Are We Still Doing Big Dick Energy? Because Mark Wahlberg's 'Mile 22' is the Opposite of BDE
Look, I’m not surprising anyone by telling you Mile 22 is bad, right?
Like, insufferably bad. Like, the 95 minutes of this film felt like 2 hours bad. Like, why we are still giving Mark Wahlberg chances and money bad. Mile 22 is basically the opposite of big dick energy, and I’m not even sure if we’re still doing that as a culture, but so much of this movie is masculine posturing and testosterone-fueled idiocy and the kind of “patriotism” that basically consists of going into another country, fucking up everything, and then accusing those people of being fucked up. So pretty much in line with all the movies Mark Wahlberg keeps making with Peter Berg. And this is another movie made by Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg. And still, even knowing all this going in, I came out enraged and exhausted. Fuck me, Mile 22 sucked.
Mile 22 focuses on James Silva (Wahlberg), an elite government operative who is part of a “third option” of government intervention. If diplomacy doesn’t work (and Silva will tell you that it “never works”) and if a military presence doesn’t work, then it’s time to call in Ground Watch and Over Watch, two sides of the same team. The former is led by Silva, and they’re the boots on the ground, the men and women with guns, the people who shoot to kill, and the latter is the tactical side, always stationed 2,000 miles away from wherever Silva and his crew are, led by James Bishop (John Malkovich). The Ground Watch team members are called “Child” and they call Bishop “Mother” and when the film opens, they are working together to wipe out a sleeper cell of Russian agents in suburban America. When the youngest Russian, an 18-year-old boy, tells Silva he’s making a mistake, Silva isn’t fazed: “I’m made a lot of them,” he replies, before murdering the boy.
What a badass, right? What an unhinged, total maniac! (The movie has characters wonder what Silva’s “psychological problem” is, and someone calls him bipolar, but it’s never clear if he’s anything other than an asshole.) Silva’s fast-talking style, smarmy attitude, and abuse of his coworkers are all presented as strengths. His team hates him but they respect him; when he smashes a plate of chocolate birthday cake out from under team member Sam (Ronda Rousey, blissfully not forced to deliver much dialogue), her only reply is to ask other team member Alice (Lauren Cohan) what makes Silva tick. “Actionable intelligence and pain,” Alice says, and wow, Silva is such a man.
Sixteen months after the Russian-safe-house op, Silva swings his dick around the U.S. Embassy in an unnamed Asian country (because this is the kind of movie that will show war footage from Iraq and Afghanistan, mention Pakistan and Israel as countries with their own clandestine government programs, and provide longitude and latitude measurements for a location in Moscow, but doesn’t have the gumption to identify the place where so much of this “action” takes place), yelling at diplomats and computer programmers and government officials, and all they do is continue to place their trust in him and tell him he’s important and needed because his job is to “prevent the end of tomorrow,” not like those worthless academics. (Seriously, yes, the movie makes sure to trash-talk academics for minding their own business and doing their own jobs.) But someone finally stands up to Silva, and that someone is Li Noor (Iko Uwais, so much better than this), a member of the local special forces who arrives at the embassy with an encrypted drive he claims holds the locations of the “radioactive powder dust” that Silva and his team have been tracking.
The deal, Noor says, is that he’ll give them the password to the disc — which will otherwise wipe itself clean in 8 hours — if they can guarantee him asylum and a way out of the country. And if the U.S. government goes for it, Silva and his team still need to get Noor across the city to an airplane on its way to the U.S., which will only be on ground for 10 minutes. They’re working on a tight timeline, and it’s unclear whether Noor can be trusted — until the country’s government starts sending assassins after him. Suddenly that “low-level cop” doesn’t seem so insignificant anymore, and Mile 22 jumps between a few different subplots: Silva leading the team protecting Noor; Alice arguing with her ex-husband (played by Berg himself) about custody of their daughter, feuding over a divorce app called “Family Wizard” (I’m sorry, I’m not making this up); Bishop surrounded by bobbleheads of various presidents (including 45 wearing a MAGA hat, because this movie goes there) dictating to the team what to do; and a post-op interview with Silva, which is really an opportunity for this movie’s script to ramble and rant and rave about the U.S. government and how dumb we all are and how war is necessary and U.S. imperialism is good.
Seriously, here are some of the stupid, faux-insightful things this movie has Silva say:
• “Being a cop in Baltimore may be every bit as dangerous as being a cop in Baghdad.”
• “You think you know about election hacking, the definition of collusion? You know nothing.”
• “Hearts and minds? I don’t think so.”
• “A battlefield can be a room with two people in it. That’s chaos. That’s fog.”
• “Warriors don’t wear uniforms anymore.”
• “You do not operate under any rule of law. … I think I may just be a little worse.”
So yeah, that’s all exhausting. Malkovich is campy as hell, but not even his weird vibe works with a monologue in which he claims that every man wants to “hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats.” And while Cohan has good intensity, the movie does this thing where it simultaneously wants to saddle her with a put-upon-mom storyline while also presenting her as Silva’s protege (“Do you think because I’m a woman, I’m less capable of extreme violence? I will get a sledgehammer and an ice axe and I will fuck you up” is her greatest chunk of dialogue), and the balance doesn’t quite work.
Uwais is really the star here: His fight scenes, although expectedly disorienting because of Berg’s directing style, are fucking brutal, and he has one sequence in which he uses the glass of a car’s broken window to kill people that brings to mind Charlize Theron’s moves in Atomic Blonde. He’s composed, he’s threatening, and he’s magnetic, and it’s infuriating that Uwais is the supporting actor to Wahlberg’s leading man. There’s this scene where Wahlberg is walking in slow motion down a hallway while wearing a flannel shirt and blabbing on about defending America, and a few scenes later we see Uwais’s Noor on his knees in a smashed-up room, in his underwear and covered in blood and glass, after having murdered two people while defending himself. One of these men needs a gun to feel powerful; one of them doesn’t. And the movie wants us to think that Wahlberg’s character is the more impressive one? Nope. No thanks. Mile 22 does a lot of stupid things, but out of all of them, attempting to convince us that Mark Wahlberg has more BDE than Iko Uwais is the worst. Get out of here with that bullshit.
Image sources (in order of posting): Epk.tv, Epk.tv, Epk.tv
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