So the trailer for G.I. Joe: Retaliation just hit the internet. If you haven’t seen it yet, please visit my friends at Daily Grindhouse and watch it here.
In case you’re wondering if I had any thoughts about the previous G.I. Joe movie, it turns out that I had somewhere around twenty. Which is arguably eighteen or nineteen more thoughts than writer-director Stephen Sommers had. And that’s not a knock — well it is, but as you’ll soon see, I managed to adjust my expectations properly and enjoy the movie, even though, obviously, it’s dumber than an anthropomorphic Michael Bay explosion trying to memorize algebra.
One thing I hope you get the chance to read, even if you don’t get to the hyperactive jokiness of the majority of the piece, are my opinions at the beginning concerning film criticism and the aforementioned adjusting of expectations. I’m biased, but I think it’s a good point.
Anyway, here we go (again).
G.I. JOE: The Rise Of Cobra
(August 8th, 2009)
I don’t drink much anymore. So there’s that, and also, there’s the fact that I’m no longer a kid. Qualifying for either of those conditions would help anyone immeasurably in watching a movie like G.I. JOE: The Rise Of Cobra, but that’s not the way I saw the movie. “Drunk children will love G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra!” Somehow I don’t think that will be a promotional tagline that Paramount will seize upon for their ad campaign. No, not while Kid Rock is still out there somewhere, churning out crap songs to plunk into TV spots for movies exactly like this one.
Now I actually liked the movie, believe it or don’t, but before we get to me, let’s talk about those critics. There was some small uproar recently over the fact that the G.I. Joe movie was not screened for critics in advance of its release. That sort of clandestine action never goes over well with critics, and to the rest of us it usually indicates dire things about the movie’s quality and the studio’s faith in its chances at success. Even the Transformers movies were screened for critics, and we all know how that went.
In my opinion, however, this minor pop-quake actually tells us very little about G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra itself – instead, all it does is point to the massive flaw in the entire network of popular criticism as it is presented and perceived in America today. My point being: How would any so-called serious critic sit down to write a review of a movie like this one with a straight face? How would one employ the regular critical shorthand as currently established for grading movies, when talking about a G.I. Joe movie? G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is the kind of movie that should make mainstream critics recalibrate their systems. For example:
When judging a film’s quality, Empire Magazine, Time Out New York, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone use five stars. Roger Ebert uses just four. Entertainment Weekly, that hot schoolteacher, uses letter grades. (They gave G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra a “D”!)
Here’s my question, then: How in the world can you use the same grading scale for a movie like G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra that you do for Waltz With Bashir, or There Will Be Blood, or Milk, or Slumdog Millionaire? If those films receive your top-shelf rating of four or five stars, then where does G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra rank? Can you do negative stars? Isn’t that a black hole? Or is that an astronomy question? Clearly, G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is not of the objective quality of those aforementioned great films, but how can anyone say that G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra doesn’t manage to achieve its own particular goals? G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra doesn’t have a single profound thing to say about the world we live in; it doesn’t have any Academy Awards ambitions; it doesn’t have a brain in its head. It exists solely to entertain, as only a movie based on a comic book based on a cartoon based on a toy line can. How can you possibly hold G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra to the same critical standards as you would No Country For Old Men? You can’t, although you also can, because: In its own thoroughly idiotic way, G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is just as effective in achieving its aims.
The point being, I had a good time at G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra. I felt like the trailers and previews gave me a completely accurate idea of what to expect, and I engineered my expectations accordingly. Like I said at the outset, I only would have had more fun if I had been drunk and/or thirteen years old again. But I would never, ever suggest that there’s more to G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra than stupid fun. So I’m not here to write a review, because who really cares about such normally crucial technical aspects as the visual effects or the action choreography or the cinematography or the editing or the score, when the end result is… G.I. Joe.
(Almost forgot:) The Rise Of Cobra.
Still, I do think it would be fun (for me, at least) to unleash my trademark blend of enthusiasm for things I like and sarcasm for things I don’t, and vice versa, upon the approximately 73 characters that populate this enjoyably dumb movie.
Yo, MTV Raps!
THE GOOD GUYS.
