fake fight, that’s his job. He certainly isn’t an actor.
While not the biggest fan of John Cena I’m not a typical Cena hater either. Now whether you think he’s a good wrestler or not both sides seem to agree that he’s a likable, charismatic guy. This script rarely lets the former World Champ show this though. Instead of being the more sociable and occasionally self-effacing personality we get in real life he is more serious here. This results in him coming off as bland as a brick wall. Scratch that, at least brick walls can be tagged. Cena is just a vessel for punches and looking super serious.
Of course this is just looking at the action parts of this movie. The rest of the movie is just a grip of weird ass decisions. Everything just feels… off. For example comedy relief in an action movie is hardly new. One of the big gags in The Marine is one of the random goons telling a story about how he was molested at summer camp. This isn’t a one off deal either. They build up that he doesn’t like rock candy (which FYI, nobody likes) before revealing it led to him getting touched by a counselor. Even ignoring the fact that its crazy f’d up it isn’t funny, it doesn’t move the plot along, it’s just there making everyone feel awkward. Then there’s the music which, like the film’s tone, is all over the place. When it isn’t playing generic rock (Sup Rob Zombie) it sounds like the score to a Blaxploitation movie. This would be fine if they were trying to go for a tongue-in-cheek vibe. Heck that kind of self-awareness could save the movie. As it is though it just sticks out like a sore thumb.
If there is one good thing about this movie it’s Robert Patrick as our lead villain. Clearly there to cash a check he seems to be having the time of his life hamming it up. He seems to know what kind of movie he’s in and is making the best of it. Besides that though there’s not much to like. While it wants to be an 80’s style action movie there are way too many weird little choices that throw things off. There are some funny moments but they’re never intentional and not enough of them to justify seeing the movie.
Despite how bad The Marine is it wasn’t a bomb and WWE Studios decided to continue the series on DVD. Around that time Ted DiBiase Jr. was making a name for himself in the WWE. The son of the Million Dollar Man he starting to pick up some steam as a disenfranchised member of the group Legacy. What better way to capitalize on this hot streak than making him the star of a movie? Surely that will work…
While on leave from the marines Joe (Ted DiBiase Jr) goes on a vacation with his wife. Things are going fine when their Thai resort is attacked by terrorists. With little help and a local government unwilling to help it is up to Joe to save his wife and the other hostages.
I’ll be honest I was dreading the fact that I had to watch this movie. The first film was pretty bad and it was, for lack of a better term, an actual movie. It had a real star and a real budget behind it. How much worse would things be with a less bankable star and 1/10th of the budget?
Luckily for me it seems I was overreacting a bit. In all honesty it’s actually the better of the two in quite a few ways. Most of which can be attributed to director Roel Reiné. Far from famous he is what I would consider a workman director. A veteran of the direct to video market he seems to mostly do cheaper sequels including Death Race 2 & 3, The Scorpion King 3 and the fourth Behind Enemy Lines movie. Needless to say he knows how to stretch a dollar. The best example of this that I can think of is how great the movie looks. Despite having a more limited playing field he does his best to make the sets look great. Aside from some b-roll straight out of a Sandals commercial he’s able to make a bit of jungle and a hotel set feel more varied than anything in The Marine. The Marine 2 also has a much better sense of pacing. Sure the characters are stock types but at no point did I feel like my time was being wasted. Every scene pushed the plot forward with nary a creepy molestation joke in sight.
The only thing Roel Reiné seemed to have a problem with was some of the action. Now things like the explosions looking insanely fake isn’t his fault, that’s just the budget. No, my problems mainly show up in the fight scenes without gunfire. Reiné has a tendency to do the Bourne movie shaky cam that was popular at the time. You can hardly tell what happens during some of the night shots because of this. Which is a shame because what we do see is pretty good. About halfway through we get a Muay Thai fight and it’s surprisingly good. Not Ong Bak good or anything crazy but way better than expected.
Then there’s the elephant in the room, Ted DiBiase Jr in our starring role. Now it’s been awhile since I had seen him wrestle but I remember him being fairly forgettable during his time in WWE. Remembering this I knew not to expect too much out of the guy when it came to acting. As it turns out my standards were way too high. Dear God he’s a terrible actor. Where Cena could at least show an emotion every now and then DiBiase has this blank stare the entire time. Angry? Blank stare. Happy? Blank stare. Awkward romantic scene? Blank stare. All the while mumbling the majority of his lines. At a certain point my fiancé just referred to his character as “Bland” and I had a hard time not doing the same. The only positive to his casting that I can think of is that he does a decent job when it comes to the action. Like Cena before him he’s perfectly acceptable pulling off any fight scene he was put in. I was particularly impressed that how well he did in the Muay Thai scene I mentioned earlier. Even though it looked a bit too choreographed he never looked awkward or out of place in a fight so unlike pro wrestling. Too bad his believability here couldn’t translate to his actual acting.
I’ll be honest I was pleasantly surprised by The Marine 2. Aside from a terrible lead actor it’s an improvement over the first movie in every other way. With a more experienced director behind scenes it delivers on the action and pacing its predecessor lacked. I couldn’t in good conscious say that it’s good or something you should go out of your way to see. But all things considered it’s a perfectly competent straight to DVD movie. Not Scott Adkins-starring level but at least better than anything Steven Seagal has done in the past decade.