G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) — No part of your childhood is sacred

“Technically, we don’t exist. We answer to no one. And when all else fails, we don’t.”

Kyle’s rating: If I hadn’t walked out of the theater at 1 a.m. I would have ran right to the store for some G.I. Joe action figures!

Kyle’s review: I’m pretty sure your enjoyment of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra will be heavily predicated upon your personal history of play with the iconic G.I. Joe line of toys. If your immediate response to that is “I never played with them!” feel free to ignore both this review and the film itself; it’s not so much you don’t deserve to enjoy either as it is I can’t imagine there being much entertainment there for you. I personally had fun with the film, though I never intend to see it again. But I don’t see why a weak action film in the vein of The Mummy and Van Helsing would hold any interest for you if you never cared enough to at least buy a Snake Eyes figure that came with Timber.

While I respect Justin’s opinion, I don’t necessarily agree with his analysis of certain pop culture legacies being defined primarily by their cinematic incarnations. If anything, more and more people are aware of the fact that the movie versions tend to be total bastardizations of the source material, and are willing to take advantage of sales and cheap prices on DVDs and reissued/re-imagined toys to see just what all the fuss was about in the first place with things like Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and now GI Joe. The crappy movie adaptations are gateway drugs to the original material, not definitive capstones.

Regarding the film, though: you could have thrown darts at random choose-your-own-adventure plot twists pinned to a wall and arranged your hits in any order to come up with a more intriguing story than what Rise of Cobra here gives us. Stephen Sommers has proven time and time again he can start up a story that dutifully follows an action-packed straight line from beginning to end credits, but has never displayed any sort of playful deviation or nuance that would render such a work memorable. You can follow who is who, dialogue and actions make it painfully obvious who is good and who is bad, and any potential subtext gets utterly drowned in pyrotechnics and declarative dialogue.

This is not a subtle film in the slightest, nor does it require much in the way of brain processing. For being a film that is supposed to kick off a film series, supposed to leave us at the end wondering just what the nascent Cobra organization is planning to achieve next, I’m not sure many theatergoers are leaving showings looking forward to a sequel. Or even the DVD release of this one, for that matter.

Not to be anti-American, but when I was playing with my GI Joes, some funny things tended to happen. Namely, the forces of Cobra won more often than not. The world was never enslaved, and all prisoners were freed and reclaimed, but Cobra usually fulfilled their objectives despite Joe resistance. That is, they managed to procure the big missiles, destroy the Joe’s base of operations, and secure the downstairs leather couch as their domain. My Joes were battle-savvy and determined, but Cobra was just way more wild with their strategy and willing to risk everything to ever be completely defeated. Plus, hooded Cobra Commander, the Baroness, and Destro were clearly the biggest brains on the playing field; no Joe other than Snake Eyes could hope to compete with their far-reaching plans, and even Snake Eyes’ lightning wit pertained more to wits in hand-to-hand combat than grand strategies.

No film version, especially in these times, is going to be so cavalier and allow Cobra to maintain the upper hand for the majority of the running time. I suppose there is a touch of wish fulfillment in seeing G.I. Joe as a global strikeforce with a massive technological marvel of a home base, indicating a world where at least the best of the best are able to work across borders and stereotypes to strive for a better world. But again, Sommers is not the director who can infuse a film with the silver lining of such an implication, nor is he adept enough to balance or overshadow such an idea with the looming world-dominating threat Cobra can and should present. It would be an interesting film where Cobra is constantly on the verge of either taking over the world or destroying it, and GI Joe is the only thing just barely keeping them in check. But this one is not that in the slightest, and I can’t imagine us getting a (at least live-action) such film anytime soon. Our only hope: a new animated series or direct-to-DVD extravaganza! Here’s hoping!

Justin’s rating: The other half of the battle are really big lips. Tell no one!

Justin’s review: First things first: If at no point during a film does the panicked phrase “COBRA retreat!” spout from any enemy’s mouth, it’s not a real G.I. Joe movie. It may walk like a Joe, squawk like a Joe, but it’s an imposter Joe at the core. Not to say that Stephen Sommers didn’t make the most of a promising franchise revival in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, because for a bad film, it’s actually fairly watchable – and it has enough Joe qualities in it to keep the hardcore fans from rioting outright. And it teaches us new things about ice, such as the fact that it sinks in water if it’s big enough! Science!