Ray Park as Snake-Eyes:
The baddest ass on the team. This is what it’s all about right here. Snake-Eyes is the coolest, the best, and the most popular character the G.I. Joe franchise has to offer, and all the movie really had to get right is him. And they pretty much did. He’s a ninja commando who uses swords and nunchucks and machine guns, and he doesn’t talk, which is always cooler. See, he took a vow of silence at a young age, and hey, side note: if more people would follow suit, the world would be a better place. Snake-Eyes is all the appeal of martial arts and mayhem without the unnecessary talk. Any moment Snake-Eyes is on screen, G.I. Joe flies. The only weird thing about the movie incarnation of Snake-Eyes is the fact that they stuck lips on his mask. Why? What is it with big-budget movies and their consistent desire to add body parts where there don’t need to be body parts? Especially on the one dude who doesn’t use ’em? In the grand tradition of Bat-titties and the Bat-package: It’s Snake-Eyes-Lips!
Channing Tatum as DUKE:
The newest recruit to the Joe team. At first, the wannabe-black whiteboy talk he was doing annoyed me, but then I realized that the real Army probably has a lot of young guys from the hip-hop generation in its ranks, Generation Kill and all that, so I appreciated one of the few attempts at realism that this movie makes. Otherwise, there’s nothing particularly memorable about the supposed main character, except for the part when he gets really sad over running out of Dubble Bubble bubble gum.
P.S. Mark Wahlberg, meet your replacement.
Marlon Wayans as Ripcord:
Duke’s best buddy. Bad news for Marlon Wayans; this is gonna have to be the last movie where he plays the wacky young guy. Dude’s balding like mad! He’s showing more forehead than John C. Reilly. I guess it’s good that Marlon Wayans was in G.I. Joe for the comedy relief – after all, the movie was so super-serious until he showed up. Meta-textual question: If Marlon Wayans only ever appears in A) Wayans Brothers movies and B) this, then does that make this a Wayans Brothers movie? Because if so, this is the second-best Wayans Brothers movie ever! (After I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, naturally.)
Rachel Nichols as Scarlett:
The red-headed hot chick who shoots rewinding crossbows and speaks dead languages and loves black guys. Primary military specialty: She’s very pretty. Rachel Nichols makes that blond model chick that was following Quaid around look somewhat mannish. While I think it was kind of exploitative to have a five-minute-long scene where Scarlett walks on a treadmill in a sports bra, I won’t exactly be writing an angry letter to the studio either. Give the lady some credit though – this is one of the more thankless roles in the movie. I did a double-take when they gave her the line “First fight I lost since I was a kid” – since earlier, she’d immediately lost the first fight she had in the first scene she appeared in, and then went on to be endangered several times throughout the movie, always needing to be saved by the guys. Again, credit goes to Rachel Nichols for not seeming at all like a pushover, despite the best efforts of the script to make her character seem that way.
Said Taghmaoui as BREAKER:
The communications guy who takes Duke’s last piece of Dubble Bubble. Ten years after a great, chilling supporting performance in Three Kings, this is what it comes to. Oh well. I wonder if Said Taghmaoui also thinks about Mark Wahlberg when he sees Channing Tatum.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Heavy Duty:
The apparent G.I. Joe squad leader is, sadly, best described as “big black guy with huge machine gun.” The actor better known as Mr. Eko from Lost doesn’t get much to do in this movie besides sorely testing my computer’s spell-checker and, in one scene, blatantly dressing up like Wesley Snipes as Blade. EDITOR’S NOTE: Heavy Duty is possibly the single most unfortunate character name in the entire movie because kids will inevitably pronounce it as “Heavy Doody.”
Jonathan Pryce as THE President Of The United States:
This is the kind of movie where the President Of The United States is played by a British guy. That’s all you need to know about that.
Gerald Okamura as Hard Master:
Hey, that guy was in Big Trouble In Little China! Nice character name too, buddy. EDITOR’S NOTE: Second most unfortunate character name in the entire movie.
Dennis Quaid as General Hawk:
Speaking of Big Trouble In Little China, Dennis Quaid has a slightly better John Wayne impression than Kurt Russell does. Anyway, then he gets a near-death scene, then he gets to ride around in a wheelchair, then he hobbles around on a cane, then he heals up, all the while yelling a lot. So the biggest star in the movie gets all the best chances to show his range. And all he does all that while wearing a beret… That’s your real American hero right there.
