"G.I. Joe - The Rise of Cobra": An Action Film That's Actually Fun
Licensed action movies this year have not had the best of times. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was merely decent at best (though I liked it), Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li had about as much in common with its namesake as the Super Mario Bros. movie, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was just a mess of sexual innuendo and toilet humor, and the less said about Dragonball Evolution, the better.
During a mission to protect new missile warheads, top Army soldiers Duke and Ripcord are ambushed by a dangerous terrorist team with highly advanced weapons and an army of cybernetic killing machines. Most of their unit is killed, but the two remaining soldiers are saved by a special action unit called G.I. Joe, a top secret global military organization created to defend human freedom from ruthless terrorist organizations. A new organization is rising up, led by James McCullen, a corrupt arms dealer working both the governments of the world and terrrorists, but with his mindset more with the latter than the former. His allies: the femme fatale Baroness, the skilled swordsman Storm Shadow, the disguise specialist Zartan, and a disfigured scientist who has a thing for cobras. To combat this powerful threat, G.I. Joe commander General Hawk adds Duke and Ripcord to the main team, joining fiery redhead Scarlett, mute ninja Snake Eyes, class-A hacker Breaker, and field commander Heavy Duty. But will they turn the tide in the upcoming war, or has the world become infected already?
As the only 80’s cartoon I can still watch and not cringe horribly, I was understandably hesitant to see what would happen in a live-action G.I. Joe film, especially after Michael Bay ruined Transformers. Thankfully, Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing) was summoned to take the reins and make a badass action flick, and that’s exactly what he did. There’s stunts, explosions, and CGI flying all over the place and while the CGI doesn’t look quite as good as in Star Wars or Transformers, it still enhances the movie quite a bit and makes the action sequences a joy to watch. The beginning firefight is made of pure awesome and a great introduction to the Joes (though I do wish Scarlett didn’t need the computer to aim for her all the time). The battle in Paris near the mid-way point had some great, great car chase scenes, complete with a truly explosive end when the monorail comes into the picture. There wasn’t a single action scene in the entire movie that bored me. For that matter, there weren’t many non-action scenes that bored me either (take notes, Bay).
Sure, some the romantic stuff was a bit annoying, but the dialog exchanges between the characters had perfect timing and rarely felt unneeded. The Baroness had some great chemistry with McCullen and later Duke, which is surprising because I didn’t think I would like a Baroness with no Russian accent (as it was that accent that made many a teenager in the 80’s fall in love with her), but even without the accent, the Baroness still commands her scenes. I’m also surprised at how well Snake Eyes was integrated into the movie. Working in a mute character is extremely difficult, but even without words Snake Eyes had great rapport with Scarlett and Heavy Duty, not to mention Storm Shadow. Admittedly, he doesn’t get to team up with his teammates nearly as often as he should in the movie, but his few group scenes work extremely well. Of the ensemble cast, Duke has had the most changes to his character through his past with the Baroness and his relationship to his teammates, which was a bit more formal than the Duke I’m used to. Actually, this is similar to a problem I had in the Dragonball movie, as Duke here, with his brown hair and relationship with the Baroness, reminds me more of Flint than anything.
In the production materials, the crew stated that they tried to remain truer to the comic books than the cartoons, but there are more than enough homages to the cartoons (besides the obvious catchphrases). First and foremost, the metal-eating nanites and their destruction of the Eiffel Tower feel like such a traditional Cobra-type plan. In other live-action movies like Die Hard or even Spider-Man, it would seem farfetched, but here it works so well it’s amazing. The rather linear plot (Pre-Cobra steals green goop warheads, Joes rush to stop them, stuff blows up) combined with taking any and all excuses for a nice big firefight also reek of the original mini-series. Unlike other action films where the plot takes over for a nice, long, and usually dull section in the middle, this film is pretty much action from beginning to end. Even the dialog-only parts have an action-feel to them, much like the cartoon where the writers would somehow cram 3 dogfights in 20 minutes while still telling a story. The Delta-6 suits are more reminiscent of recent Joe works, but the vehicles themselves have that classic cartoon feel that made kids salivate over their toys.
