A film review by Craig J. Koban August 13, 2009
G.I. JOE: RISE OF COBRA
2009, PG-13, 118 mins.
2009, PG-13, 118 mins.
Duke: Channing Tatum / Ripcord: Marlon Wayans / Gen. Hawk: Dennis
Quaid / Heavy Duty: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje / McCullen/Destro:
Christopher Eccleston / The Doctor/Rex: Joseph Gordon-Levitt / Storm
Shadow: Byung-hun Lee / Ana/Baroness: Sienna Miller / Scarlett:
Rachel Nichols / Snake Eyes: Ray Park / U.S. President: Jonathan
Pryce / Breaker: Said Taghmaoui
I have always had a fondness for action figures.
are not dolls…dammit.
My childhood was fixated squarely on two distinct types in the early to mid-1980’s: STAR WARS and G.I. JOE, with a near-zealot like fascination being attributed to the former. I had a few of the original militant-themed and fully posable Hasbro figures from the JOE line and I will always remember the description on the back of their packaging, which certainly felt alluring to any 8-year-old: G.I. Joe is the code name for America’s daring, highly trained special mission force. Its purpose is to defend human freedom against Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.”
Um…okay…global warfare…nefarious and vile villains…and an
arsenal of technologically advanced patriotic heroes looking to decimate
them…what tyke wouldn't eat that up?
Alas, the JOE action figures only maintained my minimal interests. I would take the few that I had out of the toy chest, engage in all-out-battle for world supremacy on my bedroom floor, would get unavoidably tired with them, and would then proceed to retire the figures back to their chest so that I could reward myself more fully with re-enacting my favourite civil war from a galaxy far, far away with my most cherished toy line.
In many ways, my feelings
towards the JOE toys kind of sums up my thoughts regarding Stephen Sommers’
new, $175 million dollar film adaptation of them:
G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA pretty much replicates what a
child’s perception of a movie involving all of their favourite JOE
action figures would be like. It’s
crammed to the wall with loud, brazen, colorful, and flashy visual
effects spectacle. Beyond that, it contains a mercilessly inane plot that is secondary
to showing off the geeked-out and pumped up heroes spouting out
galactically lame, pro-military one-liners
while dishing out justice to the despicable villains.
As far as films based on toy lines, this one has no pretensions
about aiming for a pre-teen target audience.
Those in the twelve and under crowd will most definitely find G.I.
JOE’s comic book/pulp machismo delightfully infectious.
For all others that have achieved puberty and beyond, you just may
be fleeing for the exits from all of the film’s bombastic, ear-piercing
sounds and its eye-gouging visual overkill.
Just like the JOE toys in my closet, this film held my easy
interest for a little while, but I quickly became annoyed with it,
abandoned it, and very quickly forgot it altogether.
JOE does take a decided
detour away from the immensely pro-American toy line:
The Joes in the film are not Yankees (as was the case with the toys
and the cartoon series that accompanied it);
rather, these new heroes are a more PC multi-international elite strike force from nations all over the
world (which, no doubt, acts as a defense against people slamming the film as a
staunch and aggressive bit of Americanized war-mongering propaganda).
Hell, even G.I. JOE is now an acronym for “Global Integrated
Joint Operating Entity,” which sounds deliriously and conveniently made
up. Alas, acronyms make
something sound more sophisticated than it is…but I
Anyways, back to the story.
In the film’s decently thrilling opening action sequence we see
the militarily mighty Joes – led by their leader, General Hawk (a gruff
and remorselessly stiff and wooden Dennis Quaid) – attempting to come to
the aid of a Nato military escort that is transporting “cutting edge” nano-weapons. By
cutting edge I am
referring to nanomites, which, if attached to a missile, have the
ability to eat their targets by dissolving their matter into a cloud of
green goo (why green...I
have no idea). Even
worse is that the nanomites will never stop eating their prey unless
tipped off by a fail-safe. One
thing I will never understand about these pesky nanos is how they don’t
manage to eat away at the containers they’re housed in.
At least ANGELS AND DEMONS from
earlier this summer had a delectably batty
explanation to explain how the anti-matter was contained in their
warheads: They were housed in airtight, namo-composite shells.
The nanomite technology is the
brainchild of a scientist named McCullen (played by former Doctor Who
Christopher Eccleston, given one of the most exasperatedly bad Scottish
accents in many a moon) who steals it back from the people he sold it to
so that he can sell it to the bad guys so they can, well, you know, use it
to eat prominent world landmarks and hold the world ransom.
The bad guys are, of course, Cobra (they do not have an acronym for
their name, but I would suggest Corrupt Oppressive Badasses Ransacking
America….and the world in general).
During the opening skirmish -
which nearly leads to the nano technology being stolen by Cobra - many of
the regular Joes are killed. Some
of the survivors include the two Nato soldiers that were on duty to protect
the bombs, Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayons).
Things are really complicated for Duke in particular, seeing as the
evil and sultry Cobra spy, the Baroness (Sienna Miller, barely
recognizable, by feisty and ultra-sexy here, thanks to her form fitting
leather jump suit) once was engaged to poor old Duke
(which is revealed in a series of the film’s many awkwardly assembled
flashbacks). Thankfully, Duke
and Ripcord are rescued by the elite Joes, comprised of Scarlet
(Rachel Nichols, nicely rounding out the film’s high quotient of
laughably gratuitous T&A), the curiously mute, but lethal and stealthy Snake
Eyes (Ray “Darth Maul” Park), and Heavy Duty (LOST’s Adewale
Akinnuoye-Agbaje...I hope I spelled that right).
