Saturday, August 15, 2009

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra

I'm as surprised as anyone, but I really liked GI Joe, and that's even with raised expectations. I tried - really hard - to go into it with zero expectations, but I kept hearing from so many people who were surprisingly entertained by it. I couldn't help but get my hopes up a little. And - shocker - I wasn't disappointed.

Yes, Snake Eye's mouth is goofy to the point of distraction, but that's my biggest complaint about the movie. Keep in mind that I've got only a passing familiarity with these characters so I don't care at all about how much was changed from the cartoon or the comics. What I was impressed by is that just about every character was thought-out with an interesting backstory, that I cared about those characters, that the overall plot made sense, and that the special effects were believable.

One of my problems with other versions of GI Joe has always been that the cast is so large. They'll give the most attention to a few favorites, but there are all of these supporting characters that we're supposed to know and care about too. That's not an issue in the movie. The cast is small enough that we can keep track of everyone, but large enough that the story's able to stay constantly exciting by moving around between groups. We'll spend a little time with Duke and Ripcord, and just when that's starting to get old we'll skip to Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Then to the Baroness and Destro. Then to Ripcord and Scarlett. Then to General Hawk and the US government. Then back to Duke and the Baroness. I love that kind of storytelling anyway and GI Joe pulls it off really well.

Minor spoilers below

One of the reasons it pulls it off is because so many characters have previous connections to each other. Again, I don't know or care how accurate this is to the other media interpretations, but I like that Duke used to date Baroness, that Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow have been rivals since childhood (which sounds like a cliché, but is pulled off by some nice acting from the kids in the flashback scenes), and others that would be pretty huge spoilers if I mentioned them.

One bit I do know from some of the comics is that Snake Eyes and Scarlett are a couple in that medium. That's totally changed in the movie and all for the better I think. The little I know about Scarlett makes me think that she's too strong a character to find a deep enough connection with a guy who never talks. Her dating him has always felt like fan-pandering to me. Let's take everyone's favorite Joe and hook him up with the hot girl on the team whether it makes sense or not.

In the movie, there's a shot of her leaning against him in a very familiar way during a briefing, but there's no other hint that they've ever had a real relationship. The shot feels like a gentle homage to the comics (and there are lots of nice homages like that: "Knowing is half the battle," "Yo, Joe!," etc.), but her love interest in the film is Ripcord.

I have to say that I'm genetically pre-conditioned not to like Marlan Wayans (except for Mo' Money; that was hilarious), but he was remarkably not-annoying in GI Joe. There were times when I just about reached my threshold for tolerating him, but then they'd switch over to a scene with Baroness and I was okay.

Anyway, I didn't mind at all that Scarlett warmed up to Ripcord by the end. I still can't imagine her having a serious relationship with him, but her flirting with him is a heck of a lot more believable than her dating Snake Eyes.

The plot of the movie is simple, as light, summer fare should be. Compare it to Transformers 2, which made no sense outside of a stream-of-consciousness connecting of confusing action sequences. The problem with Transformers 2 is that you can't pull at a plot thread without the whole movie falling apart in your hands. I'm not going to say that GI Joe is the most tightly put-together story I've ever seen, but it's simplicity makes it pretty bullet proof. There's a bad guy who's created a devastating weapon for the US and now he wants to steal it back so that he can use it in his own world-conquering schemes. An elite, global task force has to stop him. Gunfights, car chases, martial arts, and underwater dogfights in personal submarines ensue. And Stephen Sommers actually spent some money making it look good instead of like a cheap video game. What's not to like?

"Rocket suits," I heard someone say from the back. Well, you're wrong. Despite their getting a lot of attention in the trailers, the rocket suits are only there for one scene and they're pretty awesome in it.

Four out of five undersea headquarters.

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