G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Born as a toy line intended to replicate the success of Barbie but for boys, reborn in the early Eighties in a scale popularised by Star Wars with an attendant cartoon series, GI Joe isn't so much a Real American Hero as a heartless exercise in market exploitation.

So, too, the film. Presumably intended, as Transformers was, to fill the void in the lives of thirtysomething men who miss the certainty of good triumphing over evil on their childhood Saturday mornings, it's over-long, over-written, over-egged. Too many cooks for certain, but throw in a cast who must all, one assumes, be trying to recoup recent losses in the property market, and a requirement to defend established brand equity, and you get a film that manages to be both noisy and boring.

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The first and most obvious comparison is Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen - it's this summer's other big movie based on a line of toys, it's got sequences set in Egypt, it's got a director with a solid metier, and it, too, is rubbish.

Stephen Sommers wrote and directed The Mummy and its sequels, and also Hugh Jackman vehicle Van Helsing. He has an eye for action, a sense of adventure and, presumably, a mortgage; this is lifeless, tedious hack-work. He apparently wrote some of the story, helped by Michael Gordon (who wrote some of the screenplay for 300) and Stuart Beattie (of Pirates Of The Caribbean, and, oddly, Australia and Collateral). Throw in David Elliot, who wrote Mark Wahlberg filial vengeance flick Four Brothers, and his co-writer Paul Lovett, and it starts to become clear what happened here. There's a children's party game where everyone takes a turn writing a paragraph, and the next person only gets to see the last sentence.

Presumably there was also a need to introduce a new vehicle or playset environment in each of these sections, reference a character or trope from the cartoon, and justify what appears to be a ridiculous budget. There are loads of toys: miniature submarines (under the Egyptian desert); tunneling torpedoes; missile-launching snowmobiles; ram-equipped Hummers; super jet fighters that use 'Celtic' voice commands; Apache helicopters; other, bad-guy-driven miniature submarines; a bigger submarine for the goodies; a magic hover-aeroplane that's black; a different magic hover-aeroplane that's silver and doesn't have a windscreen; an armoured convoy that gets ambushed by one of those flying things; a 'command' submarine; all those and robot pajamas that are called 'accelerator suits'.

Oh, there's a secret base near the Pyramids at Giza too, called 'The Pit', whose location is secret despite the fact that they fly past those pyramids on their way home, and they've also got an aircraft carrier. The Transformers, at least, are capable of disguise - with names like 'Heavy Duty', a costume on a ninja that includes lips, and one of those command centres that includes enough workers for spontaneous rounds of applause when they should really be doing command centre type stuff, it's literally incredible that this mob are secret.

It's almost as unlikely that this nonsense is accidental. Or, rather, it's pretty certain that nobody had the courage to take a step back from this mess at any stage and determine that it was god awful and try to fix it, and while they were trying their best to make do an awful lot of other stuff from other movies crept in.

That command centre has the same sort of holograph globe thing as the Rebels did in Return Of The Jedi. Ninja duo Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow have a fight in the middle of a giant laser lightning thing that cribs from A New Hope and The Phantom Menace. There's a gigantic polar base that's lifted from Die Another Day, and, most importantly, the giant fight in Paris is straight out of Team America: World Police. Indeed, so too is the car-flipping bad-guy jeep, but this film lacks the moral sophistication of any of the films it borrows from.

The fighting tends to revert to hasty cuts and edits and twisty camera work that doesn't suggest reality so much as a desperate attempt to hide out of shape actors or the wildly different appearances of stunt doubles. Huge computer-generated outposts are destroyed by zooming boats in scenes that seem like water-logged photocopies of Star Wars.

Christopher Ecclestone does less acting in the two hours and change of this film in which he is the primary villain than he managed in recent short The Happiness Salesman. In fact, he does so little acting it's hard not to be reminded of his role in the remake of Gone In 60 Seconds. He's got a similar suit, the same taste for scenery, and also an accent that makes no sense. Sienna Miller deserves better, Joseph Gordon-Levitt isn't so much wasted as wilfully miscast. Ray Park, at least, has neither dialogue nor his actual face on screen, but he's the only one who escapes.

Channing Tatum is Duke, oddly enough not the same Duke he played in She's The Man but nonetheless identikit. He's got a haunting past, a lost love, a burning desire to succeed. He's also really good at spurious admission tests, as we discover in an extended montage sequence that features Brendan Fraser briefly, which is handy as it's them that secure the entry of his friend Ripcord. That's his infantry buddy who's found the spare time to learn how to fly jets, Marlon Wayans managing one of his rare escapes from the 'spoof' juggernaut that will subject audiences to Dance Flick later this year. He's comic relief here, but unlike in Transformers he's not fated to die. As in Transformers, though, those characters who are foreign are largely there for our amusement - in particular ostensible communications expert Breaker, but not forgetting the John Hughes style "superbrain become giddy schoolgirl" of Scarlett (Rachel Nichols). Dennis Quaid also appears but it's probably best not to say more than that he wears a beret well.

There are a lot of explosions, metal-eating nano-particles and some sword fights, but Cobra fire some kind of blue-laser that throws stuff about rather than making holes in people and while there are huge amounts of collateral damage we mostly see civilians running and screaming. There are lots of gadgets, some astonishingly obvious double-crosses, motivations that would shame a high school revenge drama nevermind a global terror adventure, and it just keeps going.

You can feel the two hours, despite the sheer quantity of incident. There's so much going on, so little focus, even before the vague cliffhanger ending it feels like they're hoping for a franchise. This may perhaps be in the fast food sense - replicating someone else's formula to produce something cheap and comforting, instead ending up with something bland and nauseating.

Reviewed on: 06 Aug 2009
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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra packshot
Elite commandos take on a dangerous arms dealer and his deadly minions.
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Director: Stephen Sommers

Writer: Stuart Beattie, David Elliot, Paul Lovett, Michael Gordon, Stephen Sommers

Starring: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Christopher Eccleston, Grégory Fitoussi, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Leo Howard, Karolina Kurkova

Year: 2009

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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