GI Joe is an easy to digest summer action flick with its heart set on proving the overcoming powers of the individual and of love. Don’t expect anything of actual merit in the film, but the full realization of the Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, ironically working beside Christopher Eccleston) is quite a treat. The film holds together better than Revenge of the Fallen, but The Rise of Cobra still comes out feeling just as vapid and ill-conceived.
The premise of GI Joe is supposed to be very simple: Cobra is a terrorist organization hell bent on some world conquest, and the Joes were established to minimize and prevent any offensive effort made. The movie pretty much writes itself given the simplicity and the post-911 climate. For some reason, Paramount did not want to go with that. Why jump into a story of a world already in motion when you can give the viewers a lame entry point into the story that requires a number of contrivances that don’t really work? That’s a question that was not mulled over very long by the studio executives.
GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the story of Duke, a young ground soldier with an aversion to being away from the battlefield, as he enters the secret organization known as GI Joe and finds his past ties him to the terrorist threat that’s on the rise. Therein lies my problem with the movie – it’s about Duke and not about the team. Duke demands to be added to the Joes rather than asked like anyone else, he scores within the 99.5th percentile on the Joe tests, was previously engaged to the woman who would become the Baroness, and failed to prevent the horrible disfiguring that would come to the man who would become the Cobra Commander (who, coincidentally enough, is also the Baroness’ scientist brother). The joy of the old cartoon and the toys was that there was a Joe for every situation and every kids, whereas the joy of the movie is in the importance of one.
Fortunately, tying the movie to the performance of Channing Tatum was not a poor decision. I believed him as a reserve yet also intense Duke. It’s not as if the film hinged on the performance of Marlon Wayans, whose character’s, Ripcord’s, reason for joining the Joes wasn’t because of the (fixed yet) botched operation in delivering a warhead but rather for getting close to Scarlett. All of the other Joes were ancillary at best, except for Snake Eyes, whose story was the coolest because it was revealed through his antagonist’s eyes. But it was difficult to forgive the fact that the American ninja was supposed to be so much better than the Japanese one.
With the title’s inclusion of The Rise of Cobra, one might think that there would be some focus on the formation and structure of the Cobra terrorist organization. Sadly, instead the movie delivers an unnamed criminal element involved in the creation, theft, and horrible use of high tech weaponry – until the end when a deranged scientist assumes himself into the position of leader and dubs himself the Commander. Then they get captured. The end.
Given my background as a huge fan of The Transformers and Starscream, I’m probably predisposed to dismissing anything following the brilliant Chris Latta’s work as Cobra Commander. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, however, managed to make me a believer in his Cobra Commander. I even enjoyed the character’s evolution into the maniacal head of Cobra. His being the Baroness’ brother is dismissible and stupid, but his being a scientist brought onto the battlefield to acquire hidden data (about nano-machines for use in mind control and performance enhancement) and subsequently finding himself caught in an air raid ordered by Duke gives the character an appropriately tragic air. His hiding from his sister in plain sight as the mysterious Doctor and also mind controlling her reveals just how sinister and twisted the character was – especially as he was not even out for revenge. The true goal of the Commander has yet to be revealed, but simple world domination cannot be too far from the goals of a man who found the secret to mind control right before the man he used to be died. It’s just disappointing that they created a completely stupid mask for the Commander instead of opting for a blue or black hood. Or even the domed helmet.
One might think that with this praise I liked the movie. I would not go that far. I enjoyed the movie much more than I had expected to, and the plot was much more coherent than that of Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen; but the film was your average summer blockbuster drivel that cashes in on a pre-existing property. I’m just surprised that it wasn’t a total train wreck and managed to realize a single character. (Literally, one character.) The movie is decidedly flawed.
Like previously mentioned, linking everything to Duke is a weak move writing-wise and cheapens the experience. Duke’s knowing the future figurehead of Cobra makes his fight a personal one rather than merely an altruistic one. His connection to the Baroness cheapened her character drastically, as she fights off her mind control for the sake of love beyond all else. (Note: While free of mind control, she repeatedly overhears that her supposedly dead brother is part of the terrorist threat and an enemy, and she does not respond. Sure, we saw her crying while knocked out to somehow signify that she overheard the truth, but there was no indication of a cognitive response to the information.) One character should not be the linchpin in a movie that supposedly establishes a team.
