- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t goes without saying that any movie based on a toy line is going to face an uphill battle. Michael Bay may have proved with 2007's “Transformers” that there is such a thing as big dumb fun, but he quickly invalidated it with a sequel that embraced the Hollywood ideology that more is better, and pushed it so far over the edge that my head is still ringing as a result. So when Paramount enlisted Stephen Sommers to helm the big screen adaption of Hasbro’s other popular toy line, it was pretty much agreed that the film would suck. Surprisingly, it isn’t as bad as many expected, but while “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” certainly could have been a lot worse, it’s not the big dumb fun action movie that the summer season desperately needed.
Sticking as close to the original cartoon as a movie grounded in reality will allow, the film takes place in the not too distant future where a Scottish arms dealer named McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) has just sold nanomite missiles to the U.S. Army. When the missiles are stolen by McCullen’s own shadow organization, however, the soldiers responsible for protecting the weapons in the first place – Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) – are recruited into a special ops program known as G.I. Joe to help get them back. Joined by team leader General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), sharpshooter Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), weapons specialist Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), communications expert Breaker (Saïd Taghmaoui), and silent ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park), the Joes may be the best at what they do, but McCullen isn’t alone in his fight. He has his very own mad scientist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) creating an army of super soldiers to keep the Joes busy while the Baroness (Sienna Miller), Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), and Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) prepare to launch the nanomite warheads at four major cities across the globe.
For a movie with so many characters, you’d think there wouldn’t be enough time to properly develop each one. That’s partially true, but some of the characters are given almost too much backstory, as the script has a tendency to jump into flashbacks at the strangest moments. And with the exception of a few, they’re simply not necessary. Most “G.I. Joe” fans would have been happy just to see the fraternal relationship between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow remain intact, but in “The Rise of Cobra,” everybody has to be connected. Ripcord and Duke are best friends, Duke and the Baroness were once engaged to be married, and the Baroness is actually the sister of McCullen's mad scientist – though she doesn’t exactly know he’s alive and working for the same man.
It’s hard to blame writer Stuart Beattie, either. He was only given a few weeks to throw together a script, and though the dialogue sounds like it was written by a 12-year-old, the rest of the “G.I. Joe” world has been adapted remarkably well. Even the costumes, which were a subject of much debate going into the film’s release, come across far better on screen than they did in concept. Unfortunately, Sommers has no idea how to make it all work. Most of the action feels lifeless, like everyone’s just going through the motions, except for a fun flashback sequence where pint-sized versions of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow beat the crap out of one another. Channing Tatum’s wooden acting is distracting as usual, but even though the rest of the Joes are fine in their respective roles (yes, even Marlon Wayans, who turns in one of the film’s better performances), it’s the cast of baddies (especially Miller, Lee and Gordon-Levitt) that have the most fun.
In fact, despite its many problems, there’s actually the making of a pretty good franchise buried underneath. The groundwork has already been laid, and in the hands of a different director (not to mention a better script), the potential is limitless. An argument could even be made that “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” is exactly the kind of escapist entertainment that moviegoers actively seek out during the summer months, but that depends on who you're asking. Those who don’t mind turning off their brain for a few hours while characters with the personality of an action figure run around in CG space suits might enjoy the ride. It’s not a particularly terrible way to spend an afternoon, but for some, it's time better spent counting down the days until the release of “District 9.”