Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review - G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Knowing (that this isn't high art) is half the battle.

Alright. I ranted a few weeks ago about the live action movie, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. I also confessed that I would go and look at it critically, not just as mindless entertainment.

Easier said than done.

I don't know if I can add any more insight that hasn't already been posted in other places before, but perhaps some people would like my thoughts (how funny!). G.I. Joe is a toy from the 60s, a 12 inch action figure that was remade into a 3 3/4 inch figure in 1982 and launched with a comic book and later a cartoon. The latter was the meat of my childhood. I devoured all the cartoons, tried to catch the comics at the local grocer, and had a fairly impressive collection of figures. They provided endless fodder for my imagination (and made for a good football team as well).

The 80s were kitschy, and that really couldn't translate into early 21 century sensibilities. So the original got largely reworked in translation for The Rise of Cobra.

The movie starts with an eye-opening sequence, and continues to build off of that for the next 2 hours. Sure, it occasionally pauses for a little exposition or flashback to show character connections - just enough to continue to the next adrenaline rush of explosions, butt-kicking, and gadgetry.

Arms dealer James McCullen XXIV has developed a new technology with nanomites, microscopic robotic creatures that can destroy a target and be turned off with a kill switch. A NATO force under the command of American soldiers Duke and Ripcord are tasked with carrying the new weapons to the drop-off point, but they are ambushed by a mysterious force with futuristic weapons and led by a leather-clad femme fatale, The Baroness.

The G.I. Joe team intervenes and saves the warheads, Duke, and Ripcord and introduces them to the secretive team. This anti-terrorist group has a special base under the sands of Egypt, and they are charged with guarding the nanomites. From there battles ensue as both parties engage in battle several times to control the warheads and protect major cities from catastrophic damage. From the streets of Paris to an explosive confrontation under the polar ice caps, the action doesn't stop until the inevitable setting up of the (possible) sequel in the last few minutes.

I mentioned in my earlier post I would be watching for what type of worldview the movie portrays. I think it shows the bigger explosion, the better. Actually, there are good moments of self-sacrifice, honor, and teamwork through the movie. Still, the movie doesn't leave a lot of mental food for thought. It plays like the hyped-up modern cartoon update it is. The plot is enough to keep people moving, and the characterization is usually quick and forced, although I thought there was some attempts at delving into things.

The movie thankfully never devolves into the apparent smut-fest of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but there are some scattered curse words throughout. The action is violent, and plenty of people die, some by impaling, but there is very minimal blood loss. I guess these near-future weapons can kill without spilling blood? There are a few scenes of nanomites being injected in people that I had my kids turning their heads, but otherwise my 9 and 7 year old thought it was a blast.

The diehard G.I. Joe fan from the 80s has definite potential to be disappointed. Some of the central characters have had their origins reworked, to a hit-and-miss effect. I liked some of the back story of Duke and the head evil scientist "The Doctor," but other ones felt hollow. I reconciled myself to the idea that it can't stay the same, and I enjoyed it overall, but I know other fanboys have...issues with some changes. Still, they nailed important characters like Snake Eyes, and that was a must. There are also nice homages thrown in to those in the "know."

My verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars. It isn't great, but it was fun and I enjoyed watching it twice. It could have been a lot worse and a lot better. I think a lot of the new twists worked overall, and I would like to see a sequel done. Young kids should probably avoid it, but the 9-12 crowd would probably eat it up if the occasional language and frequent violence isn't beyond sensibilities. If one expects "Saving Private Ryan," prepare to be disappointed. But it's a decent popcorn action flick, and as an old Joe fan, I am glad I saw it.


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