GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

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I'm sorry, you've caught me on a bad day. Hail Cobra!
I’m sorry, you’ve caught me on a bad day. Hail Cobra!

Twitter Plot Summary: CGI meets a line of toys. GI Joe are tasked with taking on an evil organisation that may or may not become COBRA.

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

Director: Stephen Sommers

Key Cast: Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sienna Miller, Arnold Vosloo, Rachel Nichols, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Dennis Quaid, Byung-hun Lee.

Five Point Summary:

1. The Eiffel Tower has never looked more computer generated.

2. Snake Eyes’ mask has a mouth. Buh?

3. Badly written exposition = de jour.

4. I wonder why Sienna Miller was given that specific outfit? Teen market, clearly.
5.  Cobraaaaaaaa!

My first reaction once the film ended was… what has just happened? As origin stories go, this one didn’t play true to form – character histories were revealed at various points throughout the film, while at the same time we’re introduced to Duke and Ripcord, a couple of regular soldiers who survive an ambush from Sienna Miller’s Baroness and are rescued by the GI Joe’s. I can imagine, if you were a newcomer to the series, that it will all have been a bit confusing to start with. They don’t go out of their way to properly explain what’s going on or who these characters are, and it’s still not exactly clear until we’re almost at the end. I did like the training montage for Duke and Ripcord, and for some reason I liked the CGI lift/elevator scene as the team descend deeper into the Joe’s base, revealing land and sea-based training on various levels (including some HUGE tanks of water).

Just like Paul WS Anderson has a very specific style, this movie is typical Steven Sommers. Thankfully his use of CGI has improved over the years, to the point where most of it gels quite nicely with the live action scenes. The action scenes are quite inventive for the most part, although the final climactic showdown at Christopher Eccleston’s underwater/under-ice base borrows liberally from the Death Star battle at the end of Star Wars (Episode 4: A New Hope for anyone raised on the new numbering scheme), to the point where I half expected a Han Solo-type character to show up and save the day.

More of this in the film would have improved it immensely.
More of this in the film would have improved it immensely.

Clearly the best action sequence of the entire film was the attack on the Eiffel Tower.  It conveyed a real sense of danger and showed the potential behind the “rise of Cobra”,  and divided the action up nicely despite the rather ludicrous “superman suits” given to Duke and Ripcord. The scenes with Jonathan Pryce’s president also gel nicely, and he emotes “baffled” very well indeed. But then it’s Jonathan Pryce, much like Alan Rickman (albeit in a much different sense) he could play a coma victim and still eat up the screen. And I know this is a work of fiction, but the name “GI Joe” being uttered, in all serious, by real life actors, feels a little awkward. But then the UK name for the series, Action Force, isn’t much better.

It was obvious that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is too big an actor to only have a brief cameo in a flashback or two (as Rex, brother of the Baroness), and it was nice to discover (but not difficult to see coming) that he was the evil scientist hidden beneath a wig and a face mask. It was clear to me that he had a lot of fun with that role, even more so given that he only had one eye to emote with for most of the film’s runtime. His interpretation of the role was definitely in line with the tone of the movie, and the same can be said of Dennis Quaid, who seems to have a knowing glint in his eye throughout. Everyone else did an okay job with the material, and Marlon Wayans wasn’t nearly as irritating as I was expecting. Yes he’s the comic relief, but he’s surprisingly restrained.

As is often the case, some elements of the movie are much sillier than others. For starters, let’s look at Snake Eyes. Specifically, his mouth. Why, in all the costume designer’s infinite wisdom, was the silent character given a moulded mouth on his mask? It looks ridiculous and bearing in mind the character doesn’t say a word, completely unnecessary. Why not just stick with the original animated design and have a single piece of material covering the area instead? Very silly.

The film also suffers in its delivery of exposition. It’s very ham-fisted in style, such as when they explain why Snake Eyes doesn’t speak – he has a climactic sword fight with Storm Shadow who says, mid-combat, “when our master was killed you took a vow of silence. Now you will die without a word.”  It’s entirely needless, if anything there’s more intrigue  about Snake Eyes by not revealing much about his past. There are lines similar to this dotted all over the movie, and you could probably come up with 100 different, better ways of getting the information to the audience without resorting to cheap dialogue.

Another ridiculous side of the story was the flashback sequence involving Rex and the fabulously named Dr Mindbender. Not only does he have a name ripped straight from the cartoon, and that he has the classic “evil scientist” garb, but he speaks in the same comical tone of the cartoon as well, a cross somewhere between Vincent Price and Dr Evil. His brief appearance was hilarious to say the least, and I found it a shame that he wasn’t in the film for longer. I vote to create a Dr Mindbender spin-off TV series, where he creates a new, evil world-changing virus every week and be stopped just in the nick of time by one member of GI Joe, a different one each week. I’d pay to see that.

It’s a fun yet disposable film, from a director who is slightly more mass-market friendly than Paul WS Anderson. Excessive use of CGI? Check. Occasionally amusing dialogue? Check. Story that would be better in another director’s hands? Check. I feel a missed opportunity with this film, in that it could have been a big, gritty tale of revenge and redemption and focused more on Cobra’s lack of demands – they’re evil and want to blow things up, end of. Saying that, in spite of the silly tone the movie sets, I quite enjoyed it and will watch a sequel should they make one, but a better script would be much appreciated.

Favourite scene: Snake Eyes’ sword fight with Storm Shadow.

Quote: “Knowing is half the battle.”

Silly Moment:  Duke and Ripcord using their special suits to hop skip and jump towards the Eiffel Tower whilst deflecting attacks from enemy troops.

Score: 2.5/5

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