August 8, 2009

Review: Half the Battle – 'G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra'

"G.I. Joe is what it's like to be an action figure." — Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Let's get this straight. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is not a good movie but it is, however, kind of bad ass in parts. You cannot simply just watch this movie, you must "watch the sh*t out of [it]". Director Stephen Sommers, from The Mummy and Van Helsing, has truly crafted a live action cartoon slickly and slyly with tons of action. Nothing slows this thing down, especially not plot. This bears no resemblance to any kind of reality.

I almost consider G.I. Joe outside the realm of conventional film criticism, because based on those parameters I would consider this terrible. It captures the simplicity, altruism, good vs. evil nature of childhood toys and entertainment. Despite an unspectacular trailer and some bad buzz online, I was optimistic G.I. Joe would deliver the goods. I had hoped this would not be another immature, indulgent, overblown, overlong, machination about American militarism and was somewhat pleased at the coherent action sequences that aimed for an international scope.

G.I. Joe is an entertaining cinematic experience that you could call "enjoyable trash". This film is beyond preposterous but remains fun, disposable entertainment that is very watchable and has no business being at all decent.

I will not bother to summarize the involved plot or character background that are jam-packed into this 118 minute roller coaster ride. G.I. Joe has non-stop action with some pretty bad CGI that only gives way for the least amount of story and exposition possible by employing flashbacks to establish character motivations, which is somewhat efficient and economical. These scenes are kind of bland but move character arcs forward, quickly. I found it jarring that so many Joes had highly convenient past personal relationships with major villains in the antagonist terrorist organization, Cobra, in order to move things along. The binding of characters together weakened the already thin plot. I did enjoy the constant reference by characters to each others ridiculous code names, no matter how silly sounding it was calling people Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes, Ripcord, Heavy Duty, or Breaker. G.I. Joe feels like a boy's cinematic wet dream realized on film.

Seeing a new city being destroyed on screen instead of New York was amusing. It was a nice jab at France to lay utter waste to the streets of Paris. Much has been made of the accelerator suit action sequence through Paris seen in ads. Out of context, it seems pretty gimmicky and clunky, but in the film, while still incredibly preposterous, it plays as fun and thrilling. It is funny how, in G.I. Joe, the entire setup and payoff from a film like Iron Man is duplicated in just a couple of scenes. In fact, G.I. Joe is probably more realistic in that segment, but just does not bother explaining itself. All the action is easy to follow and is straightforward in maintaining coherency. The character origins seemed rushed in sort of a streamlined manner and simplified to the bare minimum in order to justify more fast-moving action. Certain plot points are outstandingly illogical if thought of at all. There are also inordinate amount of villains in the film. Sommers inserts a few easter eggs and nods for fans.

The cast is serviceable but far from great. Channing Tatum (Step Up) is so uncharismatic and spectacularly uninteresting as the miscast central character, Duke. Rachel Nichols (Alias) lights up the screen with a fun, campy performance as the smart but sexy Scarlett. Ray Park (aka Darth Maul), who is never out of costume, as the mute ninja Snake Eyes is a literal translation from the source material. Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie) is Marlon Wayans as he tries way too hard and is terribly unfunny and out of place.

Christopher Eccleston hams it up appropriately as the villainous Destro. Sienna Miller, shedding her serious indie roles, has a lot of fun and gets the tone of movie right as the voluptuous yet duplicitous Baronness in a skin-tight leather outfit. Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings some much needed theatrics and actual acting to a pretty shallow, stupid character in Cobra Commander. By far the standout, however, is Korean superstar Lee Byung-hun as Storm Shadow, who plays it straight and is fun to watch. Lee takes his role very seriously as he really exemplifies a great, fun, evil ninja assassin dressed all in white. He steals most scenes he is in, particularly when not hampered by his full ninja outfit. Most do the best with what they are given (not much) and others are just bland or forgettable.

"Would you look at that? Real American heroes... "
I thought G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra lived up mildly to expectations as a real-life cartoon in every sense. "This is an adult's interpretation of a childhood phenomenon." If you have any interest in this film at all, you will probably be marginally satisfied as it delivers a relatively fun, simple, action-packed, nostalgic adventure ride. It admirably achieves at what it sets out to do in delivering mindless spectacle and campy fun, efficiently.

The film generally stands on its own well enough (not greatly, mind you) apart from the forty plus years of G.I. Joe mythology. This is the kind of big budget, manufactured, action-packed, popcorn studio fare I find tolerable. At least it did not feel self-serious, important or indulgent like a Michael Bay film. If you know what you are getting into with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra then half the battle is over with, so just try to enjoy the ride. However, I am sure the movie will only deteriorate the more I think about it, but then again, I am over the age of ten. "Yo Joe!" indeed.
"Guns, tits, ass, no acting!" Sienna Miller

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