Thursday, September 3, 2009

Me At The Movies: GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra

oh dennis what have you DONEI am not what I would call a movie “buff” per se. I watch the occasional movie, it’s true, but rarely do I go unless it’s part of some larger social engagement or Star Trek-related or something. Thanks to this spiffy new blog, this is going to change.

G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra is the movie industry’s latest attempt to shake some cash out of Generation Y, the last dregs of Summer 2009. People will always remember this decade as the time when red-blooded capitalists everywhere realized that all those people who were kids in the 1980s and early 90s grew up and got jobs and cars and disposable income. I can’t turn on the TV, read the news (not a newspaper, mind you), or even leave the Goddamned house without waves of pointless nostalgia assaulting my every sense, threatening to pull me down into a sea of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures and Super Mario Bros. Super Show DVDs.

Will G.I. Joe make your cobra rise? I think you know the answer to that one already, but since you asked…

Part of the reason we go to the movies is for the experience, to see the movie on the big screen and to hear it on speakers that any reasonable person would be embarrassed to be able to afford. A big part of that experience is the communal nature of a movie in a theater – you’re there with lots of other people whose reactions influence your reactions. My friends, I saw G.I. Joe in a vacuum – I was the only one in the theater, which I guess is to be expected almost a month after a movie’s release. I walked into the theater a few minutes late, and no sooner had I parked it than the lights dimmed and the previews started rolling – this movie was expecting me, and I had no reason to believe that it was going to show me any mercy.

First impression: everything looks like a toy, from the titular G.I.s Joe to the vehicles they drive around to the massive underwater complexes in which they plot to takeover the world. I realize that this is to be expected from a film where the Hasbro logo immediately follows the Paramount logo in the opening sequence, but still – their computer-generated helicopters don’t look like computer generated-helicopters, they look like computer-generated toy helicopters. F minus, see me after class.

So, the plot, such as it is: There’s this guy Duke (Channing Tatum), and he’s in the military, and he has a black friend named Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), and they’re transporting some dangerous weaponized microscopic robots from one place to another place. Before you can say “playset” the whole convoy is under attack from a futuristic plane, and every vehicle that is exploded is lovingly filmed with painstaking attention to detail. You know where the movie’s heart is, right from the start. A phalanx of action figures and a woman with sunglasses disembark and start blowing up guys. Duke and friend barely escape unscathed, but of course they escape, because they’re the only people whose names we know.

Then, another plane comes in, except this one is carrying black guys and ninjas and women wearing molded bodysuits that would make Alicia Silverstone blush. After the thirteenth or fourteenth shot of flying things swooping in and shooting other things I honestly lost track of what was going on, but suffice it to say that it looks bad until the good guys win and that pretty much sums up the entire rest of the movie.

I’m sorry, that’s probably glossing over a little too much of the experience. You should also know that male lead Duke was once involved with female antagonist The Baroness (Sienna Miller), and that they were in love. We know that they were in love because the movie makes use of these innovative things called “flashbacks” to tell the audience things that it thinks they need to know. Later in the movie, she becomes a good guy again, and we are to understand that it is because she and Duke are in love. Also, at the end of the film, Duke forgives her and her gigantic breasts for their crimes against humanity because they are in love. Or she was brainwashed, or whatever. Were you not paying attention or something?

I’ve got to say that my favorite part of the movie is when the Baroness and entourage attack the G.I. Joes’ secret underground fortress (batteries sold separately), and they drill in through the walls and kill several guards and incapacitate Dennis Quaid and nearly abscond with the super nanobot missiles before he hits a button to sound the base’s alarm. You have to hit a button to sound an alarm when people drill a hole into the side of your secret base? I feel like the G.I. Joes should have better security than any given Bank One.

Speaking of Dennis Quiad, you’ve got a fair amount of fallen stars in the mix here, including Brendan Fraser in an uncredited cameo and fellow The Mummy alum Imhotep as an evil disguise artist. The less said about Quaid’s rigid performance as the ludicrously named General Hawk, the better – he definitely made out better in the Lindsay Lohan version of The Parent Trap.

Also, the movie fulfills the requisite landmark-destruction quota of any good American action film. Cobra even has a rare creative moment here – instead of going for the more common White House or Capitol building, they blow up the Eiffel Tower. Hating on France and the French is another classically American pastime, so, bonus points for that.

Surprisingly enough, the movie’s not perfect. Sub-plots fly fast and thick in a desperate attempt to flesh out characters who are otherwise less than one-dimensional. This lack of depth isn’t their fault, necessarily – could you relate to someone the essence of you in eighteen seconds using two awkward sentences? That’s what director Stephen Sommers demands of his characters, and I can’t say I blame them for falling short.

As with any great film, G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra leaves you with questions, many without easy answers. Why, in one shot, is the Baroness’ face bloody, and then in the next shot it isn’t, and then in the next shot it’s bloody again but it looks different than it did before? Why does Cobra Commander look and act like some sort of horrifying, nightmare-land Shigeru Miyamoto? Could they have left the door for a sequel open any wider without putting “THE END??” at the end of the movie? I don’t expect you to be able to answer these. They’re difficult, I know.

All in all, G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra gets a gentleman’s C. Sure, it’s a brainless action movie and Channing Tatum couldn’t act his way out of the blister pack that his character came in, but it’s not Transformers 2 or anything. Actually, new rule: any movie not starring Shia LeBeouf automatically gets at least a C.