Wednesday, October 13, 2010

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

At some point in the recent past Hollywood ran out of original ideas for movies and began looking to various sources for inspiration. My least favorite example of this is the horrifyingly awful Michael Bay Transformers movies (Revenge of the Fallen being the worse of the two) but of course they’re not the only example. Apparently some producer some years ago wanted to make a film featuring advanced military technology. So our old friend Hasbro reared its money grubbing head into the picture and offered up Transformers’ sister franchise G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. Fast forward a few years later to 2009 and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra hits theaters. Now the main difference between Bay’s abominations and the G.I. Joe flick was that Transformers had almost no tools for a good movie during its pre-production and therefore failed in execution while the Joe film had a hell of a lot of things going for it before hand. And yet it still managed to fail.
Here’s the story in a nutshell:
G.I. Joe is the codename for America’s an international coalition’s daring, highly skilled special mission force and also Ripcord. Its purpose: to defend human freedom against Cobra M.A.R.S., a ruthless terrorist organization weapons manufacturer determined to rule the world do something undoubtedly evil.
Sigh. Fine.
WARNING: This review contains massive spoilers
Laird James McCullen Destro XXIV James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), head of the legalized weapons dealer known as M.A.R.S., has just developed a horrifying weapon of mass destruction: a nanotechnology based warhead that can eat entire cities and possibly the whole world. Instead of confiscating the weapon and locking up McCullen for war crimes NATO instead buy four of them and charge their finest troops including Duke (Channing Tatum) and for some reason Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) with their delivery. Because their finest troops are actually inept however a mysterious, highly advanced and hostile force appear and wipe Duke’s team out (But sadly forgetting to kill Ripcord) and almost make off with the weapons, failing only due to the interference of a different highly advanced and less-hostile force later identified as Codename: G.I. Joe. Thus the conflict revolves around control of these dangerous weapons between these two different armies, neither of which is actually Cobra.
"Trust me; I'm a Doctor!"
That’s kind of unfair to say since this film is more like an origin story for Cobra but it’s still really weird to watch a G.I. Joe story where the Joes don’t fight their traditional enemy. It’s like watching the Autobots not fighting Decepticons or Lion-O and the Thundercats fighting Space Marines rather than Mumm-Ra (Actually that last thing sounded pretty badass). Truth be told this movie takes a lot of liberties with the original story presented in the old comic book and cartoon, but for the most part it’s oddly not that big of an issue. Some things are minor while others throw whole origins down the toilet but the average alteration makes sense for dramatic storytelling purposes and can be forgiven. For example in this film G.I. Joe is an international peace keeping group rather than an American organization and this change was made to in order to avoid isolating folk during international releases. Whatever. That’s not a big deal; some characters are now a little more foreign than they used to be, but who cares?
You won’t hear me say this too much about a film but the action scenes were great. They were fun to watch and possibly by itself make the movie worth checking out as a dumb popcorn flick. Maybe there’s a bit too much of it but that’s a relatively minor complaint...comparatively speaking, I mean. Even the stupid “Accelerator Suits” that the trailers made such a big deal about weren’t that bad mainly because they were limited to one scene and then were gone before they wore out their welcome. The plot may not have been Shakespeare but damn if M.A.R.S.’ evil plan wasn’t one of the more intriguing plots I’ve seen in a film, albeit a bit convoluted and probably impossible to ever happen in real life. Their true plot is not revealed until the end of the movie but they left themselves so much room for error that even when the Joes show up to ruin everything it’s clear that their interference was taken into account and doesn’t affect a goddamn thing. I was rooting for the bad guys firmly by this point.
A lot of this has to do with the actors playing the villains because every single one of the antagonist who had a decent speaking role was more interesting and complex than their Joe counterpart. Special mention for Joseph Gordon-Levitt as he is awesome as The Doctor; he’s so deliciously evil and has just the right amount of ham in his delivery. I thought Eccleston as Destro/McCullen was a close second. Hell, for the first half the of movie I thought Sienna Miller as The Baroness was pretty good since the character was so insanely cruel and ruthless and had every right to be. Sure Miller was out-acted by almost everyone in this film and the character lacked a East European accent and that was lame, but she was firmly in the same category of “villains better than the heroes.” At first. Things go horribly wrong with but we’ll get to that later.
On the heroes side of things there were only two characters I liked and I’m not sure they should count. One was Sergeant Stone played by Brendan Fraser in a thirty second cameo! He had more personality than just about every other Joe featured while doing nothing at all and through the whole movie I was wondering why he wasn’t the damn star. The other one was Snake-Eyes played by martial arts stuntman extraordinaire Ray Park who apparently did a butt load of research on the role and the world of G.I. Joe despite having no lines. This film got most of the aspects of the character dead-on and the spirit is faithfully rendered. So basically when G.I. Joe 2: The Squeakquel comes out the plot damn well better be about Sergeant Stone and Snake-Eyes fighting Cobra Commander and the Mummy he summoned or else critical reception will surely be mixed.
G.I. Joe II: Curse of the Cobra's Mummy
Coming 2012
The plot is not very smart but that’s not why we came here, right? Really most of the problems are things tied directly to the fact that this is one of the worst group of heroes I’ve ever seen collected on screen and anything else can be ignored due to explosions and The Doctor. The heroes are either flat and dull or upsettingly miscast or mind numbingly stupid. In some cases the actor is totally at fault but in general the characters themselves are terribly written and I spent the whole film waiting patiently for Destro to blow them all up. For example the people who thought Duke would best be played by Channing Tatum clearly have a much different opinion of the acting method than I do. If by "acting" you mean blandly read your lines like a robot and betray no sense of humanity than yes, clearly Tatum is his generation’s finest thespian. Good news: he’s in six movies next year. Here as Duke he’s not the worst in the film but he’s boring and since he’s our protagonist it’s a problem when I like the villain more than him.
