This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Mark Wahlberg is a man of many talents. His rhymes are fresh, his frown is legendary, and it turns out he’s pretty decent in a bout of fisticuffs.
And then there’s his acting. He has been in a wealth of films, usually fighting for, or alongside, the American flag. He’s a gun-toting ass-kicker, and the world seems to dig it.
This is his game, his brand. Wahlberg moves between moral, no-nonsense cop and powerful, maverick law breaker and whilst he doesn’t always play armed characters, it is through these films that we can see the strands that bind together his most enjoyable roles.
Wahlberg has stood with gun in hand on 12 film posters, including the just-released Patriots’ Day. That may not sound like too many, but this number does not include The Departed, Four Brothers or The Italian Job. After wading through all 11 previous, trust me, it’s plenty. He has had a few years away from the gun poster, getting high with a talking bear and producing Entourage, but Wahlberg is best with pistol in hand and red, white and blue in heart.
The Big Hit (1998)
The first time Wahlberg held a gun on a film poster was for The Big Hit. By the time we meet up with him, Mark had joined, and subsequently departed, New Kids on the Block, served time, modelled undergarments with Kate Moss and starred alongside Danny DeVito, Leonardo DiCaprio and Reese Witherspoon. Then he took a step backwards.
We meet a fresh-faced Wahlberg loading a corpse from one car boot to another, with as much delicacy as a hungover Yodel driver. He is Melvin Smiley – a predecessor to the characters Wahlberg will nail in later shoot’em’ups.
The Big Hit‘s most interesting kernel is Smiley’s fear of not being liked. He passes up a well-earned-bonus in fear that he might piss off his charlatan compadre, despite worries about his mortgage. His tameness may feel a bit chewy, but it lets Wahlberg show a bit of humanity.
This Hong Kong production also gave a ginger Wahlberg room to test his action chops. From the get go, his boyish charm and comfort with piece in paw is plain to see. In a role reportedly intended for Martin Lawrence, Wahlberg holds his own, without showing the comedic attraction Lawrence certainly possessed at this time. His performance is rough, but he is much more believable in combat than conversation.
The Big Hit is Fast And Furious without the budget, script, speed or excitement. But, seeing as Wahlberg followed up this Wesley-Snipes-produced mess with a much better Chow-Yung Fat picture, he must’ve done something right.
Marky Marks – 3/10
The Corruptor (1999)
This time Wahlberg is on the other side of the law. Chow-Yung Fat is heading up a special team working to take down some drug-pedalling gangs in Chinatown. Wahlberg is the newbie assigned to Fat’s all-Asian squadron, and what’s worse, he’s not just white, “he’s green.” Wahlberg’s Danny Wallace strives to create a partnership with Fat’s imposing chief, but his weak stomach and parasitic father, played by an exhausted Brian Cox, makes him too vulnerable for his own good.
This tale may not be the “sizzler” the DVD cover claims, but it’s nice to see Wahlberg, a man whose characters are now routinely taking charge of every scene, in a role with such obvious vulnerability. You get to see his bare arse too, in case you’re interested.
Marky Marks – 5/10
Three Kings (1999)
How should we define what it is ‘to hold’? According to one online outlet, it is to “grasp, carry, or support with one’s arms or hands”. Though the rifle is strapped across Wahlberg’s back on the poster for Three Kings, I’d say it is being supported by the top of his shoulder and therefore sneaks onto this list.
Three Kings, an early peak in the career of David O. Russell, takes a satirical snap at the heels of America’s post-Gulf War conduct. Rounding out a three piece containing Clooney and Cube, Ice, Wahlberg is a new-father in the afterglow of war. His short back and sides fits like Lego hair as he epitomises the soldier having a bit too much fun.
When a map is found, alluding to the locations of Saddam Hussain’s gold caches, Wahlberg’s Barlow is swept up into a scheme to pillage and plunder. He is caught by his enemies along the way, and it is here where he is given range to act. His morality shines, caring more about his family than his mission, but he is a scared kid, bullish for show, resilient for his squad. He absorbs the torture, whilst Wahlberg proves he is a dab hand at such honest emotion.
Whilst he’s seldom the prisoner in the prime of his career, 1999 was the year he proved he could be vulnerable without losing face. This was the sort of performance which had him linked to Donnie Darko.