Like many a geek who grew up loving various cartoon and movies in the ’80s, I’m a mixture of appalled and attracted to Hollywood’s never-ending attempt to refashion them into a lucrative revival for today’s audiences. Attracted because, hey, it harkens us back to our youth and gives us hope that this will be a worthy entry into something started long ago. Appalled because it almost never is – Michael Bay has absolutely ruined Transformers, bringing it to the lowest common denominator, and Summers uses the same overloud, overbusy action direction to cover up for what is a pretty flimsy story.

G.I. Joe is now a worldwide special forces unit (I guess they’re not the “real American heroes” any longer) with crazy amounts of highly advanced technology, who have been formed to be the “best of the best, etc., we’re so awesome we excrete perfection”. There’s also a ninja – which comes standard in every military outfit these days – who has a mask with lips because there’s nothing more disturbing than thinking that the person behind the mask has lips so big the mask had to be deformed to accommodate. They also have a base that’s so over-the-top ridiculous – it has a pool large enough to accommodate practice submarine warfare in the middle of the Sahara desert, I kid you not – that James Bond is flat-out green with envy.

It’s a good thing that a weapons manufacturer (Christopher Eccleston) and his Cobra cronies have constructed an equally large and impractical base – this one below the polar ice cap – so that the Joes have someone to play with. Cobra invades the Joe base, the Joes respond in kind, and in the middle of all this is a whole lot of passing and interception of a weapons case carrying metal-eating nanites.

Our entrance into this insane world of Joes are relatively normal military guys Duke and Ripcord — and I must warn you that a Wayans brother plays one of these roles. Prepare to feel an involuntary shudder flash up your spine. The two troopers more or less get recruited by the Joes and pulled into their petty squabbles amid $5.6 trillion of military hardware. Rocket packs, laser guns, VTOL planes, and, of course, the infamous “accelerator suits,” which I suppose were fashioned because Stephen Sommers wanted to appeal to the Halo crowd.

The Joes are reduced to a feature-friendly half-dozen: Hawk, Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Heavy Duty (yeah, I never heard of him either), and Breaker. For its part, COBRA is even less staffed: they have Storm Shadow (the “other” ninja, because ninjas always come in pairs), Cobra Commander, Destro, Zartan and the Baroness. COBRA also has a lot of nanite-controlled faceless soldiers, but alas, no BATs (that’s “Battle Android Trooper” for you G.I. Joe neophytes).

I’ve got to say, I am beyond tired of two of the most common tropes in these good guys/bad guys films. The first is when a good guy turns out to be a bad guy who betrays them all, and the second is when a bad guy who spends 97% of the film being evil suddenly turns to good right before the end credits. If you’re good, be good. If bad, be bad. None of this namby-pamby team-changing nonsense. G.I. Joe commits both of these sins within its two-hour running time.

What pretty much all of these revival films completely miss is that these franchises actually had depth, and story, and characterization in their source material. It wasn’t just about toys and blue lasers and explosions (although those were fun), but about Cobra Commander’s unending hissy fits, the insane amounts of crazy vehicles the Joes had at their disposal, and the slew of terrific military-themed soldiers who brought their particular expertise to the battlefield. Dumbing them down to this level leaves you with a clear, distilled experience that has no body, no flavor, no aftertaste. It’s just there and gone, asking you to take gulp after gulp in hopes that something might stick.

What’s the most frustrating thing for real fans of these franchises is that movies end up being the definitive legacy that’s remembered in the minds of many viewers instead of the superior source material. And yes, I know I just referred to toy cartoons from the 1980s as “superior source material,” but I’m sticking with it.

That said, just about two-thirds of this film consists of action sequences, so if you just need to shut your brain off and watch characters shoot, kick, slice and explode their way to victory, then this is the fast food equivalent to sate your hunger. At the very least, I expect to be able to follow the action in an action movie, and the cuts and special effects are certainly done well enough to make that the case here. It’s not particularly memorable, clever or funny (the previews before the film made us laugh more than the forced attempts at humor here), but it’s not nearly as bad as the whole anti-Joe hype made it out to be.

Didja notice?

  • To “weaponize” a nanite warhead means to shoot it with lasers until it becomes glowy. It’s pretty much like throwing a burrito into a microwave.
  • What can a huge fat Bhudda guy teach anybody about being a ninja? Apparently not much, since he gets stabbed by a six-year-old.
  • If your team gets arrested by the French police, then you might as well disband as a unit. There’s no going back after that point.
  • This movie needs to cut ALL of its flashbacks, thankyouverymuch.
  • Am I the only one who thought the advanced COBRA guns shot like the Stormtroopers’ blasters set on stun from A New Hope? Am I that geeky?
  • Brendan Fraser!
  • Guess Cover Girl wasn’t slated for the sequel…

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