Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Review: G.I. JOE - The Rise of Cobra

Simply for reference, I'm going to link you to my review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, because these are essentially the same movie.

Almost every complaint that I leveled at Transformers 2 can reasonably be applied to G.I. JOE - The Rise of Cobra.  It's loud, it's flashy, it's grade-A stupidity, and there are too many plot threads going on at once.  However, these two films differ on two key elements: Stephen Sommers' G.I. JOE at least attempts to make something resembling sense, and it never forgets to include that most crucial of summer blockbuster elements.  Fun.

The Rise of Cobra is a simple enough story.  US soldiers Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are attached to a unit transporting a case of biomechanical warheads.  The unit is attacked by super-armed terrorists Anna (Sienna Miller) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), who are then thwarted by G.I JOE, an international super squad.  Duke and Ripcord tag along back to the G.I. JOE base, where they're integrated into the team.  From there, it becomes a long episode of the cartoon, complete with the Cobra terrorists stealing the warheads, attacking Paris, and G.I. JOE striking back.

In between the obligatory plot points, we're shown a lot of cool gadgets, no end of villainous posturing (by Christopher Eccleston and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, of all people), and several good gags along the way.  It should be noted that G.I. JOE is by no means a good film.  There's no question that it's exactly the same kind of lowest-common-denominator filmmaking that made Transformers 2 such a ridiculously huge hit a month ago.  As the lead actor, Channing Tatum sucks all the energy out of any scene he's in which, as it turns out, is most of them.  To balance him out, though, is a mostly well-chosen cast of Joes and Cobras to keep the film moving.  In fact, the amazing thing about the movie is how Tatum is the only one underplaying his role, when all around him are actors hamming it up.  It's almost as though Stephen Sommers forgot to tell him he was starring in a live-action cartoon.

Walking in, I had a pretty solid idea of what I was in for.  I knew I was sort of in for a repeat of Transformers 2.  For the first five minutes or so, that's what I got.  There was even a certain point early on where I completely zoned out and started thinking about something else entirely.  Thankfully, once the action started, I was surprised at how easy most of it was to follow.  While still chaotic and generally silly, there was never any confusion about what was going on.  Then I got to know the characters, and I was pleased to see that the film isn't nearly as far removed from the 1980s cartoon as I was expecting. 

Of course, for every interesting turn, there are a couple that are completely unnecessary.  The car chase through Paris is fun, but drags on for far too long.  Just about every major character has a character-building flashback (Storm Shadow has at least three), which give us details that were alluded to more fluently in previous scenes.  These scenes seem engineered to keep the less astute viewers up to speed, but to the keen eye they just feel tedious.

I suppose that I enjoyed G.I. JOE at all stems from the fact that my expectation was very, very low.  Of course, my expectation for Transformers 2 was equally low, if not lower, and I ended up hating that film.  So where's the disconnect?  Perhaps it's the fact that this film isn't nearly as in-your-face obnoxious.  Perhaps it's because there are no mind-bogglingly stupid gaps in logic (not that it's air-tight or anything). 

For whatever reason, I actually had a good time with G.I. JOE - The Rise of Cobra.  Granted, this isn't the kind of film I'll be revisiting any time soon, but for what it is, it's exactly the kind of fun that this summer has been sorely missing.  If you don't expect too much out of the film, it's surprisingly fun.  I realize that's faint praise, but that's exactly the kind of film this is.  Light, fun, and not too awful.

I'm giving this one 3  stars ( unsureunsureunsure ) out of five.

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