When WWE Films released The Marine in 2006, it failed to even earn back its modest $20 million budget at the domestic box office. It was by no means great cinema; even as a generic B-grade action picture, it had its shortcomings, mostly due to the restrictions of its unfortunate PG-13 rating. But it earned an audience on home video — much like the films it attempted to emulate did decades prior — due to its famous wrestler star, John Cena, and some good, old fashioned jingoism, which was in fashion in the mid-2000s. Flash forward thirteen years later and we now have a whopping five sequels to The Marine, zero of which would star Cena.
The Marine 2
Three years after the theatrical release of The Marine, WWE released The Marine 2 on video with one-and-done star Ted Dibiase Jr. as its lead. Easily the weakest entry in the series, and the only one arguably worse than the original film, The Marine 2 walks the trodden ground of the “Die Hard on/at ____” genre of generic action cinema. This time, the location is an island resort (not unlike the super xenophobic Owen Wilson hostage film No Escape from 2015) and Dibiase plays Joe Linwood, a marine sniper who must rescue his wife from a group of terrorists. Messy action (from DTV mainstay director Roel Reine) and an unlikable lead make this one a tough sit and it just feels cheap, which it is. Luckily, the WWE knew how to bounce back and they did shortly after.
The Marine 3: Homecoming
Enter The Miz! The Marine and The Marine 2 were practically not connected at all, and, to be fair, The Marine 3 isn’t really connected to the prior two films, either; generic title notwithstanding. But, The Marine 3 does set in motion the rest of the series with The Miz starring in all consecutive films as the same character, Jake Carter. And what a character he is! This is the most developed character work the series has seen thus far, with Carter returning home from being deployed in the Middle East and ending up back in trouble at home with his family and friends.
This entry is also where we first see the series’ inspirations front and center. You can argue that the second film was a riff on Die Hard, but that’s so ingrained in pop culture at this point that it’s rendered moot. The Marine appeared, at face value, to be a Reagan ’80s inspired slice of violent beefcake cinema like Commando, but was majorly tempered by its rating and avoiding anything overtly political. But The Marine 3 wears its inspirations and politics proudly, playing out like Walking Tall for post-recession America, with The Miz taking on a bunch of extremists hellbent on taking down greedy bankers that foreclose on the houses of the middle class.
In the midst of all of this, we get some solid family drama work with The Miz hating on his sister’s “loser” boyfriend, a nice rendezvous with a redneck at a bar that’s straight out of Con Air, and his cop buddy both riding him for not adjusting to society and helping him out when the FBI try and get in his way. It’s got it all: a bank heist, a kidnapped sister, a villain who hates cell phones, piles of burned up money and The Miz trying to rescue his sister with a 12 gauge and a pick up truck.
The Marine 4: Moving Target
If The Marine 3 attacked our banks, The Marine 4 goes after the defense industry. The Miz is back and is now working in security, tasked with protecting a young woman who is a whistleblower and has a bunch of incriminating data in an encrypted cloud, naturally. It’s basically The Gauntlet with wrestlers and every bit as fun as that sounds. It also may be the most violent film in the series, with near non-stop action, a lot of which is as bloody as the films from the ’80s it is emulating.
It’s not as focused on drama as the third entry is (the lack of family members is felt), but it all manages to work with plenty of betrayal and a surprising mean streak towards law enforcement, including a brutal raid on a police station, leaving a number of cops shot up and discarded. The climax abandons the primarily gun-heavy action for a First Blood-esque trip to the woods filled with booby traps and plenty of impalings via sharpened stick. It may lack the feeling of triumph that the third one has following the weak first two, but this is a super solid entry in the series.
The Marine 5: Battleground
The politics so front and center in The Marine 3 and The Marine 4 are more or less abandoned here in favor of unrelenting action, which should be no surprise, considering its sub-title. This time, The Miz is working as an EMT (not unlike the lead in the WWE produced DTV sequel 12 Rounds 2) and on his first night is called to a parking garage for a young man with an abdominal gunshot wound. Turns out, that young man assisted in a drive-by slaying of the leader of a biker gang, and now that gang is hunting him, The Miz and The Miz’s EMT partner down in the parking garage.
For most of its runtime, this is a siege film with our leads held up in the garage, with more and more bikers being called in to find and kill them; obviously, they don’t succeed. The fourth film is the most violent, but this one is the most action-focused, with very little exposition and some pretty cartoonish bad guys. It may be the weakest of the sequels starring The Miz, but he does get to pop up out of the back of an ambulance with an assault rifle, so it has its moments.
The Marine 6: Close Quarters
I wish every series could come to a close with an entry as good as The Marine 6! This time, The Miz is partnered up with the one and only Shawn Michaels, who is also an ex-marine, and they are trying to rescue a kidnapped girl from some Irish terrorists who have a stab happy leader with bright red hair, played by wrestler Becky Lynch. This one earns its subtitle “Close Quarters,” as it primarily takes place in an abandoned warehouse before setting up its last act in a series of underground tunnels. It’s like The Descent with big guns!
Though The Marine 4 first dabbled in a buddy banter for the series, the match-up of The Miz and Michaels is inspired, and works really well; they argue over kill counts, how many times they’ve saved each other, bandage up each other’s wounds and play around constantly. It ends up filling the family void that’s been there since the third film, and it’s a welcome addition. Plus, it results in Michaels wearing a purple shirt that says “Proud Grandma of an Honor Student” for most of the last act.
But the end of The Marine 6 is the big surprise of the series. Spoiler alert! This one ends with Jake’s untimely death, sacrificing himself to save his friend and the young girl they went to rescue. The knife wielding gang leader throws a knife into his chest and says “Goodbye, Marine” and that’s it. After the story comes to a close, we get a highlight reel of the four films starring The Miz with some sad country song over it crooning “Goodbye, Brother.” It’s sappy and unnecessary following his death scene, but it’s also a reminder that these cheap little sequels to a movie from 13 years ago that didn’t even make its budget back actually do have an arc and a fervent audience. Plus, they’re actually not bad! I’d happily go to bat for the Jake Carter series any day (the first two films don’t exist as far as I’m concerned), and it’s the closest we’re likely going to get to a contemporary Missing In Action series or any sort of Cannon-esque, macho action fueled-yet-subversive genre cinema in this era of Marvel movies and the like.