I went into G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra fully expecting to be disgusted. I absolutely hated the last Hasbro film adaptation I saw (Michael Bay's Transformers in 2007), and while I've been less disgusted by the action films I've seen by director Stephen Sommers -- Van Helsing and several entries in The Mummy series -- that's largely because I dug them out of DVD bargain bins and could watch them at my leisure. Without the ability to review any potentially confusing action scenes or pause the films to pour myself another drink (or go to bed and save the remainder of the movies for another night), I imagine that I would have found them to be fairly unpleasant as well. So considering Hasbro's previous track record, the cost of a movie ticket these days, and the fact that theater viewing doesn't allow for rewinding or (extended) pausing -- not to mention the abundance of negative critical reviews of the film -- I was prepared to walk out of the theater shaking my fist at the sky and cursing the evil overlords for raping and butchering yet another piece of my childhood (albeit a small one, since I never got into G.I. Joe much as a kid). Nevertheless, because I think Christopher Eccleston is fantastic (and who doesn't like sexy action girls in fetish gear?), I had to go see the bloody movie.
And you know what? I was pleasantly surprised! While the film definitely had its share of stupidity -- more on that in a bit -- the characters were mostly well played. I mean, I was completely expecting to hate Marlon Wayans's portrayal of Ripcord, but he mostly managed to keep it on the non-hateful side of the thin line that separates welcome comic relief and painfully annoying clown stereotype. As James McCullen, Eccleston was
great fantastic as always. Even Rachel Nichols's Scarlett, who spent much of the movie rebuffing Ripcord's flirtations, came across as that likeable hard-to-get girl instead of a frigid meanie (as Hillary Clinton learned on the eve of the 2008 New Hampshire primary, tears have a tendency to help in that respect). Sienna Miller's Baroness was well fit and smoldering, and Byung-Hun Lee's Storm Shadow was appropriately cold and menacing. And Ray Park's Snake Eyes was mute and handy with a sword, which I guess is all he needed to be. Now, I do have a tendency to make distinctions between bad acting and poor characterization -- unless it's Keanu Reeves terrible, bad acting rarely registers with me -- so I can't say that the acting itself was all that great (Eccleston notwithstanding). But I can say that the actors did well enough in their respective roles and created more/less believable characters (in the context of the cartoonish summer action film that was G.I. Joe, anyway), so I was pleased with their performances.
To my surprise, the action sequences were also well done and engaging. I'm rarely a fan of pure action films -- they generally contain a lot of chaotic shooting and explosions that make it very hard to follow what's going on, which causes me to lose interest quickly -- but while the movie's first action sequence was initially a little confusing, the others were actually quite engaging and easy to follow. Car chase sequences usually bore the hell out of me, so it's to G.I. Joe's credit that it had one of the most captivating chases that I've seen in years. I think it's because, instead of speeding through Paris on motorcycles or in flashy sportscars (or military jeeps), the heroes donned the much-maligned accelerator suits and ran after the enemy vehicle... and I guess I find pumping legs and swinging arms and leaping and rolling to be more visually interesting than spinning wheels and swerving vehicles and exhaust clouds. I'm also not much of a fan of aerial chases in films, but Ripcord's solo mission had enough radio contact with the base team -- as well as a puzzle to solve! -- to render it compelling as well. I do always love a good swordfight, though, and I'm pleased to report that the clashes between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow did not disappoint.
Now for the bad parts of the film. Notice how I kept using the word "mostly" up there when referring to the actors and their portrayals of various characters? Channing Tatum's Duke is the exception. In his review, Nathan of The Dork Dimension writes, "You know when a rabbit looks at you with those blank, glassy eyes and you realize that there is no intelligent thought behind them whatsoever? That's Duke." I couldn't have said it better myself, though I think rabbits evince far more intelligence than Tatum as Duke. On the other hand, that kind of guy would probably make the perfect soldier, since he'd follow orders to the letter (assuming they were simple enough for him to comprehend) and wouldn't ask questions ever. Cobra has mind-wiped zombie troops; the Joes have Duke Dullard. He was so bad that when his character actually did something highly intelligent (stealing a move from the Doctor's playbook, even), I called bullshit.