Duke’s comrade in arms is of course Ripcord, played by Marlon Wayans who takes time out of his busy film schedule of portraying baby size thieves and young white women (White Chicks 2 coming in 2011. Seriously) to join us as “Wacky Black Sidekick”. Why no science fiction epic is complete without an inept Wacky Black Sidekick to bumble around and say incredibly stupid things to reinforce how capable and intelligent his white compatriot is. Hell, the plot is aware of how incompetent Wacky Black Sidekick is and the Joes even tell him that he fails their entry test but let him slide because of Duke. It’s like Affirmative Action if it was used for the sake of comedy rather than to actually help minorities. You know what would make it better? Shoehorn a romance with one of the few female characters in the film that’s devoid of any logic or chemistry, of course!
Pictured: The same damn character
Speaking of whom we also have Scarlett played by model actor Rachel Nichol who in the original comic was a badass Action Girl who could probably wipe the floor with nearly any other character in a one of one fight but who was nothing more than extra load here. She adds NOTHING to the story or to the action scenes. Her real purpose in this film: someone for Ripcord to hit on! Her character is awful as well since she’s supposed to be a “logic and reason above feelings” type of a person but since she keeps repeating that “emotions can’t be explained by science” I assume she doesn’t actually know what emotions are. In a nitpick sense it kind of bothers me that the cool romance between her and the mute Snake-Eyes from the comic was not included but really it’s not that big a deal. It’s far worse that she hooks up with Ripcord, however, because a) he’s a buffoon and we shouldn’t encourage that behavior in audiences by pointing out they may be able to hook up with a redhead and b) the way they present their relationship over the course of the film it makes about as much sense as The Doctor making-out with Destro in the final moments of the movie. And I would have bought that a little easier I think! In retrospect it probably would have been easier and less headache inducing to have her hook up with Duke. But oh boy did Duke have his hands full in the romance department.
As I said before model actor Sienna Miller as The Baroness is pretty good. She’s not a good actor by any means but she does alright with a character that is extremely awesome so it would have been okay except for her “character development” over the course of the film. This, my friends, is by far the worst part of this movie so forgive me because I was sense a huge rant over this coming. Feel free to skip ahead to the Panda Score and Pros/Con section.
When we first meet the Baroness she’s one of the villains trying to steal the warheads and Duke instantly recognizes her as a former girlfriend. Okay, that’s not quite how it was in the cartoon but, hey, it’s Hollywood. Duke later expands on this by revealing that the night they got engaged she made him promise to look out for her younger brother scientist Rex during their next deployment and of course the brother is promptly killed. Rather than talking to her about it and helping her get through the death of her only living family Duke decides to abandoned her altogether because he couldn’t face her due to his failure. Well that’s a dick thing to do and quite frankly I understand why she would drastically change in personality after those events and become a cold hearted and irredeemable murderer/terrorist. That’s just good drama. Or it was until it’s finally revealed near the end of the film that The Doctor has actually been mind controlling her from the very beginning, thus absolving her of her crimes. Oh and it turns out that The Doctor IS Rex having gone crazy and evil, thus absolving Duke of his crimes. So basically the wonderfully cruel villain who has her husband killed for laughs evolves into a...girl that needs Duke to rescue her from her evil brother.
Your incompetent writing broke Picard
This plot point is not only ridiculous and contrived but it’s also sexist to a degree I thought Hollywood would have been passed by now! The initial idea that Duke is responsible for sparking The Baroness’ turn to terrorism is fine in itself since it not only gives her motivation for why she’s doing it (Having lost everyone important to her in one swoop) but it also paints Duke as an imperfect human being who made bad choices like anyone else and now he has to make up for them. Not only was the reveal a cop-out that weakens both characters it also implies that the cure for being a tough as all hell lady in a male dominant action film will be to realize that you seriously need a man in your life! Since the only other important female character (Scarlett) does dick all in the film I have to assume that Hollywood saw the original comic and cartoon and said “Wow, that’s a whole lot women not making dinner for their husbands. We’ll don’t worry; we’ll fix that in pre-production.” Screw you Hollywood, screw you producers, and screw you director Stephen Sommers for letting this slip through! The sequel will be coming out sooner than later and there’s a way to fix this issue but I doubt they’d have the balls to do it.
The Baroness in an earlier draft of the film
Phew. Okay, I’m better now.
Basically this movie is pretty bad, but it’s not so bad that it can’t be watched. It’s fine as a guilty pleasure type and like I said the action is good enough to make it a passable popcorn flick. The villains are great but protagonists fall extremely short. It’s a horrible sign when your heroes are less interesting than your villains, especially in a campy/dumb movie like this. I call this principle the “M. Bison Effect” as the old Street Fighter movie suffered from a very similar problem. If you can stand the awful characters it probably makes an alright Movie Night with your significant other, but don’t be confused: this movie is terrible and it is completely because of the weakness of the cast and the badly written people they portray. Except for The Doctor. And Destro. And Storm Shadow. And Zartan. They were sweet.
For you G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was a horrible disappointment
But for Bison it was Tuesday
I give G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra 2 Adorable Pandas out of 5.

-Good action scenes
-The villains, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt, are great
-The protagonists are awful/boring/insulting
-Wacky Black Sidekick Rides Again!
-Unbearable romantic subplots
-Strong female characters not so strong after all

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