30 August 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Though I was not hopeful, I wanted to like
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. G.I. Joe—both the toys and cartoon—was a big part of my childhood.

But watching the movie is like watching a prequel to a film that doesn’t exist. Director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) and his three writers spend the whole movie trying to sell us on a sequel, but they neglected to make this one good enough for us to care about what happens next.

G.I. Joe, which always was a very American fighting force in the toy line, animated series and comic books, is now a multinational, top-secret military group. Led by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), its base of operations lies beneath the deserts of Egypt (a lot going on down there in the Hasbro universe). The bad guys, led by Scottish arms dealer McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), are holed up underneath the polar ice cap. My head hurts thinking about the construction costs.

McCullen aims to use nanomites, super high-tech little robots that eat away at metal at an unstoppable rate, to strike fear into the hearts of every person on the planet so that they turn to the person with the most power. The movie never explicitly identifies this person, but by the time it ends, you will have a good idea of what to expect in part two.

On his side are a mysterious doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the ninja Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), master-of-disguise Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) and the beautiful Baroness (Sienna Miller), aka Ana, who was once married to Duke (Channing Tatum), a young soldier who joins up with the Joes when he and his buddy, Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), are the only survivors of a raid led by Ana.

In the Joes’ corner are Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Breaker (Said Taghmaoui), the beautiful Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), the ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and, in a cameo, Brendan Fraser.

There is not much to say that you shouldn’t already know from seeing a commercial or two. You get wall-to-wall—mostly bloodless—action, to go with virtually no plot or character development. If there is anything approaching emotional resonance, it comes from Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, the two ninjas whose rivalry stretches back to their youth and is illuminated in a series of flashbacks.

Sommers leaves no room for a brain within his special effects-filled frames. It almost feels like he was not even trying to make a good movie, so I guess on that level he was successful. He does, however, have the good sense to keep the movie shorter than two hours. The action, though it often looks cartoonish even with an estimated $170-million budget, involves human beings and is shown in shots a little longer than a second or two—so you can at least follow who’s blowing up who.

It’s faint praise, but at least G.I. Joe is better than the Transformers sequel.

Grade: C-

Rated PG-13 for strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout. 118 minutes.)

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