The Joes convince Duke and Ripcord to return with them to the secret headquarters, The Pitt, which is inexplicably “hidden” under a large, sand covered desert hill in Northern Africa (Question: how does the sand not sway around and off of the super secret entrance way? Do the Joes have men that are on the spot 24/7 to sweep the sand back over top of it?). Needless to say, Hawk likes what he sees in Ripcord and Duke and decides to train them, Joe-style, for the coming battle against Cobra, and the enemy does come fast and furious when Cobra daringly raids the Joe’s stronghold to steal that nasty nano-bomb. And those nanomites are awfully hungry when released.
On a positive, G.I. JOE is so
outlandishly silly that calling it cartoonish almost feels redundant.
No viewer with a reasonable level head will take any moment of this film
seriously – it festers with schlock and cheese through and through.
The film draws worthy comparisons to this summer’s borderline
REVENGE OF THE FALLEN in the sense that both are
based on inordinately cherished Hasbro toy lines.
Outside coming from the same manufacturer, the similarities
between the two quickly erode: Michael Bay is a textbook movie nihilist that indefensibly punishes his audiences with his
trademark brand of audio-visual diarrhea: he has a smug contempt for the
people he claims to be making films for.
When it comes to Sommers et al, there seems to be a conscious
effort here of crafting an entertainment that is less aggravating, less
self-indulgently bloated, and far more campy good fun than was present in
any second of the TRANSFORMERS sequel. There is a sense of outrageous disregard to logic and reality
in G.I. JOE, and the film may be equally preposterous, flashy and
noisy as Bay’s, but Sommer’s ultra-modern sheen and impermeable action
figure-esque posturing is definitely more satisfying and enjoyable.
The film also does not suffer from the arrogant grandstanding of
TRANSFORMERS: I do sincerely believe that some of the actors in
JOE know they are in a bad film, but in TRANSFORMERS’ case…I am not
Sommers may be a far cry
off of his assured action-adventure pedigree that he flaunted with the first
MUMMY film, but there is no denying that some of set pieces in JOE pack an
exhilarating bang. The
opening scene is feverous and intense, but hands down the film’s
center-piece - a show stopping 15 minute sequence highlighting the Joes trying
to head off the Baroness from destroying the Eiffel Tower – is
undeniably nifty and well orchestrated. It is at this point where the film’s extreme sense
ridiculous fun comes to the forefront:
During it we see Duke and Ripcord suited up with special armored gear
called Accelerator Suits, which, obviously enough, accelerates a human
being to near Superman extremes. They can make the men run 100 miles an
hour, leap tall buildings at a single bound, and allows them to become
imperious to all weapons fire (granted, I still am not sure how these
suits do not utterly destroy their muscles and joints and cook their
internal organs to a soup-like consistency). Make no mistake
about it, the scene that made its way on all of the trailers and in turn made all of
the fanboys on the chat rooms deeply anxious emerges as one of the more
blustery and nonsensically spirited action sequences this summer.
here is where the accolades end: G.I. JOE - despite its giddy intrigue and
flashiness - is nonetheless horrendously acted, which is not assisted in
the slightest by some of the most banal, witless, and head-shakingly dumb
one-liners and exchanges I’ve heard all year.
Even though Marlon Wayons shows a bit more charm and comic
feistiness than I was expecting – he is the film’s only bright spot
that seems to be having fun – the rest of the cast is uniformly
God-awful. Quaid is in pure,
phoned-in, paycheck mode as Hawk, who simultaneously appears like he does
not want to be in the film and that he has no idea what he’s doing. Sienna Miller and Rachel Nichols act with their cleavage and
A few MUMMY alumni show up in some unmemorable cameos that feel
more distracting than they should.
Two performances in particular
take the proverbial cake: Channing Tatum is clearly aiming for the Keanu
Reeves Lifetime Achievement Award for stoic and expressionless acting as
Duke: he maintains not one scintilla of range, charisma, or emotion
here, and his chemistry with Miller is so half baked that food poisoning
of the audience is the terrible side effect of tasting it.
And in WTF was he thinking mode is one actor that I shall not name
because of its spoilerish possibilities, but let’s just say that I think he
is one of the strongest young actors to have emerged in the last few
years. Regrettably, in JOE he gives a performance as the main Cobra villain that
would make Ed Wood blush with envy.
Villains should be menacing and frightening, not funny.
Villains should be menacing and frightening, not funny.
On certain levels, I see where Sommers is aiming with the material: attempts were made at appeasing the young child-action figure chic that was once in all of us while appropriating some clear James Bondian intrigue to conciliate adult viewers (there are some obvious appropriations from classic Bond lore: world spanning locations including the villain’s underwater lair, the unstoppable world destroying weapons, the femme fatales, the super sophisticated and futuristic gadgets, etc). The film looks good, to be sure, but at $175 million, a lot of the CGI effects look shockingly fake and unfinished when compared to the film’s accelerator suit action piece. The film is also DOA when it comes to character development, dialogue, and performances (some that seem in on the joke and wink to the camera, and some that don’t). All in all, G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA is far and away the more innocuously entertaining film about toy soldiers come to life this summer and it is pretty much what most of us have come to expect: it’s eclectically satisfying while being a completely forgettable, throwaway summer tent-pole extravaganza. Like the original 3 and ¾ inch scale action figures of my innocent youth, this is a film that ultimately deserves to be thrown back into a cinematic toy box to collect dust.