Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More Than Being Bad, G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra Simply Is EXACTLY What I Expected.

The Good: Moments of action and performance (believe it or not), Moments of special effects
The Bad: Obvious merchandising, Moments of performance and special effects, Utterly predictable.
The Basics: Not as bad as I thought it would be, G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra instead suffers from being completely predictable as Summer Blockbuster Fare.

I have a pretty special type of resentment fostered against my wife in the summer of 2009 (she has plenty of issues related to my reviewing since!). We went across the country on a working vacation to Las Vegas and as we neared Las Vegas, she made it quite clear she was only going to tolerate part of the trip being work. In other words, she was not going to travel across the country only to have me spending my nights in our hotel rooms writing reviews and going to movies she suspected she would not like. As a result, I was forced to give in and not attend the free screening of G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra in Las Vegas that I managed to snag and instead pay for a ticket when we returned home. She didn't want me working, I didn't want to have to pay to see movies I suspected I wouldn't like. Grumble.

If it seems strange that I am admitting such a bias right off the bat, I have a reasonable bias against G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, which was that I did my homework. Before I went to the film, I picked up and read the trade paperback anthology G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra - Official Movie Prequel (reviewed here!). More than anything else, it was being underwhelmed by that that put me in less of a mood to watch the latest cinematic endeavor by Hasbro toys and Paramount Pictures. As Summer Blockbuster Season came to a close, G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra arrived as a nice, senseless bookend for the popcorn movie audience and while I don't recommend it, it performed far better for me than I anticipated.

That said, it is more or less impossible to enjoy G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra unless one almost immediately disengages their brain and settles in for mindless action with high predictability and more merchandising potential than any other property in recent memory. G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is essentially an hour and fifty-eight minutes of toy advertising for a whole new Hasbro line of action figures and accessories and while it might seem odd that I - who avidly reviews action figures and toys - would gripe about that, the sheer scope and number of products that keep popping up throughout the film soon becomes disturbing (the descents into the sub-surface bunkers of G.I. Joe and Cobra are essentially ToyFare or Comic-Cons on the big screen).

Opening in France in 1641, a weapon's manufacturer named McCullen is condemned to having a metal mask fused to his skin for selling arms to the king's forces and his enemies. In the not too distant future, a descendant McCullen owns and operates M.A.R.S. Industries, which is a weapon's manufacturer that has produced four nanomite warheads at the behest of the United Nations. A special operative, Duke, is tapped to transport the warheads to their destination with his fellow officer, Ripcord. But Duke and Ripcord are set upon by the Baroness, Ana DeCobray, whom Duke has a former relationship with. With their convoy destroyed, Duke and Ripcord manage to keep the warheads out of the Baroness's hands, as they are rescued by an elite unite of soldiers known as G.I. Joe. Taken back to Joe headquarters, they are tasked by General Hawk to keep the warheads safe and get them to their ultimate destination.

Unfortunately for Hawk and the G.I. Joe unit - the holographic representation of McCullen reactivates a tracking signal within the warhead's case, which allows Ana and her ninja sidekick Storm Shadow to lead a small force of brutal warriors into the heart of G.I. Joe. After a daring assault on Joe headquarters, Ana and Storm Shadow unleash one of the warheads in Paris and the race to stop them from destroying all of the industrial world with them begins!

Throughout the film, there are flashbacks and inane subplots involving an attempt to replace the President of the United States with a high-level operative working for M.A.R.S. and its successor, Cobra. Simultaneously, Ripcord spends much of the movie trying to get into Scarlett's armor and the film tries to mix action and comedy. Ultimately, the big failure of G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is not that it is bad action-adventure, it is that it is the most predictable, obvious and unoriginal collection of action-adventure cliches to come down the pike in a long time. Anyone who has seen (I'll be generous) a dozen action adventure films can pretty much call the entire movie after each character is introduced.

