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Non-Review Review: G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra

I never grew up with G.I. Joe. For me it was Batman: The Animated Series or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. To me, this franchise was just a bunch of generic toy soldiers – in fact, I didn’t even know that they had separate names or defining characteristics. So I come to this movie without a sense of nostalgia or a familiarity with the core product. So, Stephen Sommers’ adaptation of the popular multi-media franchise to the big screen is my first major exposure to the product, and it left me feeling like I’d spent two hours watching a guy playing with toys, rather than making a movie. One of the characters even has a “kung-fu grip”.

It's a black-and-white world...

Don’t get me wrong, I can turn my brain off and engage with random spectacle. I loved Sommers’ first big blockbuster, The Mummy, after all. And, to be honest, this isn’t as bad a film as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The action scenes aren’t especially well choreographed, but occasionally the director will find a way to make them a tad exciting (even if it’s hard to keep track of all the characters and most of sequences are ridiculously straightforward).

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was shot in a sort of neon haze – with bright primary colours designed to leap out at the audience and lend everything a vaguely cartoony feel. The nanites at the centre of the movie’s plot are bright green. The weapons the good and bad guys use shine a neon blue. The visuals are striking and simplistic, with backdrops such as the pure white Artic or the orange Egyptian sands or the deep blue of the oceans. All of this doesn’t necessarily sit particularly easily with an action movie that enjoys decapitating or impaling characters by the boatload, sometimes at the hands of the heroes (although, of course, always without blood).

That said, what little appeal the film has visually is somewhat offset by its incredibly offensive soundtrack. We follow the Joes as they fly through the Pyramids at Giza, choreographed to a hip-hop beat. I love cheesy and tasteless moments, but even that was too much for me. Not to mention the fact that a subsequent (and inevitable) training montage features a brain-numbingly bad cover version of the T-Rex classic Bang a Gong (Get it On).

However, the more superficial elements aren’t the real problem with the movie. The simple fact is that the movie makes itself far more complicated than it really needs to be. It’s an action movie – blow stuff up! That’s the raison d’etre of the film, so why not indulge it? We’re treated to a prologue in historic France, which hints at the movie’s problems – flashbacks. The narrative is constantly jumping back and forth to events that tie various characters to each other and are clearly intended to generate some emotional depth for a cast that are struggling to reach the profile of cardboard cutouts. These flashbacks are just unnecessary.

From these, it seems that everyone is bloody related – and we get flashbacks and flashbacks to prove it. I literally spent a good portion of the film waiting for the flashback where it is revealed that the President once knocked a young Destro’s ice cream off his cone – I wouldn’t have been surprised. The movie is a cliché storm. At one point, the villains have the head of G.I. Joe incapacitated, and yet they don’t kill him (and it isn’t because the movie is afraid of violence, as they just impaled a “minor” character beforehand). The Baroness is revealed as Duke’s “evil ex”. Of course, the true villain of the piece is secretly a close friend from Duke’s past.

Unfortunately it never gets going...

In fact, the movie reminds me of Team America: World Police, if that film had been played entirely serious without a hint of irony. The film proudly stands for gung-ho stereotypical middle-American values. The supporting lead learnt to fly on his “dad’s cropduster”, for crying out loud! Sure, the taskforce is international and there are token ethnic Joes – a silent ninja, a British arms sergeant and a French tech dude – but our lead characters are distinctively American. In contrast, the bad guys are pretty much defined by their foreign nature – all except the true baddie who is American, but he’s revealed as a deformed freak.

It seems that America is stuck cleaning up the rest of the world’s problems – development of the weapon at the root of the film’s plot cost “thirteen billion euros” (not dollars) funded by NATO (not the United States). The European arms conglomerate responsible is apparently the manufacturer of “seventy percent” of all the world’s weapons. “American politics,” one of the villains moans derisively at one point, clearly mocking freedom. The major destructive set-pieces (heavily emphasised in the movie’s trailers, so I don’t feel I’m spoiling it) don’t actually take place on American soil. Again, reminding me of Team America, the movie lays waste to Paris (imagine the collateral damage in those sequences, but nobody bats an eye). We’re supposed to shrug our shoulders and go “ah well, it’s only Paris”, as we get on with even more action sequences. It’s hard to argue that if it was the Empire State Building the movie would carry on so wonderfully camp fashion.

It’s hard not to feel bad for most the cast, knowing they are capable of so much more. Sommers has brought together a nerdy film fan’s ideal geeky little cast. Jonathon Pryce from Brazil. Christopher Eccleston from Doctor Who and 28 Days Later. Ray Park from Star Wars and X-Men. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje from Lost. Arnold Vosloo from The Mummy. Kevin J. O’Connor from There Will Be Blood. Byung-hun Lee from The Good, The Bad & The Weird. However, most of the cast are stunted by the horrible dialogue they’ve been given, and others are drowned out in the mess of the film.

Special note must, however, go to Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Sienna Miller, though for opposite reasons. Despite only being able act with the upper half of his face for most of the film, Joseph Gordon Levitt manages to camp it up a notch – it’s a ridiculous performance, but exactly what the film needs. He’s skilled enough to know when he shouldn’t take himself too seriously and – to be honest – he looks like he’s having fun. His role is pure pantomime, and – in this case – it works. On the other hand, Sienna Miller is terrible – she deserved that Razzie for her role.

It’s just  big empty action film, but it’s not even a good big empty action film. It is never as truly horrible and painful as some blockbusters can be, but it’s never really charming or outrageous enough to convince you that you should go along on the ride. It is just sound and fury – and you know what that means, of course.

On the other hand, it is nice to know Cobra uses Norton Internet Security. Anti-virus software for evil terrorist organisations the world over. Perhaps it says a lot that this is the one thing I’m taking away from this film.

3 Responses

  1. It wasn’t execrable, merely mediocre lol. Just thinking about those flashbacks is giving me an overdose of corny!!!!

    • Yep, it’s like somebody saw Memento and scribbled “flashback = depth” on a piece of paper they handed to the writer. I was waiting for it to go back to that time Scarlet accidentally bumped into Destro at kindergarten – cut to baby!Destro staring intensely after her and then back to present.

  2. One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen and reason enough for me to swear off all Hollywood blockbusters for the rest of my life.

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