Saturday, August 8, 2009

Movie Review: G.I.Joe:The The Rise of Cobra

For whatever reason, movies that spark the nostalgia of childhood always strike my fancy and rank high on my list of movies I am excited to see. Certainly the third installment in the Ice Age franchise was greatly anticipated, and Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen ranked as must-see cinema for me.

The only reason GI Joe did not rank that was was because this franchise went off the rails in the previews. Whereas the comics I recall and the cartoon when I was able to watch it were more or less set in a "real physics" universe, albeit with A-Team like sparsity of casualties despite constant warfare and gunfire.

Yet in the pre-view they have the absolutely idiotic "Delta 6 Accelerator Suits" which allow them to dodge missiles. Whatever. It was at that moment this tent-pole wannabe franchise went off the rails for me.

I had very conflicted feelings about seeing it. I was going to hate the straying from the "feel" of the GI JOE lore but it did look like a pretty good action flick. Still, it is GI JOE and has a huge brand-name cast so off I went. I was totally prepared to hate this movie.

The flick starts bizarrely in 1641 Medieval France where James McCullen (David Murray) has been arrested by the French for selling weapons to their enemies. Thus the McCullen clan habit of arms dealing and selling weapons to both sides was established.

Click to modern day where General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) is watching a modern day McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) tell NATO of the nanomite warheads he has developed for no apparent reason.

This is one of the myriad of non-sensical plot holes you must ignore if you are to enjoy this movie. Why, exactly, the "peace-keeping" mission of NATO suddenly has them independently paying for Doomsday weapons is never addressed in any way, shape or form. Moving on, nothing to see here but the ripped, torn, bleeding carcass of a gazelle that wandered into a lion pride.

The task of transporting these warheads from Kurgystan or some such random country (see above plot hole comment; why a Scotsmen working for NATO has his lab there not to think about it. You won't like the answer anyway.) is assigned to Duke (Channing Tatum) , Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) and their team of anonymous casualties.

Enter the forces of the Baroness (Sienna Miller) and Storm Shadow (Byung-Hun Lee) who try to seize the briefcase, only to be foiled by Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and some other Joe I cannot remember.

Yes, the characters are introduced so fast and in such large bunches that they are hard to remember...but I am okay with that as at least they were true to that part of the Joe lore. As well as all of them having nick-names, though why Duke is Duke and Ripcord Ripcord prior to becoming Joes is another intriguing mystery best left unexplored.

From there the story takes off. The scenes of exposition are few and far between and widely spaced between some rather intense set-piece action scenes, long chases, huge explosions, and the requisite and awesome Snake Eyes versus Storm Shadow one on one combats which should satisfy any fan of sword play...unless, of course, the viewer has seen the movies from which their fight scenes seem to be almost directly ported over.

It is an open question whether the heavy references in this movie to other movies are "tributes", "homages" or "plagiarism". For your intellectual integrity, do not compare the missile dodging scene to any other recent high profile movies based on toy franchises that had a massive city battle which saw missiles fired at two figures in full chase mode who then contort wildly to avoid them...

There were so many references to many famous movies. In fact, they cribbed so heavily from Black Hawk Down that instead of simply re-shooting scenes down to the same camera angles...they simply took footage from it as you see in the final credits.

In case it is not obvious, even after seeing it I am highly conflicted about this movie.

As a GI JOE movie, it blew great hairy chunks of monkey under arm pit sweat. The unworldly physics of the Accelerator suits, the stupidity of the nanomites and various "pistol that blows up a city wait, it sniper-level hits just the intended wait, it blows up 2 widely dispersed enemies and the entire wall behind them" weapons, the death of a major, major part of the JOE lore...these are major strikes against it.

Not to mention they use the tag line "GI JOE:A Real American Hero" even though it is deliberately an international task force based in Egypt. Oh, and the American President has a very thick, obvious, and not American accent.

At the same time, as an action movie this may have been even more adrenaline-pumped and action packed than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or even Live Free or Die Hard. The action scenes are long, packed, photographed well with very little of the annoying bouncing that has been all the rage lately. These are action scenes that are filmed so well you can actually, you know....see what is happening. That is outstanding.

But on the negative side are the repeat jokes and the bad acting. Example A: When Cobra attacks in the desert, the camels sense the under-the-surface invasion and react to it. When the Joes attack the Cobra base, the Polar Bear senses the under-the-surface invasion and reacts to it. Tit-for-tat, take that.

And the acting...oh, what happened? Way back when the abominable Punisher:Warzone was out, I complained about the cheesy, cartoon-like acting of Dominic West in the role of primary villain and how it really detracted from what was very nearly a really good Punisher movie.

Enter The Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who apparently disagrees with me. His walk, his gestures, his vocal inflections...until I looked up the credits I actually thought it was Dominic West. His cartoonish acting was extremely distracting. In his "homage" costume to Star Wars and Hellboy he decided to reference one of the more disappointing Comic Genre movies in recent memory? Why was this allowed?

Marlon Wayans is also pretty uneven, going from playing it straight and in the feel of most of the cast to getting in touch with his prat-fall Three Stooges homage side.

The change of heart Scarlett has is not sold particularly well either, but that is part of having perhaps too many sub-plots.

Ironically, I prefer my movies, even popcorn-fests such as this one, to have a variety of story-lines...provided the director takes the time to develop them and they make sense.

In this case, Director Stephen Sommers was so busy over-using the tired and true (not a typo) flashback device so often used to cover weak story-telling to actually develop current stories.

So in the end we have a real mish-mash. It is a great action flick with a couple real poor performances, interesting but not fascinating story, a nice twist that you may or may not see coming, and a curious (probable) death to a well-loved character and other abuses of the franchise that simultaneously manages to be great and horrific at the same time.

If you insist on your "GI Joe" lore matching the canon, save the 40 bucks a night at the movies will cost you. If you love action movies, go see it today. If you are indifferent...well, you might get distracted.

1 comment:

Darrin.. said...

STILL haven't seen this flick. Dunno why. My younger friends liked it, but I was never into the 80's toy line and cartoons like they were. Going into it.. maybe that's a good thing?

I played more with the old 12 inch G.I. Joe's with the fuzzy hair.. back before they were "Real American Heroes", just "Fighting Men" and "Adventurers".

I'll Red Box it soon I guess. Nice post!!