So, speaking of the team, can anyone remember the name of the black guy who wasn’t Ripcord? Did Brendan Frasier’s unnecessary cameo have a name? Was General Hawk really necessary? What was the French guy’s name? Was Scarlett’s character supposed to be perfect in almost all ways with the shortcoming that she is unemotional? And Ripcord’s is that he’s flawed but emotional? And the attraction being that opposites ultimately attract? Were the power suits there for any other reason than a cheesy gimmick for use in a chase? (And why the joke about the price of something that would ultimately be a frontline weapon? That’s like telling me not to shoot a $2000 bullet. Don’t give me the bullet then.) If Snake Eyes doesn’t talk, why even go as far as to put lips on his mask? Where did he keep the extra black mask when he was wearing a white one initially when going into the arctic – and why bother bringing more than one? And if the governments ultimately know of the existence of the GI Joe team, why couldn’t they have received a secret pardon rather than dismantling?
And for the bad guys, why couldn’t the Baroness recognize her brother? Was it the mind control? Why couldn’t Duke when he was captured? What was the point of the hairpiece in light of the fact that it made him look more like Gordon-Levitt? If Dr. Who/Claude from Heroes/Destro had so much money, why couldn’t they have simply purchased a facility for the purpose of weaponization rather than seducing and killing someone to get in (and drawing more attention to themselves)? So, was the Commander planning on Destro’s eventual facial scarring? If the Commander was planning on taking control of the entire operation, why did he wait until they were discovered and had to flee their facility? Are we to simply accept that Storm Shadow is dead simply because he was stabbed and fell into sea? (And, with his saying to Snake Eyes that their master “was killed” but not taking credit for it, is the suggestion that he didn’t do it?) Was the Baroness even supposed to be threatening, what with her utter lack of stature, substance, or even adult-sounding voice?
The best part of the movie, though, is the subplot with Zartan. Zartan is Cobra’s master of disguise, and the movie shows him as being extremely good at that. Then, at the end, he assumes the role of the President of the United States of America. The sequel must therefore show the deck stacked dramatically against the Joes, since the President will then have information about them and the ability to pardon the captured Commander and Destro. I look forward to that, if done well.
But I can’t recommend this movie to anyone. Not even as a rental. It’s an adequate action movie, but that’s it. It’s overall shallow and uneventful. One might think that a movie involving the destruction of a national landmark might hold some sort of weight emotionally, given that we want to protect the world and the beautiful things we have put in it. No. It happens, then we never talk about it again. Is this GI Joe or is this Team America?
Bechdel Rule: FAIL! Like Transformers, there were only two women in the entire movie who had names. Fortunately, they did share a scene together, but they were fighting and not talking. Quipping doesn’t count as a conversation. But let me get back to the fact that there were only two women in the movie. The underrepresentation obviously proves how woman-friendly the film is not.
Additionally, even though the women are on the battlefield similarly to the men and shown to be extremely capable, they were objectified quite blatantly. The standard issue Joe uniform for women includes a push-up brassiere and a jacket that doesn’t zip up completely. Don’t believe me? Look at the first scene in the Joe headquarters. Hell, even the armor is form fitting – and involves a greater focus on shaping rather than protecting. The Baroness wore similar outfits, and I don’t know how effective high heels are on the battlefield. Not unless the point is distracting the enemy with accentuated calves.
But how woman-friendly can this movie be with its casting average waif-thin women who have no distinctive looks unto themselves? I’m getting tired of it, and doesn’t fit for a movie like GI Joe anyway. The Baroness should be imposing in some way, and Scarlett shouldn’t be covered in obvious makeup when she’s just one of the guys and supposedly rushing around to save a world in drastic need of saving? Women don’t always need to be prettied up in movies, especially when the roles don’t demand or even suggest it.