Monday, April 1, 2013

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Parody Review)

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) Starring: Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Sienna Miller, Christopher Eccleston, Rachel Nichols, Dennis Quaid, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ray Park, Lee Byung-hun, Jonathan Pryce. Screenplay by Stuart Beattie, David Eliot, Paul Lovett. Based loosely on the Hasbro G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toy franchise. Directed by Stephen Sommers. Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Bob Ducsay, Brian Goldner. Run Time: 118 minutes. Color. U.S. Science Fiction, Action.

For the second week in a row, we’re reviewing a Sci Fi Action film. This time in preparation for the new G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013), we’re reviewing its predecessor in cinema, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

G.I. Joes hit American toy shelves in 1964 as an action figure for boys, rather than a doll, which were only for girls. (This is the mid-60’s we’re talking about here, so understand times and attitudes change.). The audience was clear, as the toys were referred to as America’s movable fighting man. Over the years, storylines have been written. There have been comic books, television series and video games all telling the story of G.I. (Government Issued) Joe.

But over the years, the storylines have skewed less to the war-making side of the military, the name derives from soldiers in World War I, to a more Special Forces bent. Instead of killing Nazis, the toys would hunt for terrorists. In 1982, Marvel developed a comic book to accompany the line of toys, as well as a TV Series. Each had their own continuity and the Terrorist organization they’re fighting, Cobra, and its leader, Cobra Commander, differs depending on the medium.

As with their other toy lines, specifically Transformers and board games: Battleship, Hasbro has been trying to reimagine their intellectual properties into film and television franchises. Sometimes, they are pretty good adaptations: The Transformers films and the Transformers: Prime TV series, other times the tie-in seems to be in name only: Battleship (2012).        

Now on the surface, the film had a lot of promise. The actors, while somewhat below A-list level, had proven themselves to be pretty good overall: Dennis Quaid, Jonathan Pryce, Sienna Miller, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This was about the time Gordon-Levitt’s career was rebounding; he had just starred in one of the great modern Rom Coms: (500) Days of Summer (2009).

Other promising attributes was that the franchise was a familiar one, for which many people had grown up with, especially men. Paramount and Hasbro had already made a hit out of a similar male-skewing toyline, Transformers, so why couldn’t they do the same with G.I. Joe? And if that weren’t enough, the trailer showed the female villains and heroines in skin-tight outfits.

Rachel Nichols as Scarlett and Sienna Miller as The Baroness
So what’s not to love?

Answer: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The film has so many things that work against it to be even a mediocre actioneer, let alone one I could recommend for anyone to watch.

For most of the movies I review, I try to give a complete synopsis, (Many times it’s because one does not necessarily exist in the places most people look, IMDb, TCM, Wikipedia.) But in the case of G.I. Joe, I’m going to dispense, since to rewrite the hot mess of plot would be too time consuming and not really worth the effort. There is so much that is unbelievable and unfathomable about the world the movie sets up, that if after reading my review you want to learn more, then by all means watch the movie.

Earlier I mentioned two franchises that Hasbro has developed: Transformers and Battleship. G.I. Joe feels like it belongs in the category of the latter. There are special effects in G.I. Joe, but they don’t make up for what’s missing in the rest of the movie.

Rather than an expression that was applied to the grunts in the trenches during World War I, G.I. Joes have become an international elite force out to save the world. When terrorists steal nanomite bombs capable of eating through metal and unstoppable unless you have the kill codes, from a U.S. Army transport team, the G.I. Joes, or just “Joes” as they call themselves, spring into action. This elite fighting force seems to be responsible to no government, but given their hidden base far below the desert in Egypt, someone must be fronting this organization. Think U.N., but the movie never really deals with it.

 Christopher Eccleston as Destro, the evil head of MARS.
The Joes are made up of guys with nicknames that might work well for the action figures, but just seem silly when applied to living men and women. Take Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a black British ordinance expert and the field commander of the team; Snake Eyes (Ray Park), the ninja commando you didn’t know you’d need on an elite fighting force; Breaker (Said Taghmaoui), a Moroccan communications specialist; Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), a pretty, smart and tough intelligence expert: Duke (Channing Tatum), an American soldier who, along with Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), survived the demolition of the Army Transport team and are now new Joe recruits. The leader is General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), an over the top general who has been assigned the responsibility of protecting the world.

