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Advance Review: G.I.JOE: The Rise of Cobra

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

CC2K's Big Ross says the latest foray into 80s nostalgia is the perfect August summer movie.

ImageSitting in the theater as the credits began to roll on G.I.JOE: The Rise of Cobra and the house-lights came up, I looked at my friend sitting next to me.  He had sort of a half-smile on his face, and I'm pretty sure a similar grin was plastered on mine.  Talk afterward naturally centered on the film we had just seen.  "Okay, honestly, what did you think of it?" he asked me.  I was more than a little surprised by my response.  "To be honest," I said, "that was a helluva lot better than I thought it would be."   Read on for my full review.

I'll admit that I had rather low expectations going into the theater.  August is the perennial dumping ground for the lackluster summer action movies; they're like the JV squad of summer blockbusters that have no real hope of competing with the varsity players everyone's clamoring to see in May and June.  In particular, I had mixed feelings about a G.I.JOE movie.  Giving Transformers the major motion picture treatment seemed like a no-brainer, but is there really a need for a live-action G.I.JOE movie?  On the one hand I confess I felt this was a bad idea, on the other my fond memories of the G.I.JOE cartoon and toys I loved as a kid elicited pangs of dread that they were going to ruin this movie.  In other words, I was hoping for the best and expecting the worst, not a bad mindset to have going into an August action flick.

G.I.JOE:TRoC isn't a bad movie.  It's not a great movie either, and really I'm not convinced that it could make the varsity squad of the early summer blockbusters.  I'm willing to bet that it will dominate the month of August, and to be honest I think G.I.JOE:TRoC is perfectly at home there.  This is a movie based on a cartoon/toy line/comic book series that was based on an earlier existing toy line, remember.  Not the most compelling source material.

As indicated by the title, this movie doesn't tell the origin of G.I.JOE so much as it tells the origin of COBRA.  The G.I.JOE team is firmly established and operational at the film's start, and COBRA as the terrorist organization everyone loves to hate doesn't exist yet.  Even so, James McCallum/Destro (Christopher Eccleston), The Baroness (Sienna Miller), Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), and the mysterious Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are in the final stages of a sinister plot for world domination (if you think that's a spoiler, obviously you've never watched the old G.I.JOE cartoons.  Attempts at world domination are their bread and butter.).  The world's only hope to stop them is (you guessed it) G.I.JOE.

We're introduced to this international military force (they're not just real *American* heroes anymore) through new members Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans).  They team up with Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Breaker (Said Taghmaoui), and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) under the command of General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) to try and thwart Destro, et al's evil plans.  I'm not going to get into anymore specific details than that; I don't want to spoil this movie for anyone.  I will tell you that the plot is big (it's as convoluted as Transformers 2, if not more so), dumb (there are several moments where logic goes out the window and you just have to go with it), and (as I already mentioned) the fate of the world hangs in the balance, i.e. it's exactly what you should expect for a summer action movie.

But really, this movie works in pretty much all the ways a summer action movie is supposed to work.  The characters are just interesting enough, and pretty much everyone plays their roles adequately.  Thanks to Miller, Vosloo, and Eccleston the villains are far more entertaining to watch than the JOEs, but the actors portraying our heroes avail themselves well enough for the most part.  I'm still not convinced Channing Tatum can actually *act*, but at least Duke isn't the "wrong side of the tracks" tough guy Tatum has played so often.  Wayans is relegated with most if not all of the film's comic relief, but thankfully he walks the line between funny man and action hero very well, and most of the scenes where he is supposed to be funny are genuinely so.  Perhaps my only complaint, aside from Tatum's Keanu Reeves-like performance, is Scarlett's character "arc" (yes, I use the term loosely here).  However, that doesn't reflect on Nichols' performance (and is probably just a personal pet peeve of mine; to say anymore would disclose a spoiler, and I promised myself I wouldn't do that.  Perhaps I'll bring it up in the forums after the movie's release.).  Actually I have one other complaint.  I have to say I hate the character design for Cobra Commander.  It just doesn't work for me at all.  Moving on.

The action sequences (of which there are a lot) work pretty well.  Though they were difficult to follow at times, I think that was mostly due to my sitting in the third row of the theater, and they certainly weren't as inscrutable as those of Transformers 2.  The set designs are a fanboy's dream.  The JOEs' headquarters (affectionately called "The Pit") is a huge, multilevel, subterranean facility.  Equally impressive is Destro's base built at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean at the North Pole.  There are numerous, futuristic-looking land, air, and sea vehicles, near sci-fi weaponry and, as you've likely seen in the trailers, the Accelerator Suits.  These looked better onscreen than I thought they would, though I could never quite shake the feeling that they were rejected designs for War Machine.

The cynic in me could call G.I.JOE:TRoC nothing more than an extended commercial intended to sell toys.  Each JOE has at least three different costumes, and one could imagine Hasbro making a different action figure for each (collect them all!), not to mention all those vehicles I mentioned.  G.I.JOE:TRoC isn't great cinema.  I'm sure plenty of critics will pan it in the weeks to come.  But in my opinion, in full acknowledgment of my childhood love for these toys, this movie works.  It's a fun, action-packed summer movie that knows exactly what it should be and doesn't try to be anything else or anything more.  There's plenty to enjoy in G.I.JOE:TRoC, especially if you're already a fan.  Now you know. . .

. . .heh, you know the rest.