Marky Marks – 9/10
But after two armed film posters in one year, Wahlberg took a break. In the eight years before he would be locked and loaded on advertising again, he would star in The Yards, where he holds a gun on the awful DVD box but not the poster, The Italian Job (alongside the Statham), Four Brothers (guns on poster but he’s not holding one), and Scorsese’s The Departed, for which he received an Oscar nom. He certainly didn’t take a step away from the weapons themselves.
Shooter is the story of Bob Lee Swagger, a sniper left behind enemy lines. He survives but the uber-American vet is dragged back into service through his patriotism, and soon regrets doing so. I won’t take you any further into the story just in case you are watching the Netflix Ryan Phillipe rehashing, but in all accounts, this one never screamed out for further storytelling. Antoine Fuqua did it justice.
A filled-out Wahlberg plugs Swagger’s shoes, displaying real comfort in the skin of the beer drinkin’, baseball cap wearin’ everyman. He’s 10% Stone Cold Steve Austin, with hair and military expertise. His Mission Impossible: American Sniper adventure takes him across back-road USA, fighting to prove that “one man can make a difference”. This is a Wahlberg benchmark.
Marky Marks – 6/10
Max Payne (2008)
And this is not. Stepping just out of his comfort zone, Wahlberg passed into the realm of fantasy. Ghouls, gats and a Russian Mila Kunis welcome him into a video game adaptation that is little different from his norm.
In his most comfortable on-screen profession, a cop, Wahlberg’s Detective Max Payne is a gruff man of the law. Payne is mourning the death of his family, hunting the underbelly of society to get his revenge. This society is obsessed with some kind of blue liquid drug, which offers a weird mix of psychedelic hallucinations and super-abilities. In truth, it does little good for anyone, let alone the story. Max Payne is surprisingly flat and fails to dispel the theory that you can’t make a good videogame movie.
Wahlberg has less to do than usual, glaring, mourning and fighting, failing to find room to charm. Payne is a quiet loner and brings misery to anyone who ever loved him. The character slides from scene to scene with little change or expression. Even the pairing next to Kunis does little to soften Payne’s grumbled exterior, except in the credits scene, where the pair pitch for a sequel. Thankfully for us, and Mark, one never came.
Marky Marks – 3/10
The Other Guys (2010)
After seeing such a serious Wahlberg, it was due time to turn the seriousness down. Comedy came next with Wahlberg adapting his hard-nosed act into something a little more left of centre. First came Date Night, playing Tina Fey’s forever shirtless ex-client, and then The Other Guys. Under the leadership of long-time Ferrelite, Adam McKay, Wahlberg was the straight to Will’s weird.
Following the tragic(ally stupid) deaths of the precincts’ flashiest operatives, Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson, Wahlberg’s Terry Holtz sees an opportunity to earn some trust from his fellow officers. He ropes the mild-mannered Allen Gamble into taking on a case well above their pay-grade.
The Other Guys ends up being Wahlberg’s Ted audition. His mouth is as foul as ever before, and his temper bubbles on the surface. It is a role not many could pull off with the aplomb Wahlberg manages, outstripping Ferrell for laughs and taking explosions like a seasoned pro. And that hair! His semi-bouffant is a sight to behold.
Marky Marks – 6/10
In between the swearfest with Ron Burgandy and this run-of-the-mill, do-or-die, race-against-time action thriller, Wahlberg piled on the muscle for David O. Russell’s marvellous The Fighter. Despite his success using his hands as weapons, it didn’t take him long to be reunited with his shiny chrome allies.
In his first collaboration with Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur, Wahlberg plays the houdini of car smuggling, forced to come out of retirement, that chestnut, to save his brother-in-law’s life. It’s Grade-A blue-collar American hero material. He is hard-working, stern and resistant to authority; the film’s most amusing moments come when he is undermining ‘the man’, J.K. Simmons.
Wahlberg barely breaks a sweat. After pushing himself and his work two years previous, Wahlberg’s range is more modest here. Frankly, he could do this with his eyes closed, but that isn’t his way. Though it often sounds like he is only speaking in one of two tones, disinterested and interested, Wahlberg serves exactly what’s on the menu: 109 minutes of twisting action thrills. Yes, it’s nice, simple money, but a decent shooter comes out the other side. And for all you Rogue One fans, Diego Luna stars.
Marky Marks – 5/10
Broken City (2013)
Wahlberg’s next gun-posing outing is a case of unrealised ambition. Broken City is a dark, twisting political thriller which shoots high, and misses wide. Mark plays a local cop accused of murder. He gets off, but ends up stuck in a noose, tied by an orange-faced bully.
