Out of all the animated series that made the 80’s one of the funnest times to be a kid, G.I JOE is the “real American Hero” and thanks to the efforts of Mr.Camp himself (Stephen Sommers) we are treated to a wild, live-action adaptation of Hasbro’s classic and beloved franchise. I think it was a globally understood fact that this film was just going to be a “check your brain at the door” Summer pop-corn flick. That said, along those lines, and aside from definite missteps and problems, I will say that the film still delivered the goods.
PREMISE: “G.I. JOE is the code name for America’s highly trained, daring special mission force. It’s purpose, to defend human freedom against COBRA, a ruthless, terrorist organization determined to rule the world”…well if you are a fan of the series, does it even matter what the premise is, as long as it has to do with the JOEs? Well if you still need a plot, here goes: From the Egyptian desert, the elite G.I. JOE team with the latest in next-generation spy and military equipment will against the corrupt arms dealer Destro and the growing menace from the mysterious Cobra organization to dispute them from plunging the world into chaos. The events depicted in this film are (somewhat) a lead-in to the classic and ultimate epic battles between good and evil that was the cartoon show.
HIGHS: Probably the strongest presence in this film, aside from a borderline guilty “fun-factor”, were the visuals, and namely the sets/locations. Now being that the G.I. JOE cartoon was so large in terms of plot, the locations/bases/vehicles in this film were equally as large, and this film was done justice by “going big”. Just as impressive as the JOE/COBRA world was in the cartoon, the film captured the same feeling with the sheer enormity of both The PIT and COBRA’s underwater arctic base rivaled that of a small city and were ultimately cities unto themselves. The CGI, as much as people complain about its lack of realism, really sold this epic sense of the locations. If this was done 10 years ago I imagine it would have looked like 20 guys in crappy costumes fighting another 20 guys in equally crappy costumes in a “base” about the size of a McDonalds (images of Van Damme’s Street Fighter seem to come to mind by comparison).
Next high point to note is that of all the acting from the moderate to under-skilled cast, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cobra Commander was nearly riveting and to his credit, was able to do so much with most of his face concealed. It was also great to see Arnold Vosloo as Zartan which was unexpected (although underutilized) but surprisingly perfect casting decision. After seeing Vosloo then Brendan Fraser it was almost a certainty that Sommers third and final “regular” Kevin J. O’Conner would make a cameo and he did playing Dr. Mindbender.
Now I’ve read that people complain about the flashbacks and although I would have preferred one or two less, I think they worked and helped sell the back story considering that they had to to explain the fact that they changed canon source material from the show. As far as high quality action, the entire Storm Shadow/Snake Eyes story was exciting and undoubtedly just “fan service”, although I wished there could have been more of this famous rivalry.
Lastly, I think that the film’s ‘overall’ composition was also a positive point. In viewing this kind of movie, trying to enjoy this film as one ride, you accept the inadequacies and view the film as a whole, and not the sum of its parts. Sure you can take certain sequences of the film and scrutinize them and you’d probably get half the movie to complain about, but, if you just go with the flow and though you may roll your eyes at a joke or scene, its much like a roller coaster in that you have to evaluate the ride in its entirety and just accepts the movie as good old escapism. Also regarding the film as a whole, taking the 2 hour run time to tell the story was a good move and was important to it’s (hopeful) success. I’ve written before that you can’t cram a movie with this much history into a 90 minute run time and I’m glad they let the movie run its course as well as the fact that they hinted a sequel by following the formula a la Bryan Singer’s X-Men. Finally, I always enjoy Alan Silvestri scores and his efforts on this film pulled some scenes/sequences out of the mediocre by adding his trademark emotional and adrenaline inducing music.
LOWS: Casting was hands down the poorest attribute for G.I. JOE. From the moment the announcement was made that Marlon Wayans was going to be in this film, I believe everyone on the planet rolled their eyes. It never got any better with the trailers and right up to the minute the movie started I was dreading what I was in store for. Truth be told he wasn’t as bad as I thought he would be, and I rank him just one or two spots above “Jar Jar” and the Transformer 2 twins “Skidz” and “Mud Flap” in terms of tolerable characters. Also, on the casting note, I felt that Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans weren’t the first, second or even third choice for Duke and Ripchord as they didn’t seem right for their roles. I got a distinct feeling that they maybe wanted to mimic the Tyrese Gibson and Josh Duhamel chemistry and feel from Transformers. If that was the intent I find this direction was a little unoriginal. On the same note I thought that Dennis Quaid (who is always a pretty dependable addition to the cast) just felt like he was just walking through the scenery. He’s a fine actor and did the best with the material he was given but still it was pretty dry. Also (and I never thought I would be saying this) there was almost “too much” action and I think Stephen Sommers was suffering from a severe case of Michael Bay envy. Only cure??…Explosions!! From the first few minutes’ explosions to the almost rampant destruction in Paris, it was done excitingly but definitely ad-nauseum.
Next, here’s a double nick in the film’s scorecard, both the ‘Neo Viper soldiers and ‘accelerator suits’ were pretty cheesy and in someways appeared borderline stupid. I think that the ‘Neo Vipers’ probably would have been more effective (and interesting) had they been the B.A.T.s from the cartoon series and not actual soldiers, but that’s just my opinion. Further, I’ll say that the accelerator suits were dumb in concept and took away from the fact that the JOEs are highly trained soldiers and they shouldn’t need to utilize anything so anime inspired to accomplish what they were trained to do with their bare hands/skill set. As much as I really tolerated and yes, enjoyed the story, it suffered a big negative with the suits. But a slight bit of redemption, they worked better when you saw them in the movie than was inferred by the trailers (also they were designed by Stan Winston studios so that’s got to be worth something). Lastly, as cool as the designs and set pieces were, the entire line of COBRA uniforms and the final Cobra Commander cowl/headgear and Destro mask were so poorly designed, they were down right laughable. Not the right direction for two enemy characters as popular as they are. But being an adaptation of an over the top, extremely ludicrous plot based cartoon, can you blame them?
While this was a film that no actor in the movie attempted to take their role seriously (except of course Levitt) you could tell the crew was able to play it all a little more relaxed and just had a good time making this movie because it was fun to watch. As far as this film’s translation from the cartoon I think it was decent and there was a nice translation to screen even though die hard fans will balk at the creative changes.
One thing worth noting, surrounding all the rumors and controversy in the film’s production, I believe the audience has to learn to understand and accept is that when a film is getting made, there are more hands in the films’ development contributing to it’s outcome than we realize. So when a trailer or posters come out and we groan about how bad it’s going to be, realize that sometimes the decisions surrounding a film’s direction/look/whatever are made not just by the director, cast or the creative team. Sometimes their hands are tied or forced to make decisions they don’t want make so you can’t criticize or blame them if the film is crap…and also, let’s face it, no one sets out to make a bad movie because we as audiences don’t want to see a bad movie, especially if it is based on a subject we all know and love.
In closing I liked that Stephen Sommers made this movie as I do enjoy his style and previous films. Sommers is no Scorsese or Spielberg, but to his credit, Sommers doesn’t make thought provoking movies, nor does he make high brow/smart films…he makes (similar to Michael Bay) funa dn entertaining movies. Deep Rising,The Mummy and Van Helsing weren’t out to win awards, they’re out to win smiles. A few groans and cringe-worthy jokes aside, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra has done the same.
G-S-T Ruling: 3.5/5
G-S-T Seal of Approval: GRANTED