The Joes: Duke, General Hawk, Ripcord, Scarlett and Snake Eyes.
Fighting the Joes is Cobra, led by Cobra Commander (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who in another life had been Rex Lewis, smart guy and the brother of Ana Lewis (Sienna Miller), Duke’s fiancée. Rex was sent into a bunker to retrieve some scientific stuff and meets Doctor Mindbender (Kevin J. O’Connor), who teaches him about nanomites after the bunker is destroyed and Rex is partially mutilated. Since this tragedy, Ana has become The Baroness by virtue of marrying The Baron de Cobray (Gregory Fitoussi) a very rich scientist, who knows nothing of his wife’s alter ego. Besides looking hot in her tight fitting costume, The Baroness seems to have no empathy for anyone. Destro (Christopher Eccleston) is the head of the Military Armament Research Syndicate (MARS), whose company developed the nanomite bombs and built them in Kyrgyzstan, hence the U.S. Army transport. Cobra’s mission is to steal back the bombs and use them to some aim that is not quite spelled out. Destro, called Laird James McCullen throughout most of the film, has a thing for the Baroness as does Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun), a ninja commando, who unlike the Joe’s Snake Eyes, dresses in all white for some reason. It is Storm Shadow who kills the Baron after he helps “weaponize” the bombs. (Yeah, I know, it makes no sense.) We also learn through flashbacks that Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes have been adversaries since they were small boys in Japan, even though Snake Eyes appears to start out as a white orphaned child.

Storm Shadow in white and Snake Eyes in black continue their rivalry.
Unlike the Joes, Cobra warriors are controlled by nanomites, who have made them fearless, impervious to pain, obedient and with their own healing factor, which makes them nearly impossible to kill, and the nanomites also will self-destruct them in case they’re ever captured. The Baroness, we learn, is also controlled by nanomites, no doubt implanted by her brother, but whom she doesn’t know is her brother. If you can follow this, then you’ll do well with the movie. We also learn that the effects of the nanomites can be overruled by the power of love, in much the same way as love trumps magic in Harry Potter.

There is also the President of the United States, played by Jonathan Pryce. When there is an attack on Washington, the President, who is never named by the way, is taken to a bunker for protection and it is  revealed at the end of the film he’s been replaced by Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), Destro’s aide-de-camp, who looks like Jonathan Pryce. And that despite the fact Cobra Commander and Destro are captured, replacing the President has been the point of the plot, which might actually have one.

Jonathan Pryce as the President of the United States.

For the most part, the acting is either wooden or over the top, as if the cast had taken acting lessons from Nicolas Cage. No one really distinguishes themselves. The only one who seems restrained is the uncredited Brendan Fraser as Sgt. Stone, one of the Joe trainers. One wonders what sort of financial issues requires actors of Pryce’s status to take roles in these kinds of films. Does he not have a good agent or doesn’t anyone read the script beforehand?

Which are the actors and which are the empty accelerator suits?
The convoluted story relies on a consistent stream of special effects to prop it up. I imagine most of this movie was shot against green screens. We have nanomites, pulse weapons, missiles, the super-secret Night Raven jet that only responds to Celtic commands, attack submarines, snowmobiles on steroids, control centers under the Egyptian desert and the North Pole, the Baron’s lab, the destruction of the Eiffel Tower, fight scenes that look like they’re choreographed by Cirque de Soleil, car chases with streets full of flipping and exploding cars, a go-go gadget SUV, mole-cycles and accelerator suits that aren’t fast enough to name the ones that come to mind. While they are pretty well made, special effects do not equate to great story-telling. And I didn’t forget the holographs, which get used to death in this film. The novelty quickly wears off when you see it as many times as you do in this film. Who needs a cellphone when you can communicate with holographs ad nauseam?

The car chase through Paris with accelerator suits, missiles and exploding cars.
The film seems like a business calculation to take what had been an American fighting force and to internationalize it for maximum box office. It apparently paid off as the film made $300 million worldwide, enough to spawn a sequel four years later. Ominously, Retaliation has been delayed so it could be retro-fitted to 3D, which leads me to believe the FX are supposed to carry the film’s water again. Filmmaking can be an expensive way to make money, but I’d love it if they would pay enough to have someone write a good story.

While film watching requires a certain amount of willingness to suspend your disbelief, G.I. Joe requires you to have a complete lobotomy to enjoy it.

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