Movie Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (PG-13)


Editor’s Note: This film was not made available to critics before its opening date; hence the lateness.

Oversold Separately
With the newest toy-store reboot, going is only half the battle.
By Jared Peterson

Lately it’s been impossible to keep the toys in their boxes, and hot on the robotic heels of Transformers’ opera of overstimulation, the cavalry has been called in for a live-action update of G.I. Joe.

In the “not-too-near future”, an evil arms dealer named McCullen (Christopher Eccleston)[Editor’s note: Doctor Who fans, make yourself known! Whooo! …Anyone?] has developed a high-tech weapons system with the power to disintegrate metal, threatening to destroy whole cities and terrorize the world. Of course, he must be stopped, and the good ole U S of A has just the men and token woman for the job. They’re top-secret and the best of the best; they have cool codenames like Duke and Snake Eyes and Scarlett; and they have an underground base with racks and racks of shiny, deadly toys.

As a kid I amassed heaps of this merchandise and masterminded epic conflicts that spanned lawns and flowerbeds, basement stars and bedroom floors. In my hands, the war play was always heavy on action and short on story, and despite millions more dollars to burn, the same is true here. Characters and relationships are sketchy and simplistic in the manner of those cardboard dossiers on the backs of the packaging. Duke (Channing Tatum) is a cracker-jack soldier who in quick succession lost his best friend Sam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who was killed in battle, and his wife Ana (Sienna Miller), who was Sam’s sister and never forgave Duke for putting him in harm’s way. Four years on, he is wired tight and knee-deep in his own duty. When he discovers Ana has been working for the bad guys as an alter-ego called the Baroness, he joins the elite G.I. Joe force with fellow hot shot Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), and they mount up and charge into a huge, globe-spanning war with the rising threat called Cobra.

In keeping with the plasticine nature of the toy line, each character seems frozen in a single, signature look. Channing Tatum is chiseled and stone-faced right out of the box.  Same for the lovely ladies on either side of the conflict: As the Baroness, the normally scorching hot Sienna Miller is only blandly alluring, and the stunning Rachel Nichols, as girl-power supernerd Scarlett, is all but drained of life. Wayans’ cracks aren’t that wise, and his schoolyard crush on Scarlett feels tacked on. The rest of the crew fade from memory as quickly as they came.

Predictably, the film is violent; shockingly, the film is very, very violent. Sure, there’s little blood and no gore, but director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing) is dealing is quantity here, and the kill ratio is high. Some of the departed have it coming, or at least knew what they signed on for. But many more are innocent bystanders caught in the melee. For instance, when a huge and harried chase tears through the streets of Paris, it leaves wide swaths of dazzlingly casual collateral damage—buildings and landmarks toppled, dozens of cars flipped, smashed and peppered with gunfire, representing hundreds of lives lost. The gunplay is protracted and very loud. Joes and Cobras alike are taken out, shot, stabbed or burned up in their vehicles. Several combatants are knifed in the eyes (the best way to get through the Cobra soldiers skeletal combat masks), impaled, hit with throwing stars or shot through with arrows. There is brutal, gravity-defying martial-arts fighting, utilizing foot, fist, sword, star, nunchaku and batons to head-smashing, bone-cracking effect. The Cobra Commander keeps a real, hissing cobra in a cage (we see it bite someone’s arm) and he delights in injecting various friends and foes with genetically enhanced venom and insidious nano-termites to control men’s minds. (This movie loves needles, and is counting on the fact that most of its audience does not.)

The injection-molded aesthetics leave little room for sensuality. Miller shows some cleavage and little leg, and Nichols is seen in sports bra and workout clothes that reveal a lot of midriff; later, both women rock skin-tight battle outfits. Duke and bad guy Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) each appear shirtless at certain points. The Baroness makes a little double entendre about her relations with her Baron; later, she shares an extramarital kiss with McCullen. There’s some lovey-dovey nuzzling in one of the flashback scenes, and a tame kiss for good luck between Scarlett and Ripcord. Peppered throughout is a handful of each of the major curse words, with no f-bombs.

Previews included Whiteout (R), a snow creature thriller—suspenseful music, some gunfire, a plane crash, images of a broken-legged man, frostbit fingers, plus a glimpse of Kate Beckinsale’s silhouette through a fogged-up shower door; Old Dogs (PG), with single Robin Williams discovering he has tween-aged twins—a kiss with beauty Kelly Preston, some slapstick blows to the head and crotch, and belligerent gorillas and penguins; Armored (PG-13), a Training Day-esque heist picture—gunfire, a bomb explosion, some car crashes, and a reference to male endowment; Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (PG-13), a twisted comedy—a “bull” with no s-word, an array of carnival oddities and a few of those human-animal hybrids Congress is so worried about; and a teaser for The Last Airbender (not yet rated), a live-action version of the popular animated series, directed by M. Night Shyamalan (who gets one more chance—one)—just some solo martial arts.

Jared Peterson last reviewed G-Force.