Movie Review – G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)
by HELEN GEIB
Watching G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is much like settling in to read several issues of the comic book it’s based on back-to-back, except the movie has much more impressive special effects than the imagination can provide. Ideal Saturday matinee material, it’s good frivolous fun. The only thing G.I. Joe takes seriously is the mission to entertain.
A title card that sets the film “sometime in the near future” is the preface to a presentation to a group of NATO bigwigs by arms magnate McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) on his latest and greatest technological marvel, so-called nanomites that eat metal until instructed to stop. The potential military applications are readily apparent (and needless to say, amply and vividly demonstrated by the magic of Hollywood’s technical wizards at a later point in the story). Hijacking the military convoy transporting the nanomite missiles is only the opening salvo in McCullen’s evil plan. While he makes use of all sorts of futuristic techno-weaponry and the ultimate in chemical-induced brainwashing, his ultimate aim is refreshingly old school: world domination.
The hijacked convoy was commanded by Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), the best of the best in career military officers. Their guns, however, are no match for their assailants’ advanced weapons and body armor. Only the intervention of an equally well-outfitted G.I. Joe squad (temporarily) keeps the missiles from falling into the wrong hands. At their own insistence, Duke and Ripcord are subsequently recruited by G.I. Joe, a shadow wing of NATO made up of top soldiers from around the world, and the two serve as audience proxies as they are initiated into the inner workings of the titular organization.
Duke may fairly be said to be the main character, although there are numerous good guys and as many bad guys and the film makes an effort to not let any single person monopolize the camera’s attention. Duke’s relative prominence is partly due to the fact he’s the hero type, partly because he plays a key role in the origin story. And make no mistake, this is an origin story. Some may argue that G.I. Joe already exists as an entity when the film begins, but I say a shadow military force dedicated to preserving the world order can’t really be said to live until it has a worthy adversary. The Cobra that rises from the kernel of McCullen and his disparate minions is the worthy adversary.
The large cast and drawn with a few broad brushstrokes characterization makes the casting crucial. To that end the screen is filled with familiar faces, a mix of rising stars and established character actors. Tatum reminded me of Dennis Quaid c. Inner Space; a positive in and of itself, the likeness serves the story well since Duke is presented as the less sober and seasoned version of the Joe’s commanding officer Gen. Hawk, who is played by Quaid. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Arnold Vosloo, and Said Taghmaoui are a treat in support. Fan favorite Storm Shadow is played by Byung-hun Lee with great ninja brio, while Ray Park has the commanding physical presence as Snake Eyes that is essential for a character who doesn’t speak (one of the film’s better dialogue exchanges: “Why doesn’t he speak?” – “He doesn’t say.”). Here’s hoping the expected sequel materializes to continue their and others’ stories.
And that brings me to the action, which is plentiful and well-executed; the film was briskly and, thankfully in the case of the action, coherently directed by Stephen Sommers. The action is a mix of special effects-driven spectacle and special effects-augmented combat. Periodic martial arts-ish clashes between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are an expected highlight; they meet but to fight at key junctures through the main story, and active conflict is the main part of flashbacks to their early years as temple children being schooled in the ancient arts. Of the several action set-pieces, the best is a protracted chase through the streets – and occasionally the buildings – of Paris. It is the film in microcosm: many characters, many bullets, a few swords, lots of super-cool military stuff, respectable staging, good effects, piercing gazes, and just about the right number of one-liners.