Friday, August 7, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

The storyline of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is so simple a four-year-old child could explain it to you. Lacking a four-year-old child, I will attempt to explain. You see, there are these elite military figures who work together in covert operations. They’re called the G.I. Joes. They’re the good guys. There are also these slimy scientists and weapons developers who are the bad guys. They want to use nanotechnology to, gee, I actually don’t know. Do they want to take over the world, or destroy the Joes, or impersonate the president (played here by Jonathan Pryce)? Maybe that four-year-old would know.

When I went to see the movie, I was handed a free starter pack of cards for a collectible card game called “Top Trumps” starring characters from the movie. I have these sitting next to my computer at the moment. Allow me to look at them and try to figure out what exactly is going on in this movie. As it played I could only tell that good people were fighting bad people and somehow that involved interchangeable nonsense names (like Ripcord and Snake-Eyes) and green super-missiles that release tiny metal-eating robots. I sure hope the cards help decode the film and I won’t have to Google my way to a G.I. Joe fan-site.

First up is General Hawk. He’s played by Dennis Quaid and I could tell he was the leader of the Joes. According to the card, he’s “infamous and inspirational” and also has “the skills and experience of a battle hardened warrior.” I couldn’t prove this by the evidence in the movie, but Quaid does talk with a commanding voice and often scowls.

Next, is something called Neo-Vipers. The card says these are super-soldiers. I remember now that they work for Cobra Commander (or is it just Cobra?) who’s played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Every time he came on screen, I would shake my head. What’s he doing? Collecting a paycheck, I suppose. Anyways, these Neo-Vipers are genetically modified. They’re the bad guys because they can’t feel pain or fear.

Now I’m looking at a card with a white-clad ninja and it looks like his name is Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). He’s also a bad guy. In battle scenes, he’s usually paired up with Snake Eyes (Ray Park), a G.I. Joe who’s a black-clad ninja. Flashbacks tell us that they share a common history when they both – oh who am I kidding? I don’t care.

There’s a card for a G.I. Joe with the code name Covergirl. She dies early in the picture. Spoiler, I guess. There’s also a card for James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), a weapons developer who thinks he’s the main baddie. The movie starts in 1600s Scotland with one of his ancestors getting punished for selling weapons to both sides of a conflict. The card says McCullen wants revenge for this, but to the extent that I do understand the evil plot, I can’t see how it will accomplish that goal.

At last we arrive to a card with the main character, a new G.I. Joe recruit who goes by the name Duke. He’s played by Channing Tatum. His best friend and comedic relief is Ripcord (Marlon Wayons). He shares some past with the beautiful villainess played by Sienna Miller. He has a square jaw and, like Quaid, scowls his way through the picture. The card says he’s “the best of the best…or so he thinks.” I’ll take its word for it.

As you can see the movie’s fairly confusing, playing out like a bad cartoon, which is exactly what the movie becomes whenever the action sequences start. I’m not talking brilliantly cartoony, like Speed Racer; I’m talking terribly cartoony, the kind of cartoony that throws all logical plot construction out the window for the sake of pure noise and candy-colored blurs. Admittedly, G.I. Joe is a bit better than Transformers 2, but only because it didn’t give me a headache. It’s also marginally better to look at and, if I’m not mistaken, a little more understandable, if only because human beings with actual faces are easier to tell apart than moving junkyards. There’s an equal amount of cliché-chewing hooey to be found, though, from a plane that can only understand Celtic commands to an evil plot so simple yet so confusing (McCullen sells the missiles, then steals them back in order to shoot them at three major cities). At one point the president marvels that no demands have been made. Same here, buddy.

There was a time, early in the run time, where I thought the movie would actually turn out to be an agreeably goofy time with the kind of dumb fun that director Stephen Sommers has brought to his previous movies like The Mummy or even, yes, Van Helsing. The promise of a good time is there in a chase sequence through the streets of Paris that manages to be fun despite most of it having appeared in the previews. That one sequence is the only glimpse of the promise to be found amongst so much bland and sterile carbon copies of concepts from better popcorn movies, everything from X-Men to the Star Wars prequels. G.I. Joe isn’t exhilarating, it’s just exasperating.

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