Directed by Stephen Sommers
Not that it helps for the film to open in the 17th Century with an esoteric scene of a man being punished for playing both sides in a battle, which might get some worried we’re in for another “Van Helsing.” In fact, this is merely a device to introduce that man’s descendent, M.A.R.S. Industries head James McMullen (Christopher Eccleston), a weapons dealer who is showing off their latest invention, a chemical with metal-corroding capabilities that can level a city within minutes. Assigned to guard the chemical weapons are two NATO soldiers nicknamed “Duke” (Channing Tatum) and “Ripcord” (Marlon Wayans), who are attacked en route and then pulled by General Hawk into a secret war between two teams of highly-trained mercenaries trying to get their hands on the weapons.
For the most part, you don’t have to really understand or appreciate the “G.I. Joe” mythos to have fun with the movie, the majority of it essentially being a game of “grab the suitcase” with the two teams fighting over the destructive weapons. It’s hard not to immediately be reminded of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s brilliant “Team America,” a movie that could have very well have been the blueprint for this story. (Try hard not to snicker anytime someone gravely speaks about the deadly “nanomites.”) Although the plot is fairly simple, the movie does turn into the type of global threat you’d expect the Joes to be facing, which quickly becomes evident during a sequence in Paris, easily one of the better (if not best) action sequences you’ll see this summer, no question there, as the Accelerator Suits worn by Duke and Ripcord allow them to take part in a high-speed chase through the streets of the city leading to the wanton destruction of the city’s most prominent landmark.
You don’t go see a movie like this for the writing or acting, though neither is nearly as painful as it could have been even with much of the cast making their first foray into playing action heroes with Channing Tatum taking especially well to the role. His on-screen partner Marlon Wayans provides almost the majority of the film’s comic relief as Ripcord, his jokes generally being about him trying to hit on Rachel Nichols’ red-headed intellectual hottie “Scarlett,” and her rebuffing his advances. From her tiny role in “Star Trek,” Nichols certainly steps up and holds her own in this macho environment, adding to the number of great, strong women who have kept the summer interesting. Snake Eyes is as cool and fun a character as he is in the comics – and we can be thankful that the character keeps Ray Park from having any lines.
The worth of any hero is often gauged by the level of the villainy they face, and while Eccleston is diabolical enough in his motivations to play both sides, it’s Sienna Miller’s Baroness who steals the movie as the type of sexy femme fatale necessary to be on equal par with Nichols in their entertaining catfights. Snake Eyes’ counterpart Storm Shadow, played by Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee, shows off similarly strong moves even if his grasp of English tends to hold him back. At least Sommers realizes this is what G.I. Joe fans want to see – they want to see Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow going at it with all their abilities. Even so, by the third time you see the two of them fighting as kids in flashback, you might start to wonder if it’s being done as a gag to see what level of ridiculousness audiences will readily accept. For all the sly nods done merely for the fans, the movie also contains far too many flashbacks to try and connect and create relationships between the various characters.
Sadly, the normally great Joseph Gordon-Levitt is wasted in a role where his face is covered by make-up and prosthetics and his voice modulated beyond recognition. When he finally reveals his true identity–no spoiler, you would need to have a serious mental deficiency not to have figured it out–he then decides minutes later to cover his entire face with another mask. That’s just one of the main problems with how the Joe’s main villain is portrayed, but it’s also part of the general silliness that permeates the movie. At one point, McMullen needs to have Baroness’ husband “weaponize the nanomites.” You see, her husband, “the Baron,” He’s also a scientist! Yes, everyone has some sort of scientific background in this movie, which is the only way to explain how they’re able to figure out all the elaborate technology so easily. In the same respect, Arnold Vosloo’s Zartan is a “master of disguise” who mostly just knocks someone out and puts on their clothes – he does go a bit further by the end. Then there’s Dennis Quaid who doesn’t necessarily chew up every scene he’s in, but his performance as General Hawk is so stiff and stilted, one might wonder how he can command even a modicum of respect from his subordinates.
Sommers does a fantastic job with the vehicles and large-scale environments that Joe fans are expecting, creating a world that’s more connected to cartoon fantasy than any sort of military realism. It sometimes makes it hard not to feel like the whole movie is not just one big advertisement for the toys though. Some of the CG is a little bit showy and unnecessary like adding CG animals to some scenes, but for the most part, Sommers uses the technology to great effect, especially in the underwater battle where it’s nearly impossible to tell where the line between live actors and models ends and the CG begins.
For the most part, the movie is exactly what the title promises, an origin story to set up the evil Cobra entity we know from the cartoons and comics, and that makes it a more than suitable bookend for a summer that started with X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Besides being more fun and playful, it’s generally the same type of movie, one whose faults will mostly be overlooked by the fans.
The Bottom Line: