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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

A movie directed by Stephen Sommers

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Knowing is Half the Battle

  • May 20, 2010
Rating:
+1
Pros: Fun, high-tech action, true to the spirit of the show

Cons: Padded, Cobra never actually rises

The Bottom Line: If I told you, would it actually affect your likeliness of seeing this movie?

I timed it. At precisely the 10:25 mark of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the assault on your childhood commences. Duke meets The Baroness for what is apparently not quite the first time, and the first word out of his mouth is "Anna?" To which The Baroness promptly kicks him in the head and tells him he deserved it.

A call to arms is due over the arrival of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, for with it come strong feelings of childhood attachment. Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) has taken our favorite real American heroes out of the decade of greed and affectionately bastardized them. The main question is whether or not GI Joe fans thought Sommers was loyal enough to the original animated series The Rise of Cobra is based on. In some ways it is, and in some ways it isn't. Of course, this matters little to those like myself who grew up loving GI Joe, and so a large faction of us 80's babies will watch for ten seconds before declaring that Hasbro and Stephen Sommers have RUINED IT FOREVER!!!!

The Rise of Cobra is both an homage and a prelude to the GI Joe TV series. Taken as either or both of those things or just a plain, dumb fun action movie, The Rise of Cobra works surprisingly well. As a prelude, it tells the story of how archenemies Cobra came into being. As an homage, well, just think about it: Both the TV and the movie have lots of wonderfully fun and explodey action sequences. Both series and movie make use of super-advanced high-tech gadgetry which ditches plausible physics in favor of a ramped-up coolness factor. No, Sommers isn't quite as faithful to the series us hardcore fans probably would have liked him to be, but it's clear he has a handle on just what it is the fans would really want to see, as well as what made the series tick. Even the lines "He's a real American hero!" and "Knowing is half the battle" are squeezed into the script. It's enough to make me overlook the phoned-in performances of almost every actor in the movie, especially monotone-voiced Dennis Quaid, playing General Hawk.

Since GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is an adaptation and a prelude, there are of course a few minor changes here and there. The most notable is that GI Joe is no longer a real American hero. In this movie, the Joes are an elite special forces unit which has expanded well beyond US boundaries. Yes sir, our real American heroes are now real international heroes with a base right smack in the middle of the Sahara! Now, I like this change because it prevents the movie from having too much of an America, (f-word) yeah attitude. The rah rah factor is nonexistent, and so instead of a gung-ho America against the world attitude, we see a focus on the cooperation of many different nationalities who all have the singular goal of eradicating a threatening terrorist organization. And no, the French member of GI Joe is not a cheese-eating surrender monkey. (A grossly inaccurate stereotype anyway; historically the French loved wars and have come out on the winning side of nearly every one they fought. Never forget: Napoleon was French.)

The internationalized Joes allow for a fun action romp through the streets of Paris, just one of several fast-paced and fun action sequences. Through the course of the movie, there are also some cool swordfights, and the good guys and bad guys exchange home base invasions in stunning sequences. 

Very few of the original characters are included. The main character is Duke, and the good guys have the services of General Hawk, Scarlet, Snake Eyes, Breaker, Ripcord, and a few others. The bad guys are Destro, The Baroness, Cobra Commander (played, surprisingly, by Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Tommy from Third Rock from the Sun - who is the only one who took his character seriously, and an excellent performance), and a couple of others. Fans of Flint, Shipwreck, Sergeant Slaughter, Lady J, and others will have to do without. But this is addition by subtraction. Too many characters would have slowed the pace of the movie down too much. 

Of course, a half hour TV show being stretched into a two-hour movie is still a half-hour TV show being stretched into a two-hour movie. And when that happens, there's bound to be at least a little bit of padding. The Rise of Cobra, however, is more padded than an NHL goaltender. The movie begins with an inconsequential scene which sets up the fact that one of the bad guy leaders, McCullen, has an ancestry in dealing illegal arms to countries he doesn't live in. As we go through the movie, we also see stories told through flashbacks. Duke and The Baroness get their story told, which is understandable because it's central to the plot. But we also get the story of the rivalry between Stormshadow and Snake Eyes, which kinda comes in from the left. I'm a very outspoken advocate for the coolness of ninjas. But neither of these characters are integral to the plot, and showing us their backstory screws up the pacing.

You wouldn't believe it, but Cobra isn't actually in the film. It makes sense, given that this is the backstory, but this movie deprives us almost completely. Destro spends most of the movie as a human, and Cobra Commander provides the other half of the Duke/Baroness backstory, doesn't wear a mask, and places a Star Wars-ian twist into GI Joe lore. This really didn't sit well with me. Honestly, why did Cobra need a backstory anyway? It's a nice thing to have, but all GI Joe fans really needed to know was that GI Joe was the good guy and Cobra was the bad guy. Easy!

It is within that context that, in certain respects, GI Joe is a massive cop-out. For the desperation to make the Cobra rise, the screenwriters don't give us much plot. It has something to do with nanotech robots and arms dealing. And the motivation of Cobra Commander is unchecked to the nth degree. I realize his motivations were always a little bit hazy on TV too, but when you're trying to provide a new chapter to a story that never really needed one, trying to give them one without dropping their fearless leader's reasoning onto the audience leaves a lot of frustration. There is no explanation as to why Cobra Commander went crazy, although the movie shows quite clearly that he was once a good guy who just lost his (s-word). 

It's very odd that the plot cop-outs would make The Rise of Cobra MORE like the TV show. It's kind of insulting when you think about it - like Sommers was thinking we grew up, but not enough. Now, I actually enjoyed GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. I liked watching the near-constant, outrageously implausible action scenes. But my recommendation will depend on your own tastes. The Rise of Cobra really is a throwback to the series, only live action, bigger, louder, and more explosive. But someone clearly needs to do something about the whole Cobra thing. Fortunately, from the looks of the ending, Stephen Sommers and company may have one or two sequels to work on that a little.

Recommended:
Yes

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Nicholas Croston ()
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About this movie

Wiki

The "Real American Hero" goes international with this big-screen action film. Stephen Sommers (THE MUMMY) directs this live-action adventure featuring a huge cast of stars, including Dennis Quaid, Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Sienna Miller. Ray Park, who made his name playing Darth Maul in THE PHANTOM MENACE, takes on the role of Snake Eyes.
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Details

Director: Stephen Sommers
Release Date: 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13
DVD Release Date: Paramount Home Entertainment (November 03, 2009)
Runtime: 1hr 57min
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