Saturday, August 15, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

This movie was a mess... but it was a hot mess.

To begin with, I'm not just a G.I. Joe fan, I'm a G.I. Joe fanatic. I've read (and still own) almost every issue of the original Marvel comic book and I've watched and rewatched every episode of every incarnation of the cartoon. This film is not even close to being any kind of definitive G.I. Joe movie, but it isn't a complete insult to the franchise either. At the end of the day, it is a less than faithful adaptation that still managed to be a ridiculously entertaining summer popcorn film.

If you're familiar with the other films directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing), you should already know what to expect: Over the top, impossible to believe action set-pieces bordering scenes where square jawed heroes crack one-liners, damsels in distress thrust their hipes at a jaunty angle, and villains chew through the scenery like Tommy Lasorda at an all you can eat hot dog buffet. In other words, he's awesome. He fills his movies with the only three things I really need: Babes, explosions, and people punching each other so hard they always go flying against the far back wall. If any of that sounds like fun, you'll enjoy this movie. If it doesn't, um, go see Julia and Julie. I'm sure the only thing that explodes in that is a poorly baked souffle.

But is it really a G.I. Joe movie? Well, yes and no.

G.I. Joe is no longer "America's daring, highly trained special missions force," but The World's special missions force. They are now an anti-terrorist squad funded by the UN (or something) and headquartered in a secret, underground base just a few miles from the Pyramids in Egypt. The nationalities of many of the members has been changed to accommodate this multi-national team, so Breaker is now Moroccan, Heavy Duty is now British, and Ripcord is an African American. These changes were probably made so the film would be a hit overseas as well as domestically, but they didn't really bother me too much anyway. After all, giving Heavy Duty a cockney accent doesn't really change his core characterization as a big black man with a machine gun. Casting a Wayans Brother as a character who has always been a ginger-haired white man was a little strange, however, if only because there were plenty of other African America members he could've played to better effect. Were there really so many people clamoring for the inclusion of Ripcord that they had to change his character so dramatically in order to shoehorn him into the script?

But whatever. Odd characterizations aside, the cast is fantastic and pretty much sold this entire film mostly on their charm and likability, much like the characters from the cartoon used to do every Saturday morning. Nobody watched that cartoon to see if Cobra would actually take over the world with their Pyramid of Darkness, they tuned in to watch Quick Kick joke around with Bazooka and Alpine. Dennis Quaid didn't give the performance of his career here as General Hawk, but Dennis Quaid phoning it in is still Dennis Quaid. He's awesome.

Lost fans will love seeing Mr Eko and Caesar as Heavy Duty and Breaker respectively. Said Taghmaoui is particularly good in the particularly thankless role of Breaker, but that has been a stable of his career for years. He's one of those actors who always seems on the verge of breaking out as a star, so it's always nice to see him in a big movie like this. Marlon Wayans plays Ripcord as one of the Wayans brothers, which is to be expected. At least he wasn't playing him as Little Man. He's likable and occaisonally funny, but nowhere near as funny as Brendan Fraiser or Kevin J. O'Connor were in the Mummy.

The best I can say about Channing Tatum's Duke -- our film's lead hero -- is that he wasn't terrible. He was just boring. Channing, I know Duke. I've watched and read about Duke since I was a boy. You sir are no Duke.

Most on target was probably Ray Park as Snake Eyes, who looked and acted exactly as he did in every other incarnation of the franchise. It's a hard character to screw up, and they thankfully made him mysterious and badass, though a little more of his backstory would've been nice.

Best of all, at least on the eyes, is Rachel Nichols as Scarlett. Her character was underwritten and incredibly cliched, but she was more or less the same independent, stone-cold femme fatal from the comics and cartoons. And if you ever fell in love with her radiant beauty from the saturday morning cartoon, you will fall all over again with the near-perfect live-action version. Long story short, this chick is fly.

Christopher Eccleston's Destro is actually somewhat faithful to the original character from the comics, but Arthur Burghardt's voice acting in the cartoon was so indelible in people's memories that it's hard to accept any other portrayal, especially considering how he only puts on the mask (SPOILER!!!) in the last few minutes of the movie, and even then it isn't really a mask at all. But Eccleston is a good actor who was a lot of fun to watch.

Byung-hun Lee played Storm Shadow as any cliched ninja, but it's hard to blame the actor for a role that was so underwritten and boring. Her certainly looked good in the white costume (which was a little too flowy and baggy to be all that menacing) and aquitted himself well in the fight scenes. But Storm Shadow should have a little more charisma than this, though they did hint a bit at his backstory and his personal code of honor.

And just as radiant as Scarlet was Sienna Miller as Sarah Palin... I mean, the Baroness. The best thing I can say about Sienna Miller is that she is a stunningly beautiful woman who looks exceptional in a tight leather body suit. And maybe she's a good actress too, I dunno. When she first came on screen, I was absolutely blown away by how perfectly they captured the character from the cartoon and comics, until she opened her mouth and talked in an American accent. What's that about? And then as we learned more and more about her backstory, her character got worse and worse. But, again, she's a total babe.

And I have no idea what Joseph Gordon-Levitt was doing as "The Doctor." He was given so little to do that he must've decided to go completely over the top with his character so he'd still stand out. And he does, but maybe not in the way he would've wanted. Just a weird, unbelieveable, poorly thought out character all things considered. But I'm sure he'll be fun to see in the sequel now that his hackneyed backstory is out of the way.

So... I liked the cast, which is good because the storyline was a big ball of crap.

It had to do with Destro selling nano... whatever bombs to... somebody who... I dunno. A lot of stuff blows up. That's pretty much all you need to know. Destro is trying to blow stuff up while the Joes are racing to stop him. Luckilly for the audience, while they're trying to stop Destro from blowing stuff up, a lot of other stuff gets blown up on the way. Seriously, I think they did a lot more damage to the streets of Paris trying to stop the destruction of the Eiffle Tower than what would've happened had they just let it fall. But that action set piece was one of the coolest things I've seen in a long time. In terms of action, this movie definitely delivers, all though the big finale was kind of hard to follow, since there were too many things flying around at the same time, all of which looked too much alike.

And where were the parachutes everytime a plane blew up? People aren't supposed to die in G.I. Joe!

And here's a tip for any would-be (or, in this case, professional) screenwriters out there: Don't use nanotechnology in your films unless they actually follow some kind of logic or set of rules. The nanomachines in this film were magical devices that destroyed metal, changed people's faces, did mind control, and anything else the filmmakers wanted at any given time. That's not writing, that's magic.

But, at the end of the day, Rise of Cobra was a really fun movie that was kind of based on G.I. Joe. In the cartoon and comics, the Joes were the best at their particular talents who used them to fight Cobra. In this movie, the Joes are the best at their particular talents, who all use big guns to blow stuff up. I never thought I would say this, but this film simply doesn't have the intelligence or depth of story telling found in the cartoon, and it doesn't hold a candle to the comics, which is one of the best war comics of all time. It's simply not faithful enough to become beloved by fans or original or different enough to stand on its own terms. It's just... a movie.

If you want to see a real adaptation of G.I. Joe that has brilliant casting and amazing costumes, check this out... but only if you're willing to shread a tear for the true G.I. Joe film that could've been:

1 comment:

Justin Garrett Blum said...

"Don't use nanotechnology in your films unless they actually follow some kind of logic or set of rules."

Actually, this sounds like comic books last time I checked. Nanites are the new radioactive waste.

As to this film, I might have gone to see it, no matter how dumb it was, had it looked even a tiny bit like a G.I. Joe movie to me.