G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Spoiler Free)
I told myself for the past couple of years that I would hold back from going whole hog on the movie and wouldn't spoil myself with details leading up to the film, and would take the time and enjoy it in its full effect when it hit the theaters. Well, that went out the window. I read early drafts of the script, I read the movie novelization, I read the comic adaptation, and I absorbed just about every ounce of detail from the Rise of Cobra film that I possibly could. It was actually interesting getting input from all these different sources, yet still having a curiosity of what the final outcome would be. And it actually ended up being different in some minor ways than what I'd read leading up to it.
But I can appreciate folks who don't want to have the whole thing blown before they see it first-hand, so I'm offering this "Spoiler Free" review as a way to capture everyone's interest, not just the folks who want the whole thing blown before they see it for themselves.
By now, most of us have read the scattered internet reports and online reviews from AintItCoolNews, Latino Review, Collider, IESB.net, and have seen the collective scores on RottenTomatoes.com. It's all out there for the investigating, and so far, news is good. The only problem is, many of these folks come into the Joe property "clean" and don't have the baggage or the history of twenty-seven years to go back on and compare this endeavor to. Josh over at YoJoe did a great job of capturing the fan perspective, and I want to do the same.
First and foremost, if you're expecting to go into this movie and see a military action yarn with rich, deep, back story, a hidden meaning, or a dramatic conversation about where the world currently is, then you're going to be disappointed. Very, very disappointed. That's not to say there aren't elements of a good story mixed in here, but this film is all about the spectacle, and isn't afraid to be all about the spectacle.
However, unlike Transformers 2, which seemed to get overwhelming in it's level of spectacle to the point that you had no freaking clue what the hell just happened, G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA weaves an easy-to-follow tale of military operatives in the "not too distant future" who face off against enormous odds and shoot at each other with crazy guns for about two hours. If that's what you're expecting, then, damn, you're in for one hell of a ride.
Larry Hama had this incredible knack for making us care about characters based on a paragraph and a half of file card text, and when he got 22 pages to work with, he could do even better. He managed to intertwine this realistic, dramatic military tale amongst cloned genetic leaders, shape-shifting chameleon men, android troopers, and even balloon-selling blondes in bear costumes. I can't imagine this was an easy task, yet he managed to pull it off. Stuart Beattie and Stephen Sommers don't even make an attempt to craft some rich back story, they instead jump right into the action feet-first and only seem to care about thrilling the audience as much as humanly possible for two solid hours. They achieved their goal in spades. From the minute the cameras started rolling, there is action, action, and more action. I've seen folks complain a bit that so many TV Spots and trailers were ruining the movie by revealing so much ahead of time. Boys and girls, you ain' t seen anything yet.
The story is crisp, non-complicated, non-convoluted, and easy to follow. There are aspects that I would imagine are supposed to be dramatic twists, but they are fairly clearly foreshadowed, so I highly doubt there will be many "ah HA" moments in this film. What there is, is a lot of machine guns, pulse rifles, crazy as hell technology and sword fights. And, honestly, if you look back through twenty-seven years of history, that seems pretty appropriate. In spite of what many a fandom would have you believe, G.I. Joe has never been all about realistic military combat. It's always been fantasy from day one, and this film captures that spirit in a big way. They shoot the moon for the next generation tech, and build the whole film on a foundation of it. There are times that foundation crumbles a bit, but the movie just keeps trucking along until the action-packed final minutes and never lets off the gas.
Keeping in mind that this is the "Spoiler-Free" review, I can't really get into many details of the things I liked or didn't like about story specifics, just because I'm writing this one for virgin eyes. There were plot points that I heartily disagreed with when I first heard of them, and I didn't see much on screen to convince me any different. There were characters that were pretty fundamentally changed, and many of those changes are things that I really did not like, based on my twenty-seven year history with the brand. And yes, I will admit, they did negatively impact my opinion of the film overall. But I can see how someone without all that back story already in their head might see this in a cleaner light and more appreciate the film for what it is, which is the epitome of summer popcorn movies that straps you down and doesn't let up until the ride is over. If you can let go of some of that past baggage as a Joe fan and just prepare to enjoy yourself for two hours, you WILL enjoy yourself. Embrace the science fiction ...embrace the fantasy. Forget the real world and for two hours, embrace your inner ten-year old. You WILL enjoy this film if you are able to do that, and I was able to do it for those two hours last night, and I was thrilled that I could.
