G.I. Joe: the Rise of Cobra (Film Review)

By James Slone

Originally published by EndofMedia.com in 2010.

Like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” before it, “G.I. Joe: the Rise of Cobra” enlists pop culture nostalgia to sell toys and tickets. Both the Transformers and G.I. Joe properties have been lucrative for Hasbro in the last few years, raking in millions upon millions of dollars with intellectually challenged and emotionally stunted b-movies.

“G.I. Joe” and “Transformers” both prove that with the right property and corporate backing you can sell pretty much anything. Movies that would have at one time been considered crass, low-rent entertainment for kids are now considered acceptable for adults. Thirty-something men have no problem plunking down their hard-earned cash for cinematic junk that would insult a thirteen-year-old boy’s intelligence.

If you’ve seen the trailers for “G.I. Joe” you already know it’s a stupid movie. In fact, the trailer pretty much summarizes the film’s best scene for you, a high-speed race through the streets of Paris culminating in the destruction of the Eiffel Tower by some kind of green nanite weapon. Like “Transformers” before it, “G.I. Joe” is replete with bad special effects (the Joes’ secret desert base is an especially egregious example) and a blatant disregard for the national treasures of other countries.

It also shares with “Transformers” a blatant disregard for character development. Like the old cartoon, every one is a superficial type. Super soldier Duke (Channing Tatum) is ‘fearless male lead,’ Scarlet (Rachel Nichols) is ‘hot redhead,’ General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) is ‘grimacing leader,’ Ripcord (Marlon Waynes) is ‘funny black man’ and Snake Eyes is, well, he’s a ninja. The Joes are supposed to be the most elite soldiers in the world, but look like soft strutting actors, more chiseled than tough.

Cobra, their evil terrorist counterpart, is allowed to be a little more interesting. They have more elaborate costumes and get to ham it up with bold proclamations and lots of choice overacting. They also have their own ninja, Storm Shadow (Byung-Hun Lee).

The two-faced arms dealer, Destro (played with a thick Scottish accent by Christopher Eccleston), talks of world domination with the zeal of a Bond villain, while his second-in-command and future leader, Cobra Commander (a largely underexploited Joseph Gordon-Levitt), slumps around in a breathing apparatus straight out of David Lynch’s “Dune,” rambling on about his mad science experiments. Their plan to take over the world is nearly as convoluted as Cobra’s brain-rotting schemes in the original cartoon, relying on every improbable piece falling into place.

The action is about what you’d expect. It comes in a fast and constant stream of cheesy special effects and one-on-one fights, only taking time out for some breathless exposition, talking villains and crude one-liners. The filmmakers know that if the action stops, the audience might start thinking about the actual story.

You can usually depend on movies like this to provide plenty of fan service, but “G.I. Joe” can’t even get that right. One of the most popular Cobra villains of the 1980s was the Baroness, a slinky brunette espionage expert with a merciless disposition and thick Eastern European accent. Standing in for vaguely menacing left-wing terrorists the world over, she was an object of dark sexual infatuation for young boys everywhere.

Now you’d think the filmmakers would have an easy time capitalizing on the Baroness’s broad sexual appeal, but no, we get a nice, watered-down all-American girl who kind of looks like the Baroness. The movie manages to extinguish everything that made her dangerous and interesting by giving her an American accent and a good guy love interest. I’m not exactly sure how you screw something like that up, but they did.

Somehow, this multi-million-dollar Hollywood movie is worse than the cheap cartoon commercial it was based on. How is that even possible?

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