Sunday, August 9, 2009

Just Awesome Cinema: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra(Includes Possible Spoilers)

I am a tiny bit hesistant to place G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra under my banner of Awesome Cinema, since, in all honesty, it brings nothing new to the table as far as cinematic storytelling goes. It does not reach for the depths of complexity that Watchmen and The Dark Knight gives us, nor does it has a strong compelling cast such as in Ironman. However, the point of the film, much like its metal-hero counterpart Micheal Bay's Transformers, is to simply provide the "spectacular" summer blockbuster experience of action, adventure, and style over that this movie does not fail to deliver at all.

The Rise of Cobra is the first live-action translation of the 1980s toy franchise and mainstay pop-culture sensation G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, itself a reimagining of the G.I. Joe dolls of the 1960s, famous for their Kung-Fu Grip(tm). The film opts for the Batman Begins-route, telling the story of the humble beginnings of Cobra,the G.I. Joes(who are now Real International Heroes as opposed to their trademark tagline), and their large-scale conflict that colored many a television set in the 80s. Ironically, Cobra itself doesn't appear as an organization until moments after the climax of the film; however, with the subtitle of the film being "Rise of Cobra", it seemed obvious that a sequel bringing the story "to the present" was in mind when Stephen Sommers(The Mummy franchise, Van Helsing) planned this one.

Anyway, before all of the G.I. Joe fanboys nit-pick the film to shreds, and the critics pick over the pieces like buzzards, let me say that I think this film did exactly what it supposed to have done. The film's story was told in the exact spirit as the cartoon series(just like Transformers 1 and 2), and while there are some major changes that would probably affect those up to speed on the Real American Hero mythos, I can say that, without a shadow of a doubt, the film was true to the source material(wish I can say that for the horrible Dragonball: Evolution), which is probably why I enjoyed the film so much, despite some very glaring flaws(not fanboy nitpicks) that I think many would agree with.

Anyway, the film centers on Duke(Channing Tatum) and Ripcord(Marlon Wayans), soldiers of an Army unit tasked with protecting four warheads created by James McCullan's(Christopher Eccleston) MARS company for NATO. These warheads have nanites, beyond microscopic machines that can devour anything standing in their paths, if the warheads are detonated. While guarding the warheads with an army vehicle escort, the pair is attacked by the Baroness(Sienna Miller) in a unique aircraft, which easily crushes most of the accompanying vehicles. Just as Duke is about to be overwhelmed by this new enemy, he is rescued by Team Alpha, better known as the eponymous G.I. Joe, which consists of the smoking hot Scarlett(the irresistiable Rachel Nichols), British soldier Heavy Duty(Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the ever-silent Snake Eyes(Ray Park), and Morrocan team tech specialist Breaker(Said Taghmaoui).

Duke, not knowing of the existance of such a squad, is reluctant to release the package in his care. He is convinced otherwise by General Hawk(Dennis Quaid, well cast imo), the leader of the team, who lets him and Ripcord accompany the Joes back to their secret HQ, the Pit, in the deserts of North Africa. Meanwhile, James McCullen, in his own secret underwater secret base, schemes with the Baroness and Snake-Eye's lifetime rival Storm Shadow(Lee Byung-hun) to reobtain the warheads from the Joe's base. He is also in cohorts with the Doctor(Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the creator of the nanites and nano-technology, who is using it to build, mentally control and condition an army of soldiers known as Vipers. Another part of McCullen's schemes comes in the form of Zartan(The Mummy and ironically Darkman the Second...Arnold Vosloo!), a master of disguises and cold-blooded murderer. The whole of McCullen's dark plan is aimed at one conclusion: the generation of fear on Earth in order to capitalize on it for power!

