Monday, August 10, 2009
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
My immediate reaction after seeing the film, sent via Twitter: "I hate you, Hollywood. I hate you so much. How do you fuck up a movie about commandos and ninjas? HOW?!?"
My reaction after a bit of consideration: It's not...a terrible film. I mean, it is, by pretty much every objective definition, but if you're a fan of the toys/comics/cartoon, there are some really great moments that even the most jaded geek will love. Unfortunately, they're outnumbered by the really bad moments by a wide margin.
The thing that really pissed me off, though, is that if you look at films like Batman & Robin or Transformers, it's obvious that the filmmakers didn't get the characters. With G.I. Joe, there's enough to convince me that the filmmakers mostly did get the characters--they hired Larry Hama as a consultant, for Christ's sake--but they were willing to disregard anything they found inconvenient, and they did this often. Somehow, that's even worse.
-- Storm Shadow. I can't say he single-handedly saves the film, but he comes damn close. Not being an aficionado of Korean cinema, I'd never heard of Byung-hun Lee before, but the dude is far and away the best actor in the film. One might claim that's not saying a whole lot, considering his co-stars are Channing Tatum and Marlon Waynes, but he also manages to outperform guys like Dennis Quaid, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Christopher Eccleston. "He never gives up," is the best-delivered line of the whole film.
-- The action. Say what you will about the overall quality of his films, but Stephen Sommers is a pretty good action director. The Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow fights are great, and the car chase through Paris is a lot of fun, ruined only by the presence of those goddamn accelerator suits, which I'll get to in a bit. The very least you want from a G.I. Joe movie is lots of kicking and lots of explosions, and you can't claim you don't get plenty of both.
-- The violence. I was pleasantly surprised. No cartoon-like gunfire that never hits its mark or stun grenades, here. People get shot to death. People get throwing star-ed to death. People get the Eiffel Tower falling on them-ed to death. Cover Girl gets skewered through the heart! (Which I was fine with. Cover Girl was always one of my least favorite Joes as a kid, so if they had to pick a token one to kill off in the film, it might as well have been her. Basically, her defining personality trait was being hot, hence the code name. Which is even dumber than it sounds, because all the female Joes were hot. This might be why she was barely featured in the comics or cartoon.) On the Sports Junkies last week, Marlon Waynes claimed this was a family-friendly film. Luckily for us, Marlon Waynes is kind of a liar.
-- Some of the casting. Byung-hun Lee, I mentioned. Christopher Eccleston is great, even while delivering some truly bad dialogue. Sienna Miller is surprisingly awesome if you ignore the last twenty minutes of the film. Arnold Vosloo plays the exact same character he does in every non-Mummy movie he's in, but he seemed to be enjoying himself.
-- Most of the casting. I actually like Channing Tatum, but he couldn't be a more bland action hero if he tried. Dennis Quaid is clearly only in this film for an easy paycheck, and it shows. Rachel Nichols isn't terrible, but her best scene is the one where she's on the treadmill, if you get my drift.
-- The pointless Brendan Fraser cameo. Supposedly, he asked to do it because he's a G.I. Joe geek and a pal of Stephen Sommers. Fair enough, but he couldn't have been given a bit more to do?
-- Multi-nationalism. The film changes G.I. Joe from an American unit to an international one. I initially didn't have a problem with that, but I gradually came around as it became obvious the change was made, not for story reasons, but simply for the sake of political correctness and overseas film markets. As a result, Breaker is French, Heavy Duty is British, Snake Eyes is Japanese, and I'm sure if they could have, they would have crammed in a few more nationalities. (Also, the Pit should be underneath the motor pool on a U.S. Army base, not in fucking Egypt.)
Like everything posted at The National Review, it's tempting to laugh this off--and indeed, the Internet is--but honestly? I think John J. Miller has a point. When did "Real American Hero" become a liability?
-- Snake Eyes. For the most part, the film does a good job. The moment we first see him, jumping out of the helicopter with his sword drawn, is beyond awesome. However, the big molded lips on the mask were distracting, and they really did a number on his origin. The vow of silence bit was especially bad. Apparently, the studio really wanted Snake Eyes to speak at the end, ala Silent Bob in Clerks, but luckily, Hama was there to talk them out of this.
It's weird that two characters who originally weren't disfigured--Destro and Cobra Commander--become so in the film, and the guy who actually was disfigured--Snake Eyes--just feels like wearing a mask for some reason. If there's one G.I. Joe character that should have been left the fuck alone, it was Snake Eyes. Good one, Hollywood.
-- The accelerator suits. The only good thing that can be said about them is that they're not in the film very much. But when they are, they're horrible. Worse, they're completely unnecessary. Aside from a couple of easy gags involving Marlon Waynes falling down, what purpose did they serve in the plot, that couldn't have been accomplished by just putting Duke and Ripcord on motorcycles or something? They cheapened what would have been an otherwise great car chase.
-- The Baroness. The film's...er...unexpected take on the character actually didn't bother me that much (even the stuff with Duke) until the end, when she breaks free of her programming. She's supposed to be an evil terrorist! There shouldn't be any programing to break free of.
-- Cobra Commander. I honestly don't know what to say about this. I mean, it's not like Cobra Commander has historically been portrayed as a great villain. In fact, one of the things I dug about G.I. Joe as a kid was that the guy who was ostensibly the main bad guy was really kind of a loser who was lucky enough to be surrounded by competent professionals, albeit ones who, for the most part, hated his guts. But this was just ridiculous. The costume. The motivation. The voice. None of it made any sense whatsoever.
-- Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This is maybe the most bizarre bit of casting in any movie ever. Aside from being a far from obvious choice for the role, Gordon-Levitt is one of the best younger actors working today. His involvement with this film is only marginally less surprising to me than if they'd convinced Al Pacino to play Cobra Commander. And the really tragic part? He's terrible. Godawful. Complete train wreck. We're talking, go-ahead-and-engrave-his-name-on-the-Razzie-Award-now bad.
Worse, the way movie contracts are structured these days, he'll almost certainly have to come back for at least two more sequels, which means that's two less films like Brick, The Lookout, or (500) Days of Summer that he's not starring in. I don't know if he thought a summer blockbuster would be good for his career, or if he was a G.I. Joe fan and thought this would be fun, or if he just lost a bet. But the lesson is, always read the script first.
To Sum Up:
The truly annoying thing about this film is that with just a bit more effort--effort that wouldn't have fundamentally changed anything important about the story the filmmakers wanted to tell--G.I. Joe could have been so much better. Instead, they chose to be lazy, taking the path of least resistance at pretty much every possible turn. And while it can be said that they managed to produce a fun summer popcorn flick, there's nothing that says you can't produce a smart fun summer popcorn flick, and they clearly didn't even give that a shot.
Who knows whether a sequel is going to happen, but if it does, I strongly suspect that rather than learn from the mistakes in this film, the studio will credit the stupid elements as what worked, and the stuff that was put in for the sake of fan-service as unnecessary.
In other words, yes, Snake Eyes will speak in the next one.