For the most part, the actors did their jobs well, too. Channing Tatum was a bit too wooden as Duke, and never expressed a whole lot of emotion other than a furrowed brow, a scheduled grimace, or firing his trusty machine gun, but it wasn't so bad as to be especially noticeable. Rachel Nichols seemed somewhat overblown as the emotionless Scarlett, and her chemistry with other members of the team was pretty hit or miss. Her and Snake Eyes shared some glances that told you there was some history there, but beyond that, she was pretty much just there to kick ass and take names.
Ray Park was fine as Snake Eyes, though, really, all he has to do is flip around and hack people up with swords. He did that quite well, but actually, he did more, too. He was able to express emotion and feeling even without dialog, and I'll be honest. The infamous Snake Eyes "lips" didn't bother me that much on screen. If nothing else, they gave him an avenue to express emotion without the spoken word, and it was fairly effective. Dennis Quaid was a decent General Hawk, too, though again, he didn't have a whole lot of deep emotion to portray, it was mostly strutting around and barking orders. He was quite good at that, of course.
So, most of the actors seemed relatively cookie cutter...but there were some definite stand outs. Sienna Miller as the Baroness did a fantastic job as the bad girl, injecting a subtle bit of humor here and there, but ultimately she makes for a very good "bad girl". Christopher Ecclestein is also an excellent Destro...he exudes confidence, but has a sinister side as well, and the way Destro and MARS are portrayed seems very accurate to the source material. Byung Hun Lee's Storm Shadow was also excellent. He made bad ass look good in the film, and the look of the COBRA ninja wasn't nearly as campy in the final picture as I feared it might be based on early promotional images. He does come across a bit as a tragic character, though unlike his comic counterpart, he is also totally evil without apparent concern for other human life. Arnold Vasloo and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje actually both do their roles some justice, and Zartan is really almost the most sinister guy in the whole COBRA crew.
And perhaps one of the most controversial characters in the film, The Doctor, is also one of the best performances. He is a sinister, malevolent little man with evil plans and evil methods to make those plans happen. His appearance in the movie does not look nearly as silly as early pictures indicated, and he is every part the detestable super villain that he should be. I really, really enjoyed his performance in this film.
For adult fans looking for a fast-paced, breakneck action film, you definitely get what you pay for here. There is a surprising amount of violence and bloodshed (without direct shots of said bloodshed) for a film that is based on a franchise infamous for a lack of it. For fans that lavished praise upon Resolute for its no-holds-barred violence, action, and destruction, you get the same heavy level of carnage in The Rise of COBRA as you did there. Actually, it almost seems as if there is more in Rise of COBRA than there was in the animated version. That might be something to keep in mind as you prepare to bring little ones to the theater. There is a ton of shooting, explosions, and some of it has the potential to be graphic, but it's not overly so. There are some distinct four-letter words that get tossed around fairly casually, too (mostly of the s-bomb variety, not the f one...) and this film definitely appears to walk that line between preteen boy and adult fairly well.
As Joe and Jane Smith, I think the public at large will embrace this film, perhaps in ways that diehard Joe fans cannot, but there is plenty to love for the rest of us, too. There are lots of details ripe for the Directors' Cut (I get the impression lots of stuff ended up on the cutting room floor, including scenes shown in trailers) and I greatly look forward to seeing this movie again, where I can better appreciate the events on screen.
If you've already got your mind made up about the film going into it, I'm not sure much will change your mind. But if you can turn off your pre-established notions for two hours, you will be better for it. A great effort, a good new direction, and hopefully the start of some big things for the Joe brand. There are some intrinsic character traits that were unnecessarily changed, but much of the film is moving at such a crazed, action-packed pace that you barely notice. In some folks' minds that is a fault, but to me, from a summer popcorn movie stance to an audience that, by and large, don't even know who Duke or The Baroness are, I don't think it's a critical fault, and I think the movie succeeds exceptionally well in spite of what they did to some of the key players.
I strongly recommend that everyone at least give this film a shot. I truly believe that if this film makes enough cash and they move forward with sequels, that we will end up getting a LOT more of what we ask for in future installments as Cobra becomes the organization we're more familiar with. Any fan of G.I. Joe should at least give it a shot. Even if it's not your G.I. Joe, it may be a springboard for a G.I. Joe renaissance, which is something I can really get behind.