With respect to the film's other issues, I should reiterate that I was never a big fan of G.I. Joe as a kid -- a bunch of guys shooting at each other just never seemed all that appealing to me, and the toys were kind of small and dinky compared to the awesomeness of the old Playmates TMNT line -- and, as such, I wasn't particularly offended by any of the changes to the characters' backgrounds. For instance, whereas Snake Eyes usually doesn't speak in other Joe continuities due to some crippling injury, the film's version is mute because he's taken a vow of silence. I don't think it's that big a deal (I'd always assumed he was doing the vow of silence thing, largely because it's such a familiar practice to me and because he cries, "Yo Joe!" along with everyone else in the old Konami arcade game), but I can see why that would upset longtime fans. That said, I can also see why the filmmakers would make that change -- the movie wasn't Snake Eyes: Origins, after all, and for expediency's sake it was likely easier to connect his silence to the parts of Snake Eyes's history that they did have time to show (his upbringing with Storm Shadow and the murder of Hard Master).
Even with my lack of Joe familiarity, however, some changes did strike me as being completely pointless -- like the romantic backstory involving Duke and the Baroness and the new origin story for Cobra Commander. It's almost as if Sommers didn't want to create characters who were just bad -- Zartan notwithstanding, almost every villain in the film had some tortured story of neglect or betrayal or disfiguring injury (and/or was brainwashed) to explain why he/she had turned to the dark side. That's fine for a deeper film (or at least one in which said arcs are explored in more detail), but in a live-action cartoon like G.I. Joe? I kinda want Cobra Commander to just be evil, goddamnit. Every time a villain used to fight alongside the heroes, there's the bit where the hero urges the villain to renounce his evil ways and return to the fold... and really, I can do without all of that. Yet this movie not only had that, but played the surprise sibling card as well. Meh.
But the biggest problems had to do with "Cobra"'s plot. (Cobra is in quotes, mind you, because -- despite this film being subtitled The Rise of Cobra -- the organization and its leading officers didn't truly surface until very late in the film... and were then defeated several seconds after their introductions.) Because James "Destro" McCullen prides himself on being a two-faced weapons manufacturer who "runs the wars" by selling to both sides, he sells The Ultimate Weapon to the US government... and then has Cobra steal it back. This makes no sense. I mean, I can see why McCullen wouldn't want the weapon in the hands of the US, and I get that he's been using the military funding to further his own agenda, but it didn't seem like he actually needed that American money (his organization manufactures 70% of the world's weapons, so he's not short on buyers). Plus, if he actually needed The Ultimate Weapon for Cobra, why not just make another?!? Or sell the US a defective one, or something? And while they really push the "selling to both sides" thing pretty hard in the beginning, it really doesn't make sense to do it when your organization is one of the sides. At any rate, while he gets the weapon back and is able to use it later, the Joes figure out in less than a minute that McCullen must have double-crossed them and start looking to shut him down.
The Ultimate Weapon, by the way, is a case of missiles containing nanomites that can eat through anything and reduce a city to nothing in minutes. But that's not all nanomites can do! See, the Doctor (McCullen's top scientist, not the Time Lord) has also programmed them to do a bunch of other things, like control the minds of human hosts, heal injured troops from within, and restructure faces (this is how Destro ultimately attains his metal "mask"). But considering that the Doctor himself is horribly disfigured -- and that presumably the pain of being disfigured is in large part responsible for his evil turn -- why wouldn't he just use the nanomites to heal himself? I mean, if the things can turn a human's face into poorly-rendered CGI metal, surely they could have fixed some burn scarring. And while one could argue that, being deranged and largely hidden from the cruel eyes of society, the Doctor didn't so much mind his disfigurement, one would at least expect him to use the nanomites to cure his need for a special breathing apparatus.
Of course, the longer you spend thinking about this movie, the more plot holes and nonsense you'll find... which is why I have a hard time actually recommending G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Sure, it wasn't bad, and I guess you might even call it good as far as summer blockbusters or buy-my-toy movies go -- it was certainly more enjoyable than Transformers (2007) and Terminator Salvation -- but I don't think you'll be missing anything great if you skip it altogether or wait for the DVD release. That said, if you're the kind of person who enjoys a popcorn action flick and gets a thrill out of watching films on the silver screen (I personally prefer my laptop screen), you'll probably find G.I. Joe to be well worth the price of admission. And if you're a Joe fan, you'll probably dig it as well... as long as you can ignore the character backstory changes and lack of Cobra activity for almost the entire film. If you're Cobra Commander, however, you'll be decidedly displeased.-- Wes --