Wednesday, August 12, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra / *½ (PG-13)

Duke: Channing Tatum
Ana/Baroness: Sienna Miller
Ripcord: Marlon Wayans
McCullen/Destro: Christopher Eccleston
Storm Shadow: Byung-hun Lee
Shana ‘Scarlett’ O’Hara: Rachel Nichols
Breaker: Saïd Taghmaoui
Snake Eyes: Ray Park
Heavy Duty: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaji
Zartan: Arnold Vosloo
Rex: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
General Hawk: Dennis Quaid
U.S. President: Jonathan Pryce

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Stephen Sommers. Written by Stuart Beattie and David Elliot & Paul Lovett and Michael B. Gordon and Sommers. Based on characters created by Hasbro. Running time: 118 min. Rated PG-13 (for strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout).

Now, I’m sure all you G.I. Joe fans took one look at my poor star rating and decided that like the legions of critics who have panned the new live action movie, I have no understanding of the G.I. Joe universe and what it is all about. I can hear you saying, “It’s supposed to be an action movie, not some thought provoking treatise.” I understand this very well.

I was a great Joe fan as a youth. I watched the cartoon every day with cookies and a glass of milk after school—it immediately followed “Inspector Gadget”. I collected the comic books. I loved the combination of combat war action with the melodramatic soap opera-like leanings of the plot. Who was attracted to whom on the Joe team? How were they secretly connected to the Cobras (the bad guys)? I delighted in the bickering and inner turmoil that plagued the Cobras, often thwarting their own plans of world domination. So, I didn’t go into my screening of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” with the typical film snob trepidation of some critics. But oh, how the gems of our youth can lose their luster.

“The Rise of Cobra” tells the story of how Cobra begins and becomes the ultimate enemy power the G.I. Joes will ever face. Taking place in the near future, we meet key members of the Cobra team before they’ve taken on their moniker. The Baroness (Sienna Miller, “Stardust”) is a leather clad dominatrix who seems to be the secret Cobra Commander’s go to henchman for getting things done. When she fails to obtain a new weapon from a NATO convoy, the second in command, a weapons manufacturer named McCullen (Christopher Eccleston, “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising”), puts the assassin Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee, “Hero”) on her case to make sure she gets the job done. Meanwhile an almost peripheral Cobra operative named Zartan (Arnold Vosloo, “The Mummy”) seems to be on a mission of his own. And, the mysterious Doctor develops a serum to control people and make them nearly indestructible using nanotechnology.

We discover the existence of the secret G.I. Joe unit along with the movie’s hero, Duke (Channing Tatum, “Fighting”), and his best friend, nicknamed Ripcord (Marlon Wayans, “Little Man”). As the only survivors of the convoy attacked by Baroness, and because of Duke’s intimate knowledge of the woman underneath the leather, the two are asked to join the elite military unit by its leader, General Hawk (Dennis Quaid, “The Express”). They meet other key players in the G.I. Joe operation—communications expert, Breaker (Saïd Taghmaoui, “Traitor”), physical training expert and all around big muscle, Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaji, ABC’s “Lost”), the sexy and brainy Scarlett (Rachel Nichols, “P2”), and the mute ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park, “X-Men”).

To go any further into the plot of this film would be a waste of time. All that must be known is that the Commander has a plot to take over the world involving the destruction of well-known world monuments, and it’s up to the Joes to stop him.

Here’s what I liked about the movie. 1) Director Stephen Sommers (“The Mummy”) utilizes spectacular special effects to evoke that great summer blockbuster tradition of thrilling the audience with the impressive destruction of famous settings like the Eiffel Tower. He precedes this with a spectacular chase through Paris as the Joes try to prevent the disaster. 2) Hyung-hun’s Storm Shadow, when out of his combat costume, is a suave, sharply dressed, enigmatic character. 3) Although not the primary focus, the screenplay does keep the soap opera elements of the comic book, most notably in the relationship between Duke and Baroness and the flashback events that led to their emotional split involving her brother Rex (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “The Lookout”).

The drawbacks of the movie are so plentiful I probably won’t even get to them all. One very distressing element is the various flashbacks dealing with Storm Shadow’s past relationship with the Joe Snake Eyes. They encountered each other as children and shared the same sensei, but their entire relationship consists of fighting each other. There are no significant emotional moments for either of them. I think their connection would’ve been stronger had some sort of friendship been shared, but here it seems not only were they always enemies, but for no apparent reason.

Everything in this movie is dealt with in pure military efficiency, and generally with the same lack of imagination. There is no character development. Each character is given a name and job—sometimes one and the same—and their development is finished. There is no plot development. We are shown weapons and gadgets, the characters are given singular objectives and the play button is pushed to set the action in motion. The jokes are all one-liners of the ilk that even Schwarzenegger might feel uncomfortable uttering. I don’t think any character is required to string any more than two or three sentences together at any point in time. And, the dialogue is so atrocious it makes George Lucas’s dialogue for the “Star Wars” prequels sound like Shakespeare.

One fan of the movie pointed out to me that many critics were saying “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” made their I.Q.s drop. This is a ridiculous and uninventive statement for a critic to make. Had my I.Q. dropped, I most likely would’ve enjoyed the movie. But it isn’t really a matter of intelligence so much as one of maturity. I’m not twelve anymore and demand more competence in my entertainment. I require some quality filmmaking to go along with the dazzling explosions and sexy commandos. While the explosions, breasts and abs are all impressive here; it’s the storytelling that is in short supply.

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