In fact, the problem with coming to G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra with an engaged brain is that avid cinephiles are actually more likely than not to overthink the movie. For example, I'd actually bet on Snake Eyes speaking at the film's climax or a flashback revealing that his lack of speech is not related to not wanting to speak, but rather not being able to speak (I'd figured a young Storm Shadow would slash his throat). That said, from the moment Zartan appears in the film as a master of disguise and the allusion to a twentieth supersoldier, G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra runs pretty much exactly as one would predict it.

In addition to being a terrible attempt to merchandise toys exclusively based on warfare (again, I am aware of the irony given my reviews of Star Wars figures!), G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is one of the least challenging films based on how actors are used and the characters they portray. Especially disappointing is Dennis Quaid, who plays General Hawk. Quaid plays Hawk as a parody of a military persona with every one of his lines being delivered with an over-the-top forcefulness that is almost as cliche as the inclusion of every catchphrase from the 1980s animated series G.I. Joe in the film. Quaid has range and quality, but this role wastes his talents.

Strangely, Quaid is one of the few actors used outside their typecasting (outside the strange cameo by Brendan Fraser as the trainer) and most of the casting is the product of obvious casting as opposed to anything that challenges any of the actors. Marlon Wayas plays Ripcord as the comedic relief and this is disappointing because he flops around on screen like anything but a serious soldier or even a believable sidekick. Wayans deserves the chance to plumb some emotional depth and as Ripcord, he is relegated to one long joke throughout the film that makes virtually every negative association with military men. He's one long libido joke and the film suffers because there is no emotional resonance with his character.

Similarly, even bit roles like Kevin J. O'Connor as Dr. Mindbender are just the product of good casting as opposed to good performances. Ray Park does his usual martial arts thing as Snake Eyes just as Jonathan Pryce is relegated to the stuffed shirt President role. Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Arnold Vosloo, and even Channing Tatum give the viewer nothing more than we've seen before in their roles of McCullen, Heavy Duty, Zartan and Duke than we've seen before (or could predict).

Ironically, for a film so rooted in men being Alpha Males, the best performances arguably come from the film's two leading ladies. Rachel Nichols trades in her green skin and red uniform from Star Trek (reviewed here!) for a tight armor suit and leather jacket as Scarlett. For an actress with such a short resume, she holds her own on the big screen in each and every scene, adequately portraying G.I. Joe's resident protege. Far more than simply looking good in tight outfits, Nichols delivers her lines with appropriate emotions (or lack thereof) to convince the viewers of her character's abilities.

Similarly, criticism for Sienna Miller as the Baroness is often unjust. For sure, her character is a walking, talking cliche of the villainess, but that is not her fault. She, too, delivers her lines with a realism and as her character undergoes the emotional journey from programmed drone working for evil to one who questions, Miller infuses the side glances and other body language needed to make her character's doubt realistic.

What ultimately tipped the balance toward the stronger "not recommend" for G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra was the erratic special effects. Midway through the film, Duke and Ripcord are outfitted with accelerator suits. These allow the special effects department to get around making poor CG-replicas of Duke and Ripcord and essentially create "mechs" (getting sick of those in summer blockbusters!). What it does as well is undermine the basic heroism of the heroes. The heroes rely on just as many gadgets as the villains and while the Baroness and Storm Shadow use a car, the men of G.I. Joe run through the streets in armor that makes them superhuman (Scarlett ridiculously follows on a motorcycle and the purpose of her part of the chase is lost on me other than men wanting to see a hot woman on a bike). The special effects largely look anything but special as they are often so over-the-top and obviously CG that they distract from the rest of the movie.

That said, there are some good special effects, mostly involving big machines shooting at one another and when the CG department focuses on machines, they get it right. The destruction of the Eiffel Tower, for example, looks pretty wonderful in the film.

Still, it is not enough (by a longshot) to recommend G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra. This is teen escapist fare and while those who enjoy military movies might enjoy the elements of this, it is hard to believe many serious cinephiles will find this to be anything other than over-the-top action that is predictable and obvious.

For other films featuring Brendan Fraser, please check out my reviews of:
Gods And Monsters


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© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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