As I said before, the film is definately true to the source material, abet more violent and darker. And yes, unlike the cartoon series, PEOPLE DIE. We have some spectacular set pieces within the film, from the nearly limitless underground Pit, to McCullen's awesome Death-Star meets James Bond-underwater base, to various settings around the world...the Artic, the streets of Paris, the upper atmosphere, and the White House are a few of the major ones. Vehicles of various sizes are used by both sides of the conflict, and said conflict itself takes on a global scope, just like the animated mini-series(Real American Hero and Revenge of Cobra, for example). There are some great combat scenes between members of both sides, including the battle between Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow, although I was digging the catfight between Scarlett and Baroness myself(rrrrwwrrrr!). All in all, this movie was an awesome, fun, fantasy-filled time!

So what are these flaws I mentioned beforehand? They definately have nothing to do with nitpicks, such as what race Ripcord and Breaker should be. In my opinion, changes from one medium to another are inevitable; but, at least the spirit of the animated series was captured(again, let me point to Dragonball: Evolution as an example of what DID NOT capture the spirit of the source material.). The first flaw is that in some of the scenes, the CGI/Blue-Screen effects came off as a little shoddy; i could tell that some of the Joe and villain vehicles were fake and cartoony.

The second flaw was the casting of Channing Tatum as Duke. As much as I hate to rag on a thespian trying his or her best in the craft, I found his portrayal of the Joes' future leader to be lackluster and somewhat unemotional. In some cases, it was as if the man could not open his lips above a snarl, and he seemed to portray Conrad Hauser as more of a streetwise gang leader that dances(yes, that's a jibe at Step Up) than an experienced soldier who had seen battle in his life. As much as I want a sequel to this movie, I hope that either Tatum brings his A-game next time, or someone else is cast. Speaking of casting, loved Marlon Wayans as Ripcord...yes, he was typecast as the "funny black guy sidekick", but he proved that he can be a capable franchise action hero as his big brother, Shame(Keenen Ivory Wayans).

The third flaw is sort of a big spoiler...they screwed up the famous battle cry. I'm not going to say where, when, or who said it...but the moment was extremely screwed up. Of course, it was not enough for me to hate the film...but it definately made me wince and squirm in my seat when I heard it uttered. In the sequel, please, please...give the battle cry the right reverence!!!!!!!!!!!!

In the end, I give this film a B+. It was fun, kept the spirit of the source material, and had a good cast(with the exception of Channing Tatum, of course). I really can't wait to see the sequel...who else will be brought to life on the big screen? The Dreadnoks? BATS? Flint?


See the Trailer:

1 comment:

  1. About the G.I. Joe tagline, it had several variations. In the DiC mini-series "Operation: Dragonfire", it was changed to "International Heroes" in the opening theme. This was carried over into the Indian versions of the figures. French figures made around the same time had the tagline "Heroes sans frontiers" which translates as "heroes without borders", which exactly what I got from Heavy Duty and Breaker.

    That being said, that's where I was lost when I first learned of the movie. Growing up, the Ripcord I knew was (still) Wallace Weems, the white, red-headed HALO Jumper (high-altitude, low opening paratrooper in 'civilian-ese'). Breaker was Alvin R. Kibbey, the sometimes beard-wearing, bubble gum chewing radio operator from Gatlinburg, Tenn. Heavy Duty, though still written as a fill-in for a then-discontinued Roadblock, was Lamont (think Sanford & Son) A. Morris from Chicago, a heavy weapons operator (missile systems and heavy machine guns) with a thing for classical music. I suspect they switched to Heavy Duty when they couldn't cast who they wanted as Roadblock, the heavy machine gunner who took more pride in his skills as a chef. That being said, no one thought of messing with a man who carried 134 lbs. of machine gun *and* ammo (a load usually carried by 2 or more, or mounted on a vehicle), by himself. In spite of the cast changes, I enjoyed the movie -- especially Destro, with his now accurate Scottish accent. I was left wondering about Cobra Commander, as he didn't confirm his "Commander" identity until after we'd learned who he 'really' was. After that, I found myself disappointed with the mask he wears, as it looked more like a plastic oxygen filter worn in a burn unit. (What, no featureless masked helmet, or blue-dyed KKK hood with a Cobra emblem?)