Digitally Mechanized Malarkey
Forget about the ten-year-old boy inside me, the adult me would happily watch G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra again. Putting it in perspective, I'd sit through the movie a hundred more times before I'd watch Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen a second time. Both movies were released by Paramount this summer; both began as Hasbro toys; and both were pre-destined to earn serious money.
A fundamental difference is that G.I. Joe embraces its absurdity and doesn't pretend to be anything other than schlock, whereas the morphing toy sequel took itself too seriously -- even thinking it was genuinely funny in parts. Another, related difference is that G.I. Joe doesn’t feel bloated.
The key to enjoying this latest hunk of mechanized malarkey is to suspend your intelligence and conscience along with your sense of disbelief. Probe beneath the surface or second-guess your mildly favorable reaction and G.I. Joe disintegrates. That said, the digital effects are pretty darn cool and the filmmakers don't let anything bog them down as they relay their conventional action-adventure plot about a multinational military unit trying to prevent an arms dealer from destabilizing the world's balance of power.
The air of unreality is apparent from the opening scene when we're transported to the dungeon of a French castle in the year 1641 to watch a Scotsman named McCullen be put in a white-hot iron mask as punishment for dealing arms to both sides during war. Fast-forward to the not-too-distant future from today when a descendant of said arms merchant James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) -- later to become Destro -- has developed the first warheads employing nano technology. These devilish weapons wreak havoc like nothing you’ve ever seen before, unless you've seen director Stephen Sommers' other movies The Mummy or The Mummy Returns.
Four prototypes are to be delivered to NATO and a gung-ho, battle-scarred soldier who goes by the nickname Duke (Channing Tatum) is in charge of the detail transporting them from a factory in Kyrgyzstan. After a firefight in which their payload is in jeopardy of being snatched, Duke and his pal Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are afforded the opportunity to join a top secret special ops unit called G.I. Joe, commanded by the aptly named General Hawk (Dennis Quaid).
They qualify for G.I. Joe's elite Team Alpha without any problem, even surviving a cameo by The Mummy star Brendan Fraser during their training. Ripcord shamelessly makes a play for his new colleague Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), while Duke fondly remembers his ex-flame Ana (Sienna Miller), who went over to the dark side after her scientist brother Rex (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was killed four years earlier in East Africa while on a mission with Duke.
Ana led the initial attack on the warheads in the guise of her new persona Baroness, a vixen with a title and chateau (by marriage) plus an agenda dictated by McCullen and Cobra, the sinister organization he heads. Soon, with the help of nasty ninja Storm Shadow, she tries to procure the warheads from G.I. Joe headquarters under the Egyptian desert. This leads to the movie's signature scene in which a warhead is used in Paris. The chase through the city streets is nearly as devastating as the detonation. The French can't be too happy about what befalls their capital, regardless of whether most of it is virtual. For those who relish long and ludicrous chases, it's manna from celluloid heaven.
The locus of the action switches to Cobra's enormous military installation beneath the polar ice cap. An assault by Team Alpha is needed to prevent the destruction of Moscow, Beijing and Washington, D.C., which would leave a vacuum McCullen and company could fill. We're talking the latest iteration of the world-domination scenarios Mike Myers spoofed in Austin Powers using the Bond flicks as his model. What distinguishes G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the outlandishness of the gizmos and gadgets, and how it ups the special effects ante. Quantitatively more than qualitatively, it must be said, yet way beyond the norm which is typically dismissed as the stuff of video-games.
You get your money's worth and then some. As for the movie's stars, Tatum is suitably studly and Miller acquits herself quite well in her first turn in a blockbuster. Quaid is stiffer than an action figure. Naturally, the dialogue is far from scintillating but there are a few good quips and the sci-fi concept of nano technology is no slouch. The flashbacks used to fill in Ana and Duke's story, plus the rivalry between Storm Shadow and Team Alpha's Snake Eyes, are hokey in a comforting way.
There's no sense in worrying whether movies such as G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra are warping our idea of entertainment. It's too late. Another brainless pop franchise has been born. A recurring line in the film, uttered before various diabolical acts are committed, goes "This will only hurt a little. What comes next, more so." That's a good way to sum up this flick and, odds are, the sequel that will follow.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG-13" by MPAA.)