Like every kid, back in the 80’s I had all of them. From Destro to Jinx, Cobra Commander to Sgt Slaughter. I had a hovercraft, a base, and many HISS Tanks, though never the Holy Grail of an aircraft carrier. With the amazing kung-fu grips and life like weapons I could have shocked and awed many a miniature plastic republics. Every afternoon I watched the cartoon sometimes with the figurines as welcome co-viewers. Plastic and cartoonish is how I remember that world, and now with Steven Sommers’ new film “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” my attitude hasn’t changed. This clunky two hours is painfully unsubtle, sophomoric, sanitized, and against all of my better judgments, pretty fun.
The McGuffin is four metal eating warheads which are stolen from their guards Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) by the Baroness (Sienna Miller). She is working for the nefarious McCullen (Christopher Eccelson) and his weapons manufacturing company M.A.R.S. – think Lockheed Martin on steroids. The only thing that can stop them is the underground, multi-national task force G.I. Joe – think U.N. Security forces with some cojones and lasers.
The script, by Stuart Beatie and David Elliot & Paul Lovett, puts forth some New World Order conspiracy theorizing about the role of arms dealers and the state of international war and terrorism, but to fully understand it you would have to keep your brain on during the film. If you were to keep your brain on it would be impossible to enjoy. This film takes so much suspension of disbelief that if you aren’t careful you might not remember you even exist. Crazy accelerator suits, nanites that can control your brain, Atlantis type underwater cities were all fine, but an American President with an English accent (Jonathan Price) was just too much to take.
But I shut my brain off, stopped trying to make sense of the madness, and then it all clicked. One major difference in this film from the cartoon is that lot of people buy the farm. Despite their red and blue lasers in the Hasbro sponsored cartoon the death toll, even among the red-shirts, was always kept to a minimum. Here the carnage is everywhere, bloodless and PG-13 as it is. Civilians get the worst of it especially during a particularly ostentatious and violent chase through Paris. If my brain were on I might have noticed that there were no French soldiers in “G.I. Joe,” (the closest is a French speaking Moroccan played by Said Taghmaoui) and this destruction of the beloved capital might be some imagined retribution for the country’s scant support of U.N. (read American) endeavors in the real life Middle East.
If my brain were on I might have noticed the contradictory, and simplistic idea that war is nothing more than business, and soldiers little more than dice in the crap shoot that is global battle. But I was concentrating on the fun flashback in which a young Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow battle it out in a kitchen over some stolen noodles. Watching to pre-teen martial arts masters brutally battle it out was a pleasant surprise.
If my brain were on I might have been offended by the cartoonish depiction of terrorism, I would have remembered the complexity of issues surrounding Al Qaeda or Al Shabbab or any of the other organizations that are hell bent on making these colors run. But the weird climactic battle that was very reminiscent of the third act of “Return of the Jedi” stole away my attention. Analogs include the following: M.A.R.S headquarters as Death Star 2, Baroness as Darth Vader, Cobra Commander as Emperor Palpatine, and a small submarine as the Millennium Falcon.
The effects look really expensive at times, and cheap at others. As Duke and Ripcord marauded through Paris in their accelerator suits the effects were impeccable, but larger vistas looked ten years out of date, CGI wise. There is little to say about the performances above the fact that Channing Tatum is wooden, and Marlon Wayans is typical. Dennis Quaid. Rachel Nichols. They’re in the movie, that’s about all there is to say. The lines are canned, and the chemistry is non-existent so it is hard to say who is to blame other than the audience for providing the market for this kind of film.
Early in the year rumors swirled the internet that Sommers had been fired by the studio, and Lorenzo di Bonaventura was told that his services on the film would no longer be required. Reports came out of early screenings that the picture tested worse than any other film in Paramount Pictures history. Watching “Rise of Cobra” the validity of those rumors is hard to refute or confirm. Strangely this movie could be one of the worst of the year, and also one of the best. Honestly I don’t know. The humor has all the subtlety of a hammer to the face, but the action is so over the top and laughable it is amusing to see what kind of insanity will come next.
This film was light-years more entertaining than the other 80’s toy rehash of this year, “Transformers,” and while everything in my brain should have been yelling at me to run for the hills, escape this bombastic and childish romp., my brain was switched off. No amount of rationalizing can account for some of the blaring flaws of “G.I. Joe,” but the film itself didn’t seem to care. It was a confident geek doing the electric slide with the hottest cheerleader at prom. We all know it is wrong, that it nothing good will come of it, but I’ll be damned if it ain’t a sight to see.
El Luchador Rating: 3 out of 5 (3 out of 5)
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)