Notes On A Film – GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra

Yes, I saw the French gangster film Mesrine: Killer Instinct one week and then GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra the next week. I believe the phrase is ‘that’s how I roll’. The classy quotation is from Walt Whitman: ‘Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.’ I am eclectic. (Or perhaps I like films with colons in the title.)

For male fans of genre of a certain age, GI Joe was their entry drug into the world of comics. When the GI Joe action figures were relaunched in the early 1980s, they were supported by a cartoon and a comic book series (which was actually advertised on television during the show, and regarded rather well for a promotional tie-in), meaning a lot of Americans got their first taste of four-colour print action through the colourful adventures of the elite American military outfit, most of which were written by one author, Larry Hama. I am not one of those people – I don’t think the show was aired in the UK, and to me GI Joe was always ‘the American Action Man thing’. I feel I should share this before sharing my thoughts on the film.

The main reaction I had while watching the film was: ‘I can’t believe the GI Joe cartoon/comic is held in such high esteem by fans if this film is based on actual events in them’. I know people can go to extreme lengths to defend the goofier elements of the geek objects of desire, but this was just silly. The good guy Duke (Channing Tatum) was engaged to the bad girl The Baroness (Sienna Miller), who was the sister of super bad guy who would become Cobra Commander (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who was also best friends with Duke before seemingly dying on a mission with Duke, even though he was ‘the science guy’. Seriously? I had to start Googling this stuff to discover the truth (and I really think I wasted some of my life reading about the history of GI Joe), but it turns out this is an invention of the filmmakers, who make some very odd choices and bizarre decisions in making an action film into something boring and silly-in-a-bad-way.

I’m not going to go into detail of the plot – for entertaining discussions of the ‘story’, I would direct you towards Flapjacks’ post at MightyGodKing and this hilarious FAQ at Topless Robot – because I don’t want to insult your intelligence. Just know that you have poor Christopher Eccleston (I thought he’d learned his lesson after Gone In 60 Seconds: don’t be the bad guy in a rubbish American movie) as Destro with nanobite weapons and illogical plans to terrorise the world by destroying world capitals, starting with Paris, and the GI Joes not exactly stopping him but getting in the way and trusting billion-dollar technology (the ‘super-suits’) to new recruits to their supposedly elite organisation, even though one of the said recruits (Marlon Wayans as Ripcord, playing ‘comic relief’) doesn’t actual qualify through the testing process. It’s a real mess – the ‘super-suits’ are so ludicrous that, even though they are touted as amazing, they are not used for the rest of the film, even though they would presumably be useful in the big battles at the end of the film.

The bombastic, slapdash action on the screen is as loud, pointless and vapid as most Stephen Sommers films, but I was constantly distracted by odd things. Why does Snake Eyes’ mask have lips? Why does Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (perhaps most famous now as Mr Eko in Lost) have a ridiculous and fake-sounding London accent when he was born and raised in London? What is Gordon-Levitt doing in this film? Admittedly he’s having fun with a silly role, but is that enough? Why does Brendan Fraser cameo very briefly as a sergeant training GI Joes, other than as a favour to Sommers for all that Mummy money? (It’s a Mummy cast mini-reunion, of sorts –Arnold Vosloo and Kevin O’Connor also show up.) Is Channing Tatum a charisma vacuum? This guy is the lead for your hoped-for franchise, and he’s a mannequin, not showing any emotion or discernible star power. And was I the only person who kept wondering when Sienna Miller’s brown wig was going to drop off in the middle of an action piece? In the flashbacks to her happy days as Duke’s fiancée, she is her natural blonde self, making the wig even more apparent. Oh, and making her a bad guy through the villain using the nanotechnology to make her bad? That’s just weak – ‘no, we’ve can’t have a woman as a bad guy, making an independent choice about her life; she really wants to be a happily married Stepford wife’.

I think that’s exhausted my over-reaction to this film – it’s a silly, loud, aimless piece of nonsense that doesn’t quite reach the ‘so bad it’s good’ entertainment levels. I remain a GI Joe sceptic.

Rating: DA

[See here for my film rating system]

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