In the age of sequels, reboots, and remakes, it can be refreshing when an original film explodes on to the scene. Action films in particular thrive on existing properties, PG-13 ratings, and action designed to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. So when Mile 22 dropped a trailer that promised non-stop brutal action set pieces, it seemed like there might be a reason to celebrate. Based on an original script by first-time screenwriter Lea Carpenter, directed by genre veteran Peter Berg, and starring Mark Wahlberg and Indonesian martial arts superstar Iko Uwais, how could this film miss? Well, it turns out if you load a gun with blanks, it doesn’t matter how good your aim is, all you’re going to create is a lot of mindless noise. Mile 22 runs a brisk 95 minutes, and in that time commits almost every sin an action film can.
The setup is classic: an elite team against unstoppable army. It’s a proven formula that dates back to Seven Samurai. In this case, the elite team is Overwatch, a paramilitary team that operates outside the rules of traditional military combat. Their mission is to extradite Li Noor (Iko Uwais), a Special Forces operative willing to trade the location of stolen radioactive material for a way out of the country. Standing in their way is an endless supply of soldiers and assassins who will stop at nothing to get him back. It’s a recipe for success. Except the film is entirely uninterested with the team its plot centers around, making its first order of business to dispatch as many of them as possible, as quickly as possible, so the film can focus on Wahlberg, Uwais, and Lauren Cohan, who plays Silva’s protégé, Alice.
Changing up the formula can be a great thing. But you have to make sure you’re improving upon the original recipe. Adding a little cayenne pepper to the brownie mix can be fun and surprising. Adding tomato sauce just ruins it. The film undercuts its own premise before it even gets started. So the film isn’t what it was advertised as. That isn’t such a big deal, so long as it delivers on the action. Unfortunately, from there Mile 22 continues to fail as an action movie in five big ways. Let’s count them down.
The action does not escalate. Good action films have set pieces that build on one another. Mile 22 should have been one long chace, instead its a series of detours and pit stops, where the enemies keep giving Wahlberg time to set up and catch his breath before engaging. Every sequence gives Wahlberg the opportunity to shoot some people, Uwais the opportunity to kick some people, and Cohan the opportunity to remind us she doesn’t really belong in this movie.
The heroes are as equipped as the enemy. This is screenwriting 101. There’s a reason why in Die Hard John McClane is caught unarmed and without shoes, and why in every new Mission: Impossible movie, they find some way to make sure Ethan Hunt is cut off from the IMF. Audiences want to see heroes use their wits to persevere against the enemy. We don’t want the hero to have a support team providing them back up every step of the way. Especially not one run by John Malkovich that could, at any point, use a drone to blow up any obstacle. It’s hard to care about a firefight when you’ve got an entire arsenal on the bench just waiting to be used.
The action is incomprehensible. Today, most American action scenes are shot one of two ways: either with a ton of CGI, or a ton of quick cuts. This keeps the action kinetic, while hiding the fact that most of these actors don’t really know how to fight. For Berg, evidently the line between kinetic and incomprehensible is a fuzzy one. The cuts are so fast and the camerawork is so shaky, it’s impossible to tell what’s happening. This would be frustrating in any film, but in a film starring Iko Uwais, it’s downright sinful. Uwais is a master martial artist who can perform these stunts in one take. Instead, the action is diced up and scenes that should be breathtaking feel ordinary. Berg attempts to keep things engaging by ratcheting up the brutality of the violence, but there’s nothing here that doesn’t feel like a pale imitation of the more intense films coming out of Asia.
There is no villain. Every great action hero requires a great villain. This film doesn’t have one. Sam Medina stars as the head of the paramilitary group attempting to recover Li Noor, but he’s never much of a threat. As the film heads towards its impressively underwhelming third act, no one is going to be cheering for Medina to be taken down. If he disappeared entirely from the film, I doubt anyone would notice.
It is not a complete film. This is the most troubling and frustrating issue with the film. In the final moments of the film, it becomes clear that Mile 22 was never interested in telling a complete, cohesive story. This is designed to be the first film in a franchise. There isn’t anything wrong with the producers wanting to turn films like Mile 22 into multi-film series. But they should do audiences the courtesy of providing them one complete story first. Mile 22 doesn’t just leave room for a sequel; it requires one. The film is full of plot threads that never payoff and the ending leaves the whole thing feeling like the prologue to a different movie. There is already a sequel in pre-production, but I shouldn’t have to see a sequel to find out how the first film ends. Especially not a film as exhausting as Mile 22.
Verdict: 1 out of 5
Mile 22 might be the most disappointing film of the summer. It takes great action stars and wastes them on an uninspired and incomprehensible mess that is incapable of squeezing even an ounce of tension out of its embarrassment of riches. If you want to see Mark Wahlberg deliver testosterone-fueled monologues about how tough he is, there are better places to get it. If you want to see Iko Uwais kick some ass, see The Raid, or Headshot, or any of his other films. Truthfully, there’s very little reason to see Mile 22. I suggest you kick this one down the road.