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Animadversion: Yo, Joe!

August 23, 2009

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The last tent-pole release of this summer, G.I. Joe The Rise of Cobra is a motion picture parable of a fast-paced action figure toy line aimed at tween boys and geeks. Since that is exactly what its origin is, I am not going to argue about the sanity or inanity of its screenplay written by the very sane and talented Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean, Collateral, Derailed), David Elliott and Paul Lovett (Four Brothers).

For those who have committed to memory the animated series of the mid-80s, G.I.Joe — The Real American Hero, which debuted on the alternate title of Action Force in Pakistan, The Rise of Cobra features a heavy dose of high-flying, pricey action sequences designed to increase toy sales of G.I. Joe's parent company, toy manufacturer Hasbro (incidentally this is Hasbro's second outing this year after Transformers Rise of the Fallen).

G.I. Joe debuted as a toy line made of standard-looking military men with blank facial expressions and changeable wardrobe back in the '60s. In the '80s the line changed into smaller, more articulate toys with colourful, painted-on costumes. The '80s line also upgraded the toys with a mission of combating Cobra — to quote the original cartoon series — “a ruthless, terrorist organisation determined to rule the world.”

As the film is titled The Rise of Cobra, there is room for little deliberation that we will see Cobra rise by the end of it, and then a sequel. Since The Rise of Cobra opened well enough ($165 million worldwide) for a pricey movie (budgeted at $175 to make), the chances for a sequel are high.

Chances are also high that the sequel will get bashed up by the critics, as its predecessor did. The film scored a terrible rating critic-wise with an aggregate of 32 per cent favorable reviews. Now why is The Rise of Cobra such a bad endeavor? The answer is it isn't. Okay, so it is loud. Stephen Sommers, the director, shows as much screen charisma as he did in The Mummy Returns or Van Helsing, and he keeps the jokes running parallel to the action.

What more can one expect of an action movie about a fictitious terrorist organisation whose production is blueprinted on the need to include as many characters and vehicles as possible from the toy line?

Sommers and Co. throw one action-set piece at us after another, never meandering into the psychological conversations about the balance of good and evil. His logic is quite clear the evil was there, hence the good — funded as a super-secret international military faction secluded somewhere in unknown deserts — is made. There is one horrifically ludicrous sequence in Paris that has the Joes running at super-speed (they are garbed in ability amplifying billion dollar super suits) across the streets of Paris, literary obliterating all traffic laws (along with the traffic itself).

The acting takes a backseat. There are back-stories embedded in the film about some of the principal characters (for example the mute and masked G.I. Joe martial artist Snake Eyes). There are token fisticuffs between popular characters (again Snake Eyes and his antagonist Storm Shadow). Even with all of this one can still see the allure of Joseph Gordon Levitt, garbed mostly in a terrible and frightful mask. Levitt is Cobra. By the end of the movie he will be Cobra Commander. In the next film there will be more of the same. As the series-patented war cry from the cartoon series goes... “Yo Joe!”

G.I. Joe The Rise of Cobra is rated PG-13, for lots of bloodless violence, mayhem and absurdity that's presented in a non-repulsive manner.