'G.I. Joe': Unreal American Heroes Bring The Noise

An explosion sequence from 'G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra'

hide captionWhat you need to know about this photo: It's Paris, there's an explosion, plus a guy in a really expensive suit that helps him do cool stuff, and some bad guys just out of frame.

Paramount Pictures

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

  • Director: Stephen Sommers
  • Genre: Action
  • Running Time: 118 minutes

PG-13: Strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout.

With: Dennis Quaid, Marlon Wayans, Channing Tatum

Rather than focusing on the things that G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra does not have — interesting characters, for instance, or a compelling story — let's focus on what it does have: exploding helicopters.

Not only does it have exploding helicopters, but it gets to them right away, and in so doing, it embraces its mission. By this I mean that the movie's intended audience doesn't care if the one-liners are more like one-half-liners, or if there's a plot hole the size of a city bus here and there. But they do care about exploding helicopters, and while they're at it, they expect the demolition of at least one major landmark, and absent such elements, they would judge the movie a failure. On these terms, I am delighted to report, G.I. Joe is a roaring success.

On any other terms, however, it's assaultive and dull, a lazy mishmash of uninteresting (if colorfully named) characters in an underdeveloped (if preposterously complicated) story.

Like any action movie that's the first in a putative franchise, G.I. Joe is about how good and evil came to fight each other. It follows Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) as they join forces with guys like Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) on the secret multilateral force known as G.I. Joe. — or "The Joes," as both friends and mortal enemies call them.

On the opposing team are McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) and his mysterious pet scientist (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), along with the slithery Ana (Sienna Miller), who happens to be Duke's lost love. The teams are battling over a suitcase full of "nanomites": green robot bugs that eat metal, control behavior and change your face into someone else's face. Like I said, it's complicated.

And yet it isn't. There are no surprises in this movie, except that it opens with these words on the screen: "France 1641." That's the thing about origin stories: Grudges go back a long way.

Once we escape 17th-century Europe, the film's two-hour running time is occupied almost entirely by a series of fights: helicopter versus futuristic superplane, guys in combat suits versus guys in cars, beautiful (and furiously kicking) redhead versus similar brunette. Even the kids participate: There are two young martial-arts prodigies who beat on each other furiously. G.I. Joe probably has more fighting than Tatum's last starring vehicle, which was called, as you doubtless remember, Fighting.

Members of th G.I. Joe elite team i i

hide captionCoalition of the thrilling: The elite G.I. Joe squad consists of a weapons specialist, a code-breaker and a general badass team leader. There's also a "crossbow-pistol master." No, really.

Frank Masi/Paramount Pictures
Members of th G.I. Joe elite team

Coalition of the thrilling: The elite G.I. Joe squad consists of a weapons specialist, a code-breaker and a general badass team leader. There's also a "crossbow-pistol master." No, really.

Frank Masi/Paramount Pictures

And how does all that fighting look? In a word: uneven. Given the gargantuan budget, it has to be a deliberate style choice that so much of G.I. Joe looks so artificial, as if it's taken from a medium-quality video game. Most of the time, that doesn't matter, because the most important effects — the robot bugs, for instance — look great. But when the Joes run through Paris in their souped-up suits, specially made for fighting evil, they look distractingly phony.

Director Stephen Sommers, who also made The Mummy and The Scorpion King, is a specialist in bombast, and bombast is what he brings most to G.I. Joe. Despite five credited writers, the script limps on the crutches of flashbacks and score-settling as ways to manufacture the high stakes it otherwise lacks.

And, of course, there's all that mysteriously omnipotent technology — like the nanomites, whose diverse abilities have no reason to coexist, really, except that even in a ridiculously mechanistic summer blockbuster, the plot has to be spackled together with something.

What G.I. Joe lacks in ideas, it makes up for in volume; what it lacks in imagination, it makes up for in inscrutability. This thing is a textbook example of the trend toward cutting action sequences together so quickly, in a series of disorienting ultra-tight shots, that it's impossible to tell who's doing what to whom — or even who's winning. It's ultimately both aimless and baffling.

But if you like exploding helicopters, you will not be disappointed.

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