There’s a certain charm to WWE Studios’ long-running Marine franchise.
Big, loud and unashamedly corny, these movies invariably feature some brooding, strong-jawed, butt-kicking hero trying to relax on vacation when bad guys kidnap his wife/sister/grandma.
The authorities prove to be totally useless and it’s therefore up to the Marine—who just wanted to relax for a couple of weeks, darn it!—to spring into action and retrieve his loved one.
Usually there’s a well-known respected actor—who really is too good for all this and should probably be off doing a play somewhere—thrown in there as the villain.
Generally, the films are well-made and a fair amount effort has clearly gone into them. Sure, they’re formulaic, but that’s the nature of action genre. Fans mostly want brave heroes, huge explosions and neat, bow-tied happy endings.
Honestly, it’s easy to trash WWE Studios—I’ve done my fair share of it—but anyone who thinks they churn out truly horrible movies really needs to check out Tommy Wiseau’s The Room or Troll 2 sometime.
At the very least, Vince McMahon’s oft-mocked side-project is providing people in the film and television industry with reliable and well-paying work. That’s no minor thing in this economy.
But, on to The Marine 3: Homefront, the third movie in the military-themed franchise.
The plot is, once again, very by-the-numbers.
Dedicated Marine Jake Carter (Mike “The Miz” Mizanin) has spent his 20s in the service, proudly serving his country and going on deadly missions all over the globe.
Following a 14-month deployment, he returns to his home town of Bridgeport, in Washington, and reunites with his two sisters, Lilly (The Last Exorcism’s Ashley Bell) and Amanda (Camille Sullivan).
Of course, the stubborn and headstrong Jake runs into problems almost straight away.
He gets into bar fights. He undermines Amanda around the house. He bickers with the young, wayward Lilly over her lack of ambition and blossoming romantic relationship with Darren (Jeffrey Ballard). Darren is a troubled teen with a criminal record and a dislike of military types. No wonder he and Jake don’t get along.
Family tensions are cast to the side, however, when Lilly and Darren—in the wrong place at the wrong time—are soon kidnapped by a gang of terrorists led by former college professor Jonas Pope (Neal McDonough).
Pope, it seems, is on a crusade against corporate greed and is more than willing to accept human collateral damage if it gets his message out there.
Jake then decides to remain calm, do nothing and let the FBI handle it. Oh, who am I kidding? He hears the news about his sister and his first act is to retrieve his shotgun from under his bed and go after them.
Well, this movie won’t win any Oscars anytime soon, but it wasn’t meant to. And, while it is undoubtedly yet another cheesy action movie, there are times it strives to be more and has a level of intelligence you wouldn't expect it to have.
It’s amusing to think that there was so much ridicule over Mizanin in the Marine role when his casting was announced last May. Because, as best I can tell, he delivers the only believable lead performance this franchise has ever had.
John Cena and Ted DiBiase (who starred in the original and its sequel, respectively) were both too wooden and awkward to convince. Cena, in particular, with his huge body-builder physique, came off as more of a superhero than an actual member of the USMC.
Mizanin, however, actually proves himself to be a very decent actor here.
His delivery of his lines is very natural. He never seems forced or out of his depth when acting alongside professional thespians. He’s also got big, expressive eyes and uses them to offer an emotional depth the heroes in these films have previously lacked.
Near the beginning of the movie, following a nasty fight with his best friend and sister about his controlling tendencies, Jake has a truly pained look his eyes. He knows he’s driving his loved ones away with his boorish behavior, but after spending ten years in the military, it’s simply too hard to adjust to normal civilian life.
It’s a very subtle, vulnerable moment of acting and it’s difficult to imagine Randy Orton or CM Punk, both of whom were previously rumored for the role, pulling it off.
It’s too soon to say whether Mizanin can have a career in Hollywood, but he shows enough here to ensure it’s definitely a real possibility.
Mizanin is helped by the fact that Jake is, essentially, a normal guy, albeit one with a lot of deadly skills.
A memorable line in the first movie was when one frustrated henchman compared Cena’s seemingly invincible character to “The Terminator.” Well, in this one, the Marine is more Kyle Reese, and I’m not just talking about Mizanin’s striking resemblance to a young Michael Biehn.
Jake isn’t a cyborg: he gets beaten up, kicked around and barely emerges victorious from the numerous scraps and fights in the movie. By the end of the film he looks like he’s been through absolute hell. Considering the relative ease with which Cena and DiBiase went through their foes in the first two films, this is a nice touch.
The rest of cast are very good, too.
As anyone who has ever seen FX’s Justified can tell you, Neal McDonough is simply a fantastic actor. And it’s a testament to him that he can create a memorable three-dimensional villain in what is essentially a throwaway B action movie.
Pope isn’t the over-the-top campy bad guy you see in all the Chuck Norris movies—heck, in his mind, he truly believes he’s the hero—and the film is given an extra depth thanks to this.
Ashley Bell, Camille Sullivan and Jared Keeso (as Jake’s cop friend) also bring warmth and realism to their under-written roles. Bell, in particular, is a name to look out for.
Possibly the best praise I can give The Marine 3: Homefront is that it’s the first WWE Studios’ action movie where everyone involved comes off like a real person rather than a cardboard cutout.
Of course, the movie has its flaws.
The script has some interesting ideas—mainly regarding Pope’s motivations and Jake’s emotional state—but it never truly dwells or expands on them. Instead, we just cut to yet another fight or gratuitous explosion.
Scott Wiper’s ultra-quick, jittery style of directing also wears as time goes on and becomes annoying. During the fight scenes, you end up wishing the camera would stop shaking frantically for a second so you can actually concentrate on something. Those Bourne movies have a lot to answer for.
The film’s soundtrack—a mix of cheesy country music and horrible nu-metal—also leaves a lot to be desired.
Granted, the film didn’t have a huge budget, but surely it couldn’t have been that hard to get something decent done on the cheap? There are no good under-known indie bands that would have been willing to help out in return for some exposure?
Even with these flaws, however, The Marine 3: Homefront can still be considered, by the far, the best of the Marine films. It’s not a great movie—maybe not even a good one—but an outstanding cast and some compelling story ideas place it a notch-above most straight-to-DVD action movies on the market.
DVD Extras: There are a few interesting documentaries on the DVD, including one that takes us on a tour on the derelict ferry where much of the action in the movie takes place. In addition, Mizanin films a lengthy video journal on set and comes across like a nice, if slightly hyper, person. Overall, the extras aren’t bad, but a commentary or two wouldn’t have gone amiss.