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Fall In, Marines! - Assembling the Greatest Movie Marines in One Squad

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January 1, 2024
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Standing in the smoke pit this morning looking at my rapidly ascending fortunes on the unit’s fantasy football league (thanks for the three points, Pittsburg; why are so many things from your city a disappointment?) it occurred to me that assembling a roster of heroes shouldn’t be much more difficult than a roster of NFL players. Where better to find heroes than Marines, especially of the action movie variety that are impervious to bullet damage and walk away from explosions without looking back? 

Maj. Benson Winifred Payne (Damon Wayans) – Plt Commander / Training Officer

Major Payne (1995) – “Maj. Benson Payne (Damon Wayans) lives, breathes, and sleeps war. But after being honorably discharged from the Marines due to a lack of wars, Payne, the natural-born killer, has absolutely no idea how to cope in everyday civilian life. Fortunately, before he completely breaks down, Payne finds his way back into a military capacity at Madison Preparatory School, leading a group of misfit JROTC students who don't want to be led.”

If you’ve passed boot camp and this movie doesn’t make you do at least one spit take, consult a doctor because your sense of humor is busted. Maj. Payne is the definition of a hard dicked dragon slayer; given his scuba and jump devices as well as the opening scene of the movie portraying a successful raid on a South American drug operation with only his Colt 1911, there is no combat operation he can’t handle. Among the Major’s special skills are hand to hand combat, expert marksmanship, break dancing in formal uniform, devastating wisecracks, and sheer intimidation.

1st Lt. Frank “Punisher” Castle Sr. (Multiple Actors) – Special Operations     

Punisher (Various Comics, Movies, Television Series) – “A former Marine out to punish the criminals responsible for his family's murder finds himself ensnared in a military conspiracy.”

Originally appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 (1974) as an assassin and enemy of the web slinging hero, Frank Castle was given new life as his own character with his own series. Enlisting in the US Marine Corps to serve in Vietnam, Castle saw several combat deployments during that conflict. Rising through the ranks to become a member of Force Reconnaissance and commissioning as an officer, Castle was a demon in combat with few rivals. Eventually returning home only to see his family murdered by organized crime, he becomes the Punisher, the very spirit of violent vengeance. Slaying everybody that gets in his way, Castle exists as most antiheroes do; destroying criminals by any means necessary is his sole consuming purpose. Aside from extensive training and experience in weapons, guerilla warfare, and physical violence, he can take an almost obscene amount for damage from his enemies and continue fighting. As long as he understands that rules of engagement still apply, few would serve better as a fighter-leader.

2nd Lt. John Patrick Ryan Sr. (Multiple Actors) – Intel Officer, Covert Operations      

Multiple Books, Movies, Television Series – “Up-and-coming CIA analyst, Jack Ryan, is thrust into dangerous field assignments.”

Created by Tom Clancy in the novel The Hunt for Red October (1984), Jack Ryan started his long and action-packed career as a Marine Infantry Platoon Commander. After his helicopter goes down (either in training or combat, depending on the source) Ryan’s back is broken and his career effectively stalled. Different media changes his backstory here and there, but essentially, he ends up as an instructor at the US Naval Academy, and then an ‘analyst’ for the Central Intelligence Agency. Ryan’s tactical skills are fairly well rounded, but where he excels is turning raw intelligence into actionable intelligence, foiling enemy plots at the cyclic rate. With Ryan on the team, the High Value Target IS in the house you get sent to, instead of five blocks over.

MGySgt. Thomas Beckett / (Tom Berenger) – Surveillance and Target Acquisition

Sniper (1993) – “A veteran US Marine sniper is partnered with a rookie sniper as his spotter to take out a politician and a rebel leader in the jungles of Panama.”

Before you mail anthrax to my house, hear me out. Was the movie terrible? Yes. Were the villains cartoon characters? Also, yes. Despite these facts, MGySgt Beckett is a solid block of death dealing ice. “One shot, one kill, no exceptions” is a line he delivers without a single eye roll or trace of exasperation and watching him take the piss out of Billy Zane’s Richard Miller gives a few moments of crusty Marine humor. Most importantly, after being tortured and having his trigger finger cut off by the cackling hyena of a villain, still manages to shoot a bad guy chasing his partner… Off handed… tea cupping the pistol… in a monsoon… in the rotor wash of a helo… Apparently the man can’t miss.

Sgt Marc Spector (Oscar Issac) – Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor / Trainer        

Marvel Comics (Various Comics, Television Series) – “Steven Grant discovers he's been granted the powers of an Egyptian moon god. But he soon finds out that these newfound powers can be both a blessing and a curse to his troubled life.”

Debuted in Werewolf by Night #32 (1975), Marc Spector began much as Punisher did; a villain bent on the downfall of the hero of the story he appeared in. Unlike Punisher, after being hired to take out the main character, he realizes he is on the wrong side and helps him instead.

As with most comics, the background of the characters can shift and change, but one thing remains the same: Marc Spector was a Marine, and a good one. Gaining a very early entry into Force Reconnaissance, he quickly becomes one of the best fighters in his unit, with a heavy interest in hand-to-hand combat (he was either an underground boxer in Baghdad or before he enlisted, depending on what you read). After three years of kicking down doors for freedom, Spector gets caught and discharged… for lying on his enlistment paperwork about his mental illness. Speaking as a Marine I’m still not sure if it’s the mental illness or the dishonesty the Corps actually cared about. Spector becomes a CIA operative and a mercenary, before allowing the spirit of the being the Egyptians worshiped as a moon god, Khonshu, use him as an avatar named Moon Knight to create justice through violence. Fairly standard stuff, right?

Importantly, aside from some psychic ability, the comic version of Moon Knight doesn’t have powers. Spector’s combat strength as well as resistance to pain and damage are due to the training and discipline of having been a Marine. One Mind, Any Weapon indeed.

Honorable mention: General Francis Xavier Hummel- Force Recon

The Rock (1996)- “You call it what you want! You're down there, we're up here! You walked into the wrong damn room, Commander!”

Frank Hummel is kind of the A New Hope version of Darth Vader in this movie. You don’t get to see him be super badass, but his backstory is painted well enough to know he’s not to be trifled with. He also uses force (pun intended) to correct what he sees as a grave injustice, and ultimately finds some redemption in the end. 

With our leadership selected, filling in the ranks provides no real challenge. Marines are known for a great many things, but the top of that roster is mission accomplishment. It’s really no wonder that so many figures from fictional media that either begin or end as heroes come from the Corps; nothing beats the indelible combination of intense training and deep-seated trauma. My question then becomes who would you choose?

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