Sadly, there are some problems with the film. Aside from the stuff that can be easily fixed in the sequel (Snake Eyes’ stupid mouth mold, Duke not being a blue-eyed blond, no Sky Hawks), I found the romantic relationships a little tiring by movie’s end. Scarlett and Ripcord was a little annoying since she and Snake Eyes have traditionally been the preferred couple (even warranting many hints throughout the movie), but Duke and Baroness just doesn’t work. During the first 2/3rds of the film, Baroness kicks ass, but then in the last 1/3 her personality changes and she becomes rather generic. It doesn’t help that she spends most of these scenes either unconcious or inside a vehicle, so she doesn’t get to do much. And while I’m glad the Delta-6 suits were only used in two scenes (their introduction and the Paris chase scene), I would not object to them being retired permanently or only used in training in future movies. Speaking of suits, Snake Eyes should be the only one in all-black; other than Heavy Duty, who pulls off the jumpsuit look, the rest of the cast would look better in their traditional customized army clothing. While I like this Destro and Cobra Commander, their masks need some fine tuning for the sequel. Destro needs to shine his mask and make it smoother while Cobra Commander needs to start using his face-covering silver mask that everybody loves. Lastly, why oh why didn’t they have Zartan hum the G.I. Joe cartoon theme song as his signature whistle? Sure, it wouldn’t make much sense, but it would still have been cool.
As I said earlier, the special effects aren’t anywhere near as well-done as in Transformers, but for the most part they work. The Delta suits and the various vehicles get the best attention and look simply awesome, especially the vehicles in the extremely well done final undersea battle (and when was the last time you saw THAT in a film?). That being said, some of the CG was a bit too obvious. A polar bear near the climax of the film just looks horrible, and in many scenes the CG didn’t blend very well with the rest of the world. One scene in particular comes to mind: the Baroness/Duke fight in Paris. Baroness fires off a sonic wave shot that looks amazing, utterly destroying the glass floor the two are fighting on, but Duke’s Delta suit, which had looked decent up to this point, looks unorganic in the frame and feels too much like a green screen shot. I will say, however, that the locales add quite a bit of flavor to the film. The only thing I didn’t like was that the Joe’s headquarters was in Egypt. I know they can’t have a giant fortress with a big-ass cannon sticking out above the front door, but it seems like every other action flick takes place in Egypt at some point and it’s getting annoying.
Performances are solid all around, as Channing Tatum makes for a wonderful Duke (even with all his Flint-isms), Ray Park excels at Snake Eyes, and Rachel Nichols is absolutely perfect as Scarlett despite the lack of southern accent. My only real problem comes from the two main bad guys. Now, Christopher Eccelston makes a wonderful Destro, but his Scottish accent is just too overbearing and takes one away from the action. I wish instead Eccelston had used his British accent, as it sounds more natural, but I guess Sommers didn’t want audiences to be asking why The Doctor wants to destroy France. As for Cobra Commander, his introduction was played very well for the most part, but part of me longs for the idiot Cobra Commander who would build a giant laser just to make a portrait of himself on the moon. I know there’s no way the film would have its bad guy be that incompetent, but I can’t help it. I like my Cobra Commander to be a moron and for Destro to mock him every step of the way. I did like how Cobra Commander hid all the Cobra logos around Destro without him even realizing it. Also, while the music was fine during the movie, never taking away from the action on-screen, I do wish they had done a remix of the original theme for the end credits. Is that too much to ask?
As with any major franchise these days, there’s some extra stuff tacked onto the end to set up possible sequels, but the main plot point is actually very good. Some may say it copied off of the X-Men films, but this cliffhanger is, in my opinion, much more effective than what happened in the other franchise. Whether it’ll pan out remains to be seen, but it might help out more with the addition of Roadblock (played by Samuel L. Jackson, of course, since Mr. T’s getting on in years), Lady Jaye, Shipwreck, and Beachhead. And the Sky Hawks. Can’t forget about the Sky Hawks. Are you listening, Sommers?
All in all, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra probably won’t topple X-Men, Spider-Man, Superman, or The Dark Knight in terms of excellence, but for a fan of G.I. Joe, it’s practically a dream come true. All Joe fans should know how awesome this movie is, and as General Hawk says, knowing is half the battle.