For better or for worse, what G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra inarguably does is to replicate quite well the experience of watching the militarized toy-advertisement cartoons that enraptured so many youthful males during the Reagan era. The film, as programmed by Stephen Sommers, captures the same gung-ho esprit des corps and the theme of banding together with an internationally diversified team (led by an appropriately rock-jawed American, of course), to do battle with a super-evil terrorist force. Both sides (the G.I. Joe team and their slithery evil enemies Cobra) have more weaponry to draw upon than the entire Wehrmacht, and many grudges to settle — not to mention a propensity for ninja tactics and rappelling into battle, which makes things that much more exciting.
Differences exist, of course, between Sommers’ film and the TV show of old. As this film is billed as Cobra’s ‘Rise,’ the group is not yet a world-dominating threat itself, but rather an enforcer for a particularly nasty arms dealer (Christopher Eccleston, with an accent as broad as all of Scotland), who has plans to unleash vicious nanotech bots on the world as a preliminary action to a full-scale fascist takeover.
Also, the film features a goodly amount of junior high-level swearing going on, hints of actual sexuality, and a surprisingly high body count — all of which elements would have been verboten under the cartoon’s code of bloodless conduct. Where once were wall-to-wall bullets and explosions that caused nobody to get so much as a scratch, now extras are dropping like they would in early John Woo.
Abandoning the more classically structured entertainments of The Mummy, Sommers adopts here an approach that’s dashed with some Hong Kong-style gooniness. The pacing is swift, peppered with enough light banter to goose it along. The film’s hold on reality is a little more tenuous than the average special effects blockbuster, but at least the trio of screenwriters set it all in ‘the near future,’ in order to render the plot a few millimeters less implausible. All the better, then, to stage a demolition-derby stunner of a chase scene through downtown Paris that involves high-powered hydraulic suits doubling as weapon systems and nifty speed enhancers.
Though he brings his old sand buddies Brendan Fraser and Arnold Vosloo back for quickie cameos, Sommers is not so much in the star-making business with G.I. Joe. This is a fact made readily apparent by Sommers’ casting of Channing Tatum as the lead — Tatum being a guy who makes Josh Hartnett seem positively magnetic with irresistible charisma. The film is about boys and toys, so much so that the film manages the unenviable feat of even sucking the life out of the great Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who does what he can to exude decrepit, Vader-esque, scarred menace, but ultimately loses that fight to his face-enveloping Cobra Commander mask.
There’s a welcome air of light-heartedness to much of the film, a refreshing change from the expected testosterone fest. While that’s all well and good for what this is (a so utterly disposable comic-book film that one forgets it before it ends), The Mummy started off similarly as a high-energy adventure romp. Given what happened with those sequels, we can at least hope that this first G.I. Joe film is also the last.
And blowing stuff up is half the batle.