What Did I Know Going In
- It's a war movie.
- Jake Gyllenhaal was in the first one.
- It's probably sarcastic.
- I bet it's low-budget.
- I bet there's not literally a field of fire, but that would be cool.
The Plot, As Far As I Can Tell
Chris Merrimette is a new dad and a marine on his third deployment to Afghanistan. His contract is coming to an end and he doubts he wants to re-up, but his Commanding Officer promotes him to Squad Leader and gives him reason to rethink his plans.
Merrimette's squadron is an eclectic cast of one-dimensional stereotypes and/or obnoxious loudmouths. There's an Asian guy and a Latin guy and a Lesbian. There's also Khalid, an Afghan who's working with the squad, and Kettner, a racist black guy who hates Afghans and doesn't trust Khalid. (Spoiler alert: they end up hashing out their differences while working together.)
The squad is assigned a mission to drive a convoy of supply trucks to another base, and along the way they pick up a wayward Navy Seal who's escorting Anoosh, a high-profile female activist who is a symbol of hope for the Afghan people. (But you're not supposed to know that yet, because keeping this a secret is the movie's idea of building suspense.)
They plan to help get Anoosh back to base and help her escape the deadly pursuit of the Taliban, but almost immediately they are ambushed. The Asian guy dies first, because Asians are the new black. But don't worry, because the black guy still dies. He just dies last, because dying last is the new dying first. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Merrimette and the surviving members of his squad kill the attackers and escape the ambush, then escort Anoosh on foot. They have some more encounters with the Taliban here and there, more people die, and eventually Merrimette and Anoosh hole up in a village and try in vain to defend themselves from another attack. The Taliban swoops in and grabs Anoosh, then retreats, leaving Merrimette and his few remaining soldiers in a state of shock and failure.
They debate whether or not to just go back to base, since Anoosh wasn't even their mission to begin with, but Merrimette has a moment of inspiration and decides she's too important to abandon. So they plan a ballsy and unlikely invasion of the city where Anoosh is being held captive and storm in, guns ablazing.
They kill tons of people, Khalid and Kettner die together Butch and Sundance style, and Merrimette rescues Anoosh and goes back to home base. He has a couple of speeches in voice-over about the value of brotherhood and there's an undeserved hint that Merrimette might re-enlist, after all.
The Things I Liked
The acting wasn't so bad. Nobody puts in a particularly amazing performance, but they're all serviceable.
The production value seemed decent. I was actually pretty impressed - I expected this to be some cheap-ass movie where the characters shake rubber guns in the distance and you never actually see who their shooting at, but it didn't look like low budget trash at all. There were some decent sets and explosions.
The Things I Didn't Like
So, the acting was okay, but it rang false to me. Bokeem Woodbine is 42 and Josh Kelly is 34, and these guys are playing relatively low-ranking Marines in active deployment in Afghanistan? Listen, I know there's an older generation of active duty military personnel, but the poor souls who have to do the grunt work are just kids. We're talking 18 to 22. Maybe 26, tops, and that's assuming they enlisted late and have consistently squandered every opportunity to advance in rank.
Hell, I know somebody who's on his second deployment in Afghanistan as I write this, and he's only 24. I can't presume to speak for him, but I know that I'm offended at the false representation of soldiers. It's a creepy fantasy to pretend that the soldiers who are going into the grinder are in their 30s or 40s - it gives you this impression that they've lived a life before serving, when in fact they haven't even had a chance.
When you take that reality and compound it with the constant "hoo-rah, we're jarheads for life" attitude that the movie keeps glorifying, it just feels like the most disgusting kind of recruitment propaganda.
My offense isn't necessarily based on a political stance regarding the war. (The movie is so gleefully apolitical that I couldn't really be offended that way even if I wanted to.) It's just that it comes across as superficial and disrespectful to its subjects. The movie tosses out these cliches and one-liners and monologues about "fighting for the guy next to you" and acts like that's enough to brush away any kind of residual ickiness of exploiting the young to fight for ideals they either don't understand or aren't aware of.
It feels like somebody made a movie about slavery where all the black people are strong, healthy, and attractive, and in maybe one or two scenes one of them would get whipped and they'd cry and say, "This is so unfair!", but otherwise it would just be scenes of them drinking lemonade and playing poker all day. I'm not black, so I can't say for 100% certain that that's offensive... but I'm pretty sure that's offensive.
I also didn't like the overall "Tude!" of the movie. It keeps blaring loud rock music and the camera keeps swinging around like a Mountain Dew commercial, and all the marines keep having obnoxious, vapid conversations about sex and women. (To be fair, they do talk like a bunch of immature 18 and 19 year-olds, so at least that's accurate.) It's distracting at best, and a mixed message at worst. Is the movie trying to be a rock-and-roll energy drink, or is it trying to be a bitter swig of medicine? I can't tell.
Actually, you know what else this movie is like? It's like some overly eager Republican who never had the gall to enlist, but who keeps talking about how much he'd love to serve, and then anytime he meets a soldier who went to the Middle East, he gushes and fawns all over them and keeps thanking them over and over and basically follows them around hoping to be validated for his adult life up to this point, and then when the soldier leaves he votes to de-fund the VA.
Would I Recommend It
Nah, not really. There's plenty of better war movies out there on both sides of the political spectrum, and in all kinds of genres, too. In a world where you can watch Three Kings, The Hurt Locker, and American Sniper all in the same afternoon and spend less than ten bucks doing it, I just don't see why you'd need Jarhead 2.
Then again, maybe you just have to be an ex-Marine to get it. If that's the case... enjoy, I guess.
What Do Think the Prequel Was About
I'm assuming the first Jarhead was a completely different story since Jake Gyllenhaal did not make an appearance and since all the characters were introduced as if they were new. But the term "jarhead" is, as I understand it, an insult. And normally you don't make movies where you use demeaning terms for characters who are meant to command your respect unless you're using the term for ironic effect, so I have to assume the first Jarhead was a grim character study of a disaffected soldier who was struggling with the day-to-day banality of warfare and possibly coming to grips with PTSD.
But let's just pretend there's continuity between the movies for the sake of argument. What would Jarhead 1 be about?
I'm going to guess it would be about Merrimette's first deployment. He might not even be the main character - maybe he's just a dude in the background, totally green and inexperienced. And maybe Jake Gyllenhaal is the squad leader, and they go on a couple of harrowing missions and the squad gets blown apart, one by one, until it's just Gyllenhaal and Merrimette left. And when they get back to their base, Gyllenhaal is offered a promotion and he spits in his CO's face, so Merrimette ends up getting promoted instead, and he's really bummed about it.
Do Marines still smoke weed all the time like they do in Vietnam War movies? Maybe it would end with Gyllenhaal getting really high and taking a tank out for a joy ride or something, and it ends with an extreme close up of Merrimette's left eye as he sheds a single tear, and then it cross-dissolves to an American flag while Linkin Park plays. That sounds about right.