Movie Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
By Matthew Huntley
August 17, 2009
If G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra had taken any smidgen of itself seriously, it might have been unbearable. But luckily Stephen Sommers directs it with such an outrageous sense of energy and humor, we wind up laughing at it as it also laughs at itself. The movie is so absurdly loud, silly and fast, it's amusing. Nothing in it feels real and it plays like a live-action cartoon on speed. Odds are this was Sommers' intention, but even if it wasn't, it manages to work on a hyperactive, sugar-rush sort of level.
Based on the Hasbro action figures and 1980s cartoon series, the movie follows an elite U.S. Special Forces team called G.I. Joe. Their mission: to stop a powerful weapons maker from taking over the world. The villain's name is McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), and he descends from a long line of traitors (the movie actually opens with a brief glimpse of his family history). This guy would have made a great Bond villain, especially with his "nano-mites," or radioactive bugs that eat through anything until they're turned off. If only McCullen was a good guy — he might have allowed the nano-mites to free up some space in the world's overflowing landfills.
There are two rookie "Joes" in the movie: Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), who join veterans Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Duke and Ripcord join the outfit after their army convoy is attacked by the evil Baroness (Sienna Miller), who attempts to steal the nano-mites and give them back to McCullen. Baroness also happens to be Duke's former fiancée, Anna. It's their former relationship that convinces General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) to let him and Ripcord join the squad.
Everything happens at such lightning speed in G.I. Joe, it makes your head spin. The bloated screenplay attempts to fit everything in to make this a sole origin story and give birth to a new franchise. There are flashback sequences at every turn, which are edited in seamlessly, but instead of providing substance, they merely let us know why certain characters are enemies, including Snake Eyes and his evil "brother," Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun).
I wouldn't go so far as to say G.I. Joe is a good movie, but it is an entertaining one. I'm on the cusp of recommending it, but I hesitate out of principle. There are no dull moments in it and it flies by so fast you can't think long enough to remind yourself why it's like fast food — it tastes good at the time, but it will eventually show its ugly effect, and it's certainly not good for you. I enjoyed the movie on a juvenile level, but I can't, in good conscience, thank the filmmakers for producing it. Yes, it entertained me, but I've no reason to ever think about or see it again.
Let me highlight some of the movie's more preposterous moments, including the half-dozen scenes when somebody uses a computer device to bring up a virtual screen (to conveniently allow us to see what's going on). In one of these shots, I noticed they simply press the buttons, none of which have any labels. They move their hands, push, and...voila! They get the information they need in seconds.
Or consider the scene when one of the Joes sticks a couple antennae into a dead guy's skull so he can read the electromagnetic impulses from his brain, which generates a perfectly clear picture of what the dead guy saw before he died (the images themselves are so sharp they look like they're in high definition). Or how about when Duke fakes an escape attempt by beating the bad guys over the head with the case holding the radioactive nano-mites, which he only did to activate the case's tracking device. What I want to know is how he entered the numbers so fast, and how did he remember the code so clearly? (I guess that's what makes him a G.I. Joe.)
Still, the most ridiculous sequence takes place in Paris as the Joes attempt to stop Baroness and Storm Shadow from destroying the Eiffel Tower. Think about it: the Joes' only mission is to save the Eiffel Tower, but as they attempt to do just that, they destroy an entire city block, causing millions of dollars in property damage, and kill God knows how many innocent people. But as long as the Eiffel Tower is safe, that's what matters.
All these scenes and the cheesy dialogue in them made me laugh, and that's why I was able to tolerate the movie. From the looks of things, everybody involved in G.I. Joe had a blast making it, and I'm sure many people will have a blast watching it. But, in the end, what do we really get out of it? It's movie junk food and it only paves the way for more movies like it, which will probably be worse. I know we all crave mindless entertainment from time to time, but this takes it too far. As harmless and entertaining as G.I. Joe may be, I can't tell you to go see it because I wouldn't want to play a role in more of this mind-rotting trash getting made, even if it is fun and amusing on a juvenile level.