Wahlberg drinks, fights, frowns but also regrets. It is mildly exciting seeing his noose tighten, but Broken City never makes it feel like Crowe’s big, bad wolf could ever get away clean. I’d only recommend this one to Wahlberg completionists.
Marky Marks – 2/10
2 Guns (2013)
(Deep breath, everyone. We’re almost home.) The Broken City misstep was short-lived and thankfully, Wahlberg soon amped up the flair. Michael Bay’s sour-tasting Pain And Gain followed before Wahlberg popped his wheels back on track by teaming up with a bona fide megastar.
Wahlberg pairs with Denzel Washington to rob a bank. The pair bicker, witter and fight like an old married couple, until they find out that they were both working undercover – one for the law and the other the military. This mess drops both men into trouble, leading them into a plot to get revenge on all who have wronged them.
2 Guns is a more than serviceable action flick, with Wahlberg flourishing in his comfort zone. He is salty, spitting vitriol at drug lords and tattooed heavies. He is a sharpshooter; missing is never an option. He is a good person despite his rough edges. Wahlberg knows where is bread-is-buttered, and it’s with characters just like this.
Marky Marks – 7/10
Lone Survivor (2013)
And then it’s straight back to his other role. Wahlberg alternates from the foul-mouthed law-bender to the super-patriot sharpshooter, playing real life Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell. Wahlberg leads a band of bare-knuckle brothers on a dangerous mission that goes awry. The title is a tad spoilery, but as you can imagine, it features camo-clad warriors pushing themselves “harder and faster than anyone could think possible”.
Despite the fact that the villain is painted as little more than a savage man without earlobes, Lone Survivor is a decent tribute to a true American story. Statements such as “I am the Reaper” prevent the group from being wholly sympathetic, but Lone Survivor moves past the Call Of Duty feeling to serve as a moving testament to lives taken before their time. It has a heart, carried on Wahlberg’s shoulders, but it also has plenty more guns than 2 Guns, for those wanting some rounds to be fired. Wahlberg channels his most reliable characteristics, convincing through his strength and vulnerability in the same hand.
Marky Marks – 5/10
Transformers: Age Of Extinction (2014)
In 2014 Wahlberg took over the Transformers mantle from Shia LaBeouf. In a role very familiar to the Boston boy, he gave the ever-changing machines something a little new – some credibility.
He plays a van-driving workman, decked out with a trucker hat and shining shades to show his rough, reflective exterior. He reminisces about his past female conquests and out-jocks TJ Miller with his bulging biceps. But, as soon as he swaps his shades for bifocals, he’s a maverick inventor with a heart of gold.
Wahlberg is the excuse. Widely panned by critics and fans alike, partly for being a quarter of an hour longer than the universe-spanning 2001: A Space Odyssey, Age of Extinction moves from set piece to set piece with little discernible narrative progression in the meantime. Wahlberg tidies the mess and offers the franchise a name that can be trusted. Keep your three hours and do literally anything else with it. I’ve some paint if you’d like to see it dry?
Marky Marks – 2/10
Patriots Day (2017)
And finally we come to today. On February 23, Mark Wahlberg’s latest film where he holds a gun on the poster will drop into UK cinemas. This is a film close to home. Patriots Day is the account of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing, and the following hunt for the terrorists involved.
Though, as Wahlberg puts it, ”the wounds are far from healed” in his hometown, he may be the man best equipped to tell this story. He plays Sergeant Tommy Saunders, a fictional character created to tell the story, but with relationships with those who were actively involved in the fateful day. Working alongside Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons and Michelle Monaghan, let us hope that Wahlberg can spearhead a true testament to the heart and strength of those who responded to the tragic events that took place on April 15 2013.
And there you have it. You made it through all twelve Mark Wahlberg films where he holds a gun on the poster. Feel free to print yourself off a congratulatory certificate. This is certainly going on my CV. Since 1998 Wahlberg has moved on from the young, red, white and blue buck to a soaring, rippling eagle. He is best as a working class hero, a regular Joe, thrust into circumstances beyond his control, but never beyond his reach. Wahlberg has saved lives, tackled corruption and even battled intergalactic robots, but he always seems to fit the bill. He is a unique talent – a throwback of sorts. In a world that has largely moved past unbelievable action stars like Dolph Lundgren and JCVD, Wahlberg retains some of their most charming and desirable characteristics whilst keeping thing buried in reality. He’s an actor we should cherish.
Especially when he’s on the poster, with gun in hand.