Brendan Fraser as Some Random Guy:
I’m not sure what he was doing there, actually. He rides a motorcycle into the underground base (!) and says some unmemorable things and then he walks right back out of the movie. I guess this cameo was supposed to be exciting for somebody, but I missed it.
THE BAD GUYS.
Christopher Eccleston as DESTRO:
For most of the movie, the terrifically-named Destro is the main villain. What his secret evil plan is, I could not tell you under torture. I doubt the movie’s many screenwriters could either. Destro’s motivation is hardly the point though – he’s exclusively there to look weird, be vaguely Scottish, calmly act evil, and eventually get a metal mask soddered onto his mug. Destro’s most memorable character quirk is that he hates the French, which unintentionally makes him vaguely sympathetic. I mean, this is a movie where anyone voluntarily watching it actively wants to see Destro blow up the Eiffel Tower. As long as there’s pointless destruction on a massive scale where the countless peripheral casualties have absolutely no effect on the main characters, the movie is working.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as COBRA COMMANDER:
The indie darling who has the look of a skinnier Heath Ledger (or a way skinnier Jimmy Kimmel, if you prefer) gets his helmetless-Darth-Vader impression going, as the most over-the-top insane character in the movie. Which is no minor accomplishment. This character, who goes by several names in the course of the story, has close personal ties to a couple other main characters. As if the movie wasn’t busy enough already – what with the incomprehensible plot and the multiple protagonists and the TWO separate love triangles – we also learn that some of the characters are related to each other. Shocking! Sarcasm! It’s not at all shocking, and I blame George Lucas.
An Extra as THE RANCOR KEEPER:
Speaking of George Lucas… Am I crazy or is that shirtless hooded fat guy who cries over the death of the monster in Return Of The Jedi walking around at the beginning of G.I. Joe?
Arnold Vosloo as Zartan:
The master of disguise. In many ways, this guy is the funniest character because he’s always randomly dressing up as other people when there’s really no need for subterfuge. Meanwhile, his buddies do most of the heavy lifting. For example, in the scene where the bad guys raid the G.I. Joe fortress, Zartan kills a soldier and then starts to put on his clothes. Later on, he hijacks a camel. Eventually, he’s the one who engineers the most evil plan of all: the sequel.
Sienna Miller as The Baroness:
Though nearly every major character [very comically] gets at least one flashback sequence, Sienna Miller’s ridiculous character arc is the most pivotal to what exists of the story. Here she plays a very bad girl who was once a very good girl. Four years back, to be exact. How specific! Before G.I. Joe, I’d only ever seen Sienna Miller in small parts, in Layer Cake and Stardust, but apparently she’s a huge name in the tabloid world. I can’t speak to that, but I’m happy to say that she’s fine in this movie. It’s as game a performance as any: She does exactly what is asked of her, and with some self-aware humor to boot. What else can be said? Let’s cover the last character and go home…
Byung-Hun Lee as Storm Shadow:
The evil ninja who’s got a Spy Vs. Spy thing going with Snake-Eyes. However, Storm Shadow’s ninja mask doesn’t have lips, so he’s got the edge there. He also speaks – another edge – and in fortune cookie language no less! “Fear is a great motivator.” Thanks, Sum Dum Goy.
It must be said that after my first viewing of the G.I. Joe movie, Storm Shadow is probably my favorite of all of the amazingly ridiculous characters described above, because it is Storm Shadow who provides the single greatest image of the entire film, an image I honestly can’t say I’ve ever seen in years and years of moviegoing, an image which I never knew I always wanted….
!!! A NINJA WEARING A JETPACK !!!
Yes, this movie shows you a ninja flying through the sky, using a jetpack. Eisenstein never saw that one coming. A goddamn ninja on a goddamn jetpack. There’s also an underwater fortress and a polar bear and a robot zombie on fire. That knowledge is really all you need when trying to reckon whether you’re the type of person who needs to see this movie, and if you’ve read this deep down into this article, something tells me you are.
More nonsense daily and often on Twitter: @jonnyabomb