Thursday, 13 August 2009

Review: GI Joe: The rise of the Cobra

Chances are, your hopes for a great cinema experience walking into GI Joe will be pretty low. You’d have to be bizarrely optimistic or ludicrously deluded to expect anything other than 90 minutes of absurd whizz-bangery of an extended toy advert. Which is precisely what you get, and as such it feels a little unfair to review this as a “film”. True it meets many of the criteria; actors, a script (of sorts) and presumably it took a fair bit of work to make all those pixels move about in the way they did. But GI Joe is so lacking in anything resembling coherence or characters, that “film” really is generous. No this is a toy advert. The most banal and violent toy advert you’ll ever see. And it's a blast.

For no reason at all, we open in a 17th century French castle, where a naughty Scot is being put in a red hot metal mask for selling arms to the both warring sides. The naughty Scot is the forbear of the possibly even naughtier Scot and former Dr Who, Christopher Eccleston, who could formerly boast an unblemished record for securing discerning thespianic choices. Skip to the "near future" and the naughty Mcullen is yet to be identified as naughty and is somehow selling devastating nano-warheads to Nato, capable of eating their way through cities, reducing them to piles of green dust. Everyone acts surprised when the these are intercepted on delivery by a futuristic flying saucer of destruction, apparently helmed by a sassy brunette in tight leather trousers. Sienna Miller is of course the ex girlfriend of the grunt-with-a-heart in charge of the mission to protect the warheads, Channing Tatum - Duke, along with his best bud who just wants to be a pilot, Marlon Wayans. Just when all seems lost and the seductively deadly Miller is making off with the shiny green nerf rockets of death, out of the sky drops GI Joe, hurrah. No longer a mere American action figure, Joe has expanded into a multi national team of meatheads and skill archetypes, who quickly chase off those nasty evil and well funded but certainly not working for Eccleston types. There’s the beefy English black guy – Mr Eko himself Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who likes big guns and has large arms. There’s a sassy red head in Rachel Nichols who likes crossbows and maths, and there’s the mute ninja Snake eyes, played by several stuntmen probably. Also knocking about is a Moroccan Lost extra who of course likes gadgets. Sadly they don’t really have a dashing all American front man, so they quickly agree to take Duke on board the most secretive and hi tech military outfit in the world because well, he asked. Might as well let Wayans in for good measure. Before you can say, “hang on”, we’re under the pyramids looking at an unfeasibly hi tech HQ where the newbies get trained to perfection in 2 hours, which is surprisingly easily infiltrated by Miller and even more nasty anti heroes, including a very unpleasant Arnold Vosloo, master of disguise, who whistles a distinctive tune (keep an eye on him, I have a feeling that might be important later) and the deadly but confusingly white wearing Japanese killer Byung Hun Lee. Before you can say “no really, give me a sec..” we're tearing through the streets of Paris in the accelerator suits (what do they accelerate? YOU stupid) smashing stuff up and trying to prevent the Eiffel tower from being eaten by nanites. They don’t. But they do smash lots of stuff up, with infectiously silly gusto.

I could describe the “plot” blow by blow, but it’s tiring me out just thinking about it. There is no downtime in this film, because there’s simply a void surrounding the action. Its like dead air on a radio station, when the action turns off, there is nothing to see, the characters are ciphers, the dialogue risible at best. The solution? Don’t turn the action off! So where there should be a quiet moment of reflection, where one might insert say, a character or an emotion, there is instead, a flashback to a fight! Why express an emotion with words or images when you can do it with a good punch up? The best example is the running ninja grudge match between our heroic mute weirdly cyborgy helmeted Snake eyes, and the evil Storm Shadow. Aside from turning the world upside down by having the good guy wear black, and the bad guy wear white (arg my mind!) we quickly learn that these two are brothers! I think the line was “hello again brother”. They fight. But then we’re treated to the flashback of their childhood rivalry, in the most violent child fight I’ve ever seen committed to film. And there ain't a whole lotta them in the first place.

Anyway the plot itself continues to smash along like a powersuited Joe. The ridiculously evil evil evil masterminds of Eccleston and his mad mad mad mad monocled and Darth Vader masked (really) scientist buddy, “The Doctor” (how ironic) who pulls off an amazing impression of Noel Fielding doing an impression of an evil scientist, put their mad mad mad evil evil plot into motion - in addition to threatening the planet with their nano nukes, they're cooking up something much more terrifying; a sequel. Meanwhile Duke wrestles with his past and that he’s still very much hot for Sienna’s smashing rack; why has she turned so evil and hell bent on the end of the world all of a sudden anyway, after all she was but a simple blonde girl, quick to laugh and fond of ponies? Needless to say, baddies turn out to be not as bad as they might seem, while goodies also turn out to not be not all they seem at all, and everyone is generally amazed at all of the revelations unfolding. Then they fight. The climax, if a deafening tumult of noise and banging can be said to have one, is an underwater sub fight that is very Star Wars, where hordes of whizzy subs pew pew at each other, while inside the ninjas fight like
Jedi on dramatically high up lightning wreathed towers, and in the skies deadly warheads are chased down by sleek futuristic jets, and everyone generally gets a dramatic little job to do which we can nip back and forth from until we feel a bit sick. In fact, the whole thing is pure Star Wars. And Just like the galaxy far away, there was little chance of the baddies coming up trumps. They do manage to set themselves up nicely for their Empire strikes back though, as by the end, the titular Cobra is fully risen, and all the action figures are nicely in place for a new throwdown, probably in 3D this time.

You have probably taken from the above that I thought Gi Joe to be the silliest film I have ever seen and that I didn’t much care for it. And you’d be right, it is the silliest film I have ever seen, but as I said before, if you go in expecting a film, you’re in the wrong screen buddy, and in fact I rather enjoyed it. This pap is shamelessly daft. It’s tongue is so far up in its cheek it’s drooling on itself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not cleverly written, it’s not knowingly being stupid in a clever way, but it’s so charmingly dumb, so brainlessly goofy, that it’s hard to criticise it. There are no bad performances, the action is brain meltingly relentless and everything slides by so carelessly that you just have to go with it. One could question why what should be a kids film, for it is they who will get the most out of it, needs to be so violent. Heads are frequently removed, knives and arrows puncture eyes and chests, and a helluva lotta people get shot. But then again, kids love that stuff, and it probably guarantees more toy sales.

So no, I didn’t hate GI Joe. Unlike other brainless action films (I’m looking at you Transformers) this didn’t get up my nose. The silliness was so silly, it managed to reach some kind of critical mass of silliness that actually worked to transform nonsense into smiles. Between the ludicrousness of what you’re seeing and the banality of the script there somehow lies a via media of entertainment, and you simply cant help but laugh. So if you find yourself stuck for something to do for a couple of hours, you might as well check it out, it can’t hurt right? Just don’t expect anything to make sense or to get attached to any characters, and you may find you emerge with a slightly lower IQ and the desire to blow something up.

Treehouse Rating


Stupidly entertaining


The Straight Lesbian said...

Hey, fantastic review! Saw your post at the coffeeshop thing and thought I'd meander around. Obviously, I'm following you, can't wait for more reviews etc. Toodles!

Living said...

I was surprised by the trailer. I don't know if I'll enjoy it now or not, though I don't mind random action movies.

Hunter said...

...bizarrely optimistic. Nice review!