5 August 2009

Movie Review: G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra


G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra
2009, 118mins, PG-13
Director: Stephen Sommers
Writer (s): Stuart Beattie, David Elliot, Paul Lovett, Stephen Sommers, Michael Gordon
Cast includes: Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Dennis Quaid, Sienna Miller, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rachel Nicols, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Park
Release Date: 7th August 2009

Following the monumental success of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” it appears that Hollywood has decided mining the history of children’s toys might be a good way to earn big bucks fast, moving its gaze upon the “G.I Joe” universe as its next plaything turned multi-million dollar blockbuster. Under the control of Stephen Sommers “G.I: The Rise of Cobra” has been privy to some stinging pre-release buzz, rumours started to appear that it was the worst testing movie in Paramount history and that final cut on the project had been taken away from it’s credited director. One can only assume that such whispers where blasphemy, “G.I Joe” has several traditional blockbusting flaws but by the same token it carries off enough of its big budgeted ambitions to equate to wholesome summer fun.

The plot isn’t overly beefy but given that this installment seems like the first in a prospective franchise, that’s not unexpected. The film picks up as US soldiers Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) have their platoon ambushed and murdered as they attempt to move a set of devastatingly powerful missiles across the country. The thief happens to be an old squeeze of Duke’s who now goes under the name The Baroness (Sienna Miller); she steals the weapons but thanks to intervention by a secret unit called G.I Joe the men escape with their lives. G.I Joe immediately take Duke and Ripcord back to base where the pair join up under the eye of General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) , who sets them a series of trials. After completing the initiation Ripcord and Duke prepare to help the squad find out if the culprit of the theft is a sinister weapons dealer (Christopher Eccleston) or if something bigger is behind the Baroness’s violent actions.

Not being familiar with the source property I can’t say if this is the film long-time devotees have been waiting for, and as a result whether much of the pre-release fanboy derision was well placed. However as a solid piece of summer escapism I found “G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra” perfectly acceptable and stacked with adequate amounts of explosive action, those expecting anything mentally taxing had best readjust their expectations but for the rest it’s a blast. Sommers is a veteran of big budgets and blockbusting after helming the likes of “The Mummy” and “Van Helsing”, displaying his refined skills nicely at the front of “G.I: Joe”. Certainly for those with a taste for the directors love of CGI and oddly effective ensemble casts this is another triumph, even if the story is more than a bit flat and occasionally messy.

Channing Tatum is quickly maturing into a big star and after initially disgusting me with the puerile “Step-Up” I’m starting to warm toward the man’s ability. He’s a charismatic actor with a decent screen presence, more than can be said for most of the good looking hunks being handed stardom today. He can handle action, drama and even a little comic relief competently which makes him a sound and efficient face to hoist the “G.I Joe” flag on, even if he’s unlikely to trouble the Academy next year. Around him there are a nice cocktail of thespians including old stalwarts like Dennis Quaid and Jonathan Pryce to more unlikely successes such as Marlon Wayans. Again nobody here is going to enjoy a career revolution based entirely on their “G.I Joe” efforts, but the casting has been remarkably well executed and the various participants now have lovely franchise potential to stamp on their CV’s. Adding a healthy dose of sex appeal is Sienna Miller, whose villainous character prances around in skin tight leather showing of plenty of cleavage and gleeful energy in the process. Miller has tended to favour more traditionally credible drama in the past but her participation here highlights a willingness to embrace Hollywood and partake in kick ass action, facts likely to only further boost her inflating popularity.

The action is typically well handled by Sommers, who pushes it as far as one imagines the budget could support. The finale holds a deliciously loud bang for those so inclined but the middle section set-pieces also hold up beautifully. One elongated sequence in Paris boasts destruction and effects use that Roland Emmerich would be proud of, whilst Sommers always maintains a high octane energy throughout every gun fight and sword duel. In every sense of the word “G.I Joe” is a blockbuster, fluffing story elements in favour of supremely well shot action and spectacle, there are instances of adrenaline pumping carnage so good in “G.I Joe” it makes you a little sad that the plot fails to keep up. The screenwriters have imbued several of the characters with a few interesting nuggets of back-story but ultimately it’s the jaw dropping brilliance of the set-pieces that makes “G.I Joe” so entertaining.

The movie lacks a focused villain which for most will be a notable handicap, in a world where good and evil are so easily divided it’s slightly problematic when audiences aren’t given a single central figure to root against. There are characters who act as bad guys but not until the final moments does one emerge as an ultimate adversary, a problem that at least should be fixed by default in any potential sequels. One has to accept that “G.I Joe” is the sort of property in which plot is the padding for some fabulous action and several cool performances, in order to enjoy “G.I-Joe” it’s 100% crucial that you should be able to tap into your inner 15 year old. If that’s a problem you can still admire the technical proficiency and valiant attempts at character development, but you’ll miss the exhilaration, sexiness and brazen flashes of blockbusting genius that make “G.I: Joe” a commendable gambit. Future installments are hinted at and on the basis of this, I would happily welcome them.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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