G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Directed by Stephen Sommers
Starring Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rachel Nichols, Marlon Wayans, Ray Park, Lee Byung-hun, Dennis Quaid
Screenplay Stuart Beattie, David Elliot, Paul Lovett

The first real cognitive activity I experienced while watching G.I. Joe occurred when the President of the United States makes an appearance during the heat of crisis decision-making.  Johnathon Pryce steps into the oval office.  At that moment, I thought this was a perfect move for this movie: a Welsh-born actor, employing only a slightly hidden British accent, portraying the President.  Inauthentic, one might protest.  Why would authenticity be required in a movie such as this?

Truth be told, these toy product movies should be losing proposition.  I never look forward to them, but at least twice now, I have been surprised by directors with questionable histories.    The Transformers were made by Michael Bay into two gigantic films with throwaway plots but special effects worthy extravaganzas.  And now Stephen Somers has taken his Mummy brand of entertainment and made it into an equally brainless but nonetheless enjoyable film.

The basic gist of the plot is the world is at risk to some tiny bio-mechanical bug that eats metal, but is controlled by a “kill-switch.”  Transporting the test warheads is, of course, nearly impossible.  Everywhere the warheads go, trouble is sure to follow.  Fighting over this weaponry are a bunch of characters who have intertwined pasts.  Of course, everyone knows each other in some way.  During each fight scene, we get little flashbacks for combatants.  One might find this objectionable if there was more at stake in each meeting.  You know that there will be another battle somewhere down the way.

Funny thing is, these guys have the world as a stage for their battles, and in their wake at the edges of the screen are thousands of people as collateral damage.  That’s okay, what you don’t see doesn’t really hurt them, right?  Even more curious is the sight of these specially trained “Joes” taken out so easily.  Months of training and slo-motion training montages don’t mean much when the script says exit stage left.

But logic means little in a film like this.  At this point, I would settle for the special effects war machines to look like they have some weight to them as well as action sequences that give you some semblance of something being at stake.  There are some lapses, to be sure, as the two main dudes (Tatum and Wayans) put on these suits that look like something Robocop would fight and go sailing effortlessly down the streets of Paris, occasionally breaking windows when they bump into cars, and then crashing through entire blocks of buildings when they need to.  Curiously, those two behemoth suits are part of the best elaborately staged chase scene.  Sure it ends up with most of Paris destroyed, but who like the French, anyway?

One strength of the film is in the characters.  They are all familiar to those who watched the cartoon from the ’80’s (I didn’t).  It’s not just that the characters are there, but who they choose to inhabit them.  Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje was one of my favorite actors from Lost, adding gravity to a show that already had plenty of it.  Here he plays one of the good guys that you just know is going to stick around.  He manages to be portrayed as well-trained and capable of making good decisions, but not cardboard.  Hard to do with characters who come prepackaged in packages with cardboard backing.  Saïd Taghmaoui plays the tech guy.  Another actor from Lost, Saïd one of those wonderful character actors who shows up in many good movies like Three Kings, The Kite Runner and Traitor. In stuff like this, he is a welcome sight.

Ray Park makes an unforgettable impression without saying a word.  As Snake Eyes, he shows that he has lost none of the gymnastic ability that made him so unforgettable as Darth Maul in Star Wars and Toad in The X-Men.  His work on the Humvee in Paris is one of the film’s high points.  His primary nemesis, Storm Shadow, as played by Lee Byung-hun, may be the most engaging character in the film.  Given the most inane dialogue, he is made relevant by Byung-hun’s ability to act using his eyes.  Kind of like a Korean George Clooney.

Channing is typically decent for the lead.  His ability, it seems, is to not look like he doesn’t believe the stupidity of his dialogue, and that goes a long way in a film like this.  Wayans provides adequate comic relief for the first time in his career, from what I have seen.  Could this uptick in the humor quotient be due to his equally inane brother not being present?

As for the women, Sienna Miller does a good job as the conflicted Baroness.  She handles the triple duty of kicking butt, being emotionally invested (at the right times) and looking good with aplomb.  Rachel Nichols the Orion Starfleet Cadet that was all over Kirk in 2009’s classic, Star Trek is without a doubt the best special effect in the film.

The direction is surprisingly capable, given the spotty track record of Sommers earlier Mummy films.  He seems to have learned a little more about how to make special effects appear as if it is something that could have happened.  The thing he does best is keep the pace brisk and the thinking to a minimum.  The important thing here, is other than the ridiculous getup that they slung an unrecognizable Joseph Gordon-Levitt, there is nothing that distracts the viewer from the action they are taking in.

Will I retain anything from this film 2 weeks from now?  Perhaps Ray Parks on the Humvee.  Will I be seeing the next one when it comes out?  Probably on video.  Probably.

(*** out of *****)

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