Monday, August 10, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

When my son told me he wanted to see GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I attempted to influence his movie decision away from this film. We looked at the other movies that were currently showing and decided on Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs. I figured I had safely dodged a big budget, huge special effects Hollywood template movie. Ah, but the last laugh was on me. Upon arriving at the theater, I was advised that Ice Age was no longer playing and that the information on the website was erroneously displayed. As compensation, I was offered a choice of two movies at a discount. The first was G-Force, which I have already seen, and GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Okay…half price…I can live with that.

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra lived up to the expectations that I had for it. Not a spectacular film…lots of special effects, contrived plot…yet surprisingly entertaining. I did not set the bar high for this movie, so it easily achieved what I expected. Based on the Hasbro G.I. Joe action figure (no, I did not play with dolls as a youngster), GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra tells the story of an International team of Special Forces soldiers, known as “Joes.” Based on my recollection, G.I. Joe was a guy, not a unit…and he was an American. I guess worldwide appeal might have been considered in approaching the theme from a United Nations kind of perspective. Probably not a bad idea…the 100 Million dollar opening weekend box office was due, in large part, to international box office (which accounted for nearly half the box office).

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra takes place in the “near future,” where the descendant of a 17th Century Scottish arms dealer has cornered the market on international arms. Selling to both sides, James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), has managed to secure seventy percent of the world market in arms (and defensive products). True to his history, McCullen decides to control the world with the development of nano-technology in the form of small robots that eat metal at lightning quick speed. Although it would make more sense for McCullen to simply tell the world that he is taking over (or else), McCullen engages in a more sinister game of cat-and-mouse to covertly take over. The former would be more plausible, the latter allows for more plot twists and a plot that can fill two hours. So, McCullen must steal back his own weapons in order to use them against the world in order to supplant the existing order. We are never really privileged to learn what replacement he has in mind…unless it entails a whistling master-of-disguise…which would beg another question. If that was the end-game…it did not require all the flash and bang…a simple switch would have sufficed (and eliminated a lot of shooting and action sequences)…oh yeah…that’s the idea…lot’s of big Hollywood action.

Okay, GI Joe is an action-figure. I get it. Lots of action tied to a convoluted and contrived plot that maximizes the use of pyrotechnics, CGI and maybe an opportunity to show a bit of cleavage here and there. The characters in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra are less than one-dimensional. Although back-stories are incorporated throughout the film, the effort to add dimension to the characters falls woefully short. The characters are so flat, that the flashback sequences are predictable. The plot attempts to twist and turn, but you can see the twists coming from a mile away. The dialogue does not fare much better. The interaction between characters (especially the romantic interludes) is laughable. If you assume that the purpose of the plot were to maximize the opportunity to create dazzling effects at the expense of meaningful dialogue or character development, then this plot hit the mark. The writing was not impressive, but the special effects were fantastic.

The budget for GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is sickening. The 100 Million dollar box doesn’t begin to cover the cost of producing this film, which was in the neighborhood of 170 million dollars. For that kind of money, maybe they could have bought a better script. They did not waste that money on big name talent. The cast was solid, but the money may have been heavily invested in the special effects, which seemed to be the underlying purpose of this film. There were chase scenes in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra that were unlike anything I have seen before. There were exceptional action sequences that were simply mind-numbingly fun to watch. Okay…if you light firecrackers for fun, then you get it. It can be simple and still be fun. That is exactly what this film achieves. Some excellent CGI animation layered with interesting battle choreography, a dash of martial arts and plenty of fireworks.

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