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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

dir: Stephen Sommers
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Watching Transformers 2 and this here G.I. Joe flick in close proximity to each other brought something to the forefront of my mind. It wasn’t just the strange knowledge that both movies arise from a product, being toys, being Hasbro toys at that. It was the sad reality that, at least for American audiences, film is what they now have to make up for a lack of a cultural mythology.

Sure, the US has a long and proud history, with all sorts of tall tales and Delaware Crossings, Fort Sumpters, Alamos, Granadas, Last Stands and Flags raised on Iwo Jima, but it’s not the same thing compared to the ancient myths and legends of other cultures, which, the more pretentious throughout history, whether writers or philosophers or people with real jobs, will tell you represent a deep cultural connection to the subconscious.

Instead what we now all have are films that basically explain or reinvent the origins of toys. The toys aren’t the adjunct, the alternative marketing stream, the subsidiary merchandising as such. They ARE the product, the emblem, the totem, and the films essentially pretend to market the toys themselves.

So if you wondered as to why The Baroness is called The Baroness, or why Cobra is called Cobra, or who Snake Eyes is, or who or what a Destro is, then you can watch the film, and then buy the toys, or even go home and marvel at the rich and impressive backstory that the toys you already possess have.

Aren’t you grateful to have had the veil of ignorance torn away from your eyes?

The characters in this flick are toys, and they have the motivations of toys. This is a strange action flick based on a property of next to no relevance to the current era, revamped and redone so that it looks like the world the makers of The Thunderbirds were looking forward to.

The performances are quite funny. I’m not sure if it’s always intended, but they routinely made me laugh. Out loud. I rarely laugh out loud watching movies, but this time it happened quite often and quite loudly.

The only person I really feel sorry for out of all of this is Dennis Quaid. Quaid has been a decent actor for decades, and has again and again triumphed over adversity. Married to Meg Ryan? He rose over that obstacle. Has Randy Quaid as a brother? He worked through his pain and delivered again and again. Seeing him here hurts my heart.

Like every character, he has a one word designation, as Hawk, or at least General Hawk, who mostly leads an international band of brothers (and a few sisters) who are the best of the best of their country’s respective militaries. So it’s truly an organisation that celebrates diversity and the benefits of multiculturalism (as long as everyone acts American). It is, truth be told, the opposite relationship to the one in Transformers 2, whereby the only thing standing between humanity and the evil Decepticons is the might of the US military. And some other giant robots, but mostly the US military. Yeehaw!

No, here saving the world from evil is a Benetton ad come to life and kitted out with the latest gadgetry, robotics, planes, nanotechnology, all that shit, placed in the hands of a multilateral force of international equals.

Run by and starring in the lead roles are, you guessed it, noble Americans.

Two young jarheads, named Duke and Ripcord (Channing Tatum and a superfluous Wayans brother), get dragged into an international conspiracy and trouble way above their paygrade when someone tries to steal the nanotechnological weapons that they and some other grunts are transporting. It turns out that the person manufacturing the weapons is trying to steal them so that he can fuck France up and make billions from triggering wars in which he’ll sell this destructive tech to all sides.

Duke is a loyal, dedicated grunt who wants nothing more than to serve his, um, country, and take out the trash. Channing Tatum, who I’ve actually seen act in other flicks, brings the level down to what it is: playing the main toy in a film about toys. He’s very toy-like, you have to admit that. Which is, in the scheme of things, highly appropriate.

When he’s attacked, he discovers that one of the evildoers is his former girlfriend, who is now a Baroness, hence her name, The Baroness. Oh, and Cobra? Cobra’s called Cobra because of Cobra venom. Why is Breaker called Breaker? I don’t know, but at least he’s played by Said Taghmaoui, who for once gets a healthy paycheck without having to play a terroristic villain.

Everyone has not just nicknames, but these toy names that continually takes you out of the story. Really? Storm Shadow? Really? Doctor Mindbender? Really? Zartan?

Jeez Louise, they can’t be serious. Does anyone have any fun in this turgid mess without looking embarrassed? Well, I have to admit the Parisian escapade is somewhat amusing as action sequences go, where the baddies decide to destroy the Eiffel Tower, and Duke and Ripcord start rampaging about trying to stop them while wearing powered mecha type suits, crashing through buildings and trains and generally acting like giant, happy puppies made of titanium.

Of course the entire enterprise is aimed at boys, and fairly dumb ones at that. It is, however, impossible to like and utterly impossible to take seriously, even as dumb entertainment.

I’m not going to spoil the rest of the plot, or even explain anything else, except to illuminate why this movie is actually a tad worse than Transformers 2. Yes, I am going to set the bar that low.

After crosses, double crosses, triple crosses, the deaths of stupid characters, in the final battle, something happens at the ultimate villain’s lair, which is situated deep underwater, underneath the pack ice at the North Pole. Explosions explode, people have to get out or get into various things before either escaping or dying or combinations thereof. The pack ice above the lair is ruptured by these explosions, and huge chunks of ice start tumbling inexorably downwards, crushing various underwater crafts and slamming into the lair.

Yes, huge chunks of ice, falling slowly but powerfully downwards, into the abyssal depths.

If that sounds reasonable to you, then this flick, which was created as if to guarantee a resurrection of the crazy characters from Mystery Science 3000 in order to give them future fodder to mercilessly ridicule, might be right up your alley. And if a film like this is right up your alley, you have to start wondering about the quality of your alley.

I’m not even sure why I was found this so mockworthy, at the same time as I’ve given a towering monstrosity as appalling as Michael Bay’s latest a virtual free pass. The difference is that Bay at his best/worst makes aggressively and violently entertaining trash, whereas this flick has the singular virtue of not being as relentlessly entertaining, and actually seeming even more childish than a flick about giant robots that turn into other stuff, and then back again. With Transformers, there’s no admission, no concession for being made about toys. It’s a pantomime convinced it’s Star Wars. Okay, bad example, since Star Wars became a parody of Star Wars in the latter films.

In G.I. Joe, you actually start feeling embarrassed for the actors involved, whereas no-one’s going to feel bad for cretins of the magnitude of Shia LeBeouf or Megan Fox. But when I think of Christopher Eccleston, Dennis Quaid, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Said Taghmaoui, Jonathan Pryce and Byung-hun Lee, who was fantastic in A Bittersweet Life several years ago, fumbling around in the embarrassing darkness that is this cartoon, all I can think is, damn, I’m glad you all got a hefty payday for once, but your own friends and family should be mocking you to your faces for this weak crap.

Director Stephen Sommers continues a virtually perfect record of unspoiled shiteness with his resume, adding this flick up there to the stratospheric heights reserved for movies of the quality of Van Helsing and those wretched Mummy flicks. Keep up the shite work, Stephen. They’re building that tenth level of hell just for you, Brett Ratner and the rest of you hacks.

4 times I’ve seen plays that were more entertaining, honest to god, plays out of 10

“American politics. Governors, senators, congressmen... No wonder nothing ever gets done.”
- “That's what we're going to fix, Mr. Zartan.” – at least they’re trying to come up with a solution for once, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra