”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” (2009) Review
Ten years ago, I saw a movie that was based upon a popular toy franchise for the third time in my life. This movie turned out to be ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”. And if I must be honest, I ended up seeing the movie under confusing circumstances.
I never had any intentions of seeing ”G.I. JOE: RISE OF THE COBRA” when it was first released in theaters. Let me make this perfectly clear. After the mindless action of the first two ”TRANSFORMERS” movies, I had vowed never to watch another action movie based upon a popular toy. In fact, I had intended to see the new comedy at the time, ”JULIE AND JULIA”. My family and I ended up watching ”G.I. JOE”, because I thought a relative of mine wanted to see it. As it turned out, my relative thought ”I” wanted to see the movie. Which goes to show how dangerous the lack of communications can be. We ended up watching a movie that neither of us had intended to see.
Stephen Sommers, the creator of ”THE MUMMY” franchise and director of the first two movies, directed this tale about the G.I. Joe Team, a covert unit of international special forces commandos, under the command of a U.S. Army general named Hawk (Dennis Quaid). Original, huh? Following an attempt by terrorists to steal nanotechnology-based warheads, two regular Army commandos, Conrad “Duke” Hauser and Wallace “Ripcord” Weems, join the “Joes” in an effort to prevent the warheads from falling into the hands of terrorists. During Duke and Ripcord’s training at the G.I. Joe’s command center in North Africa, two terrorists named the Baroneess and Storm Shadow attack the base. And in the process, manage to wound General Hawk and steal the warheads. The Team eventually learn that the warheads’ creator and owner of an arms manufacturing company called MARS, James McCullen, was responsible for the attack and wanted the warheads back for his own nefarious means.
What can I say about ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA”? It was simply your typical summer action blockbuster based upon a popular franchise. And like many of these action films, it was filled with the usual action, explosions, violence, silly one-liners and special effects. Nothing special. Nothing original. It also featured an underwater battle between the “G.I. Joe” Team and McCullen’s troops. I read somewhere that Sommers wanted to pay homage to the 1965 James Bond movie, ”THUNDERBALL”. Well, he certainly succeeded as far as I am concerned. Sommer’s underwater battle in ”G.I. JOE: RISE OF THE COBRA” seemed just as boring as the one featured in ”THUNDERBALL”.
However, ”G.I. JOE” turned out to be surprisingly better than I had expected. In fact, the movie possessed enough attributes for me to enjoy it. You heard right. I actually managed to enjoy ”G.I. JOE”. Despite the usual action nonsense, the movie turned out to rather enjoyable. More importantly, screenwriters Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett included several twists in both the plot and some of the characterizations that took me by surprise. And ”G.I. JOE” did not strike me as the type of movie that could generate that kind of surprise. Another aspect of the movie that allowed it rise above the likes of the ”TRANSFORMER” movies, were its exploration of background stories of characters like Duke, the Baroness, McCullen, the Baroness’ brother Rex Lewis and the two former rivals, Storm Shadow and one of the “Joes”. The movie also featured a surprisingly effective action sequence set in Paris – a sequence that ended with some noteworthy special effects produced under the supervision of Christian Roberton and shot wonderfully by cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen.
Another aspect of ”G.I. JOE” that impressed me was its cast. Aside from one particular actor, the actors and actresses struck me as surprisingly impressive. Channing Tatum led the cast as Duke, the Army Special Forces officer who decides to join the “G.I. Joe Team” in order to continue his assignment regarding the nanoprobe warheads. Duke is also haunted by a past tragedy that involved his former girlfriend, Ana Lewis aka the Baroness and her brother, Rex. In the decade since this movie’s release, Tatum has managed to become a major and talented Hollywood star. But I have to be honest. He did not exactly appeal to me as a screen presence when I first saw “G.I. JOE”. But I thought he gave a very solid and competent performance in this film. Portraying Duke’s best friend was comic actor, writer and producer Marlon Wayans. He portrayed Ripcord, another Special Forces soldier who decides to follow Duke in joining the “Joes”. Ripcord also harbored a desire to be acknowledged as a top military pilot and he fell in love with another member of the “G.I. Joe Team”. As expected, Wayans provided a great deal of laughter in a role that could easily be labeled as comic relief. Only in this movie, Ripcord had a well written romance and managed to save two major capital cities in the movie’s finale. Wayans not only handled the comedy with great ease, he also did a solid job in his romantic and action scenes.
The supporting cast was filled with first-rate actors and actresses that provided solid performances. I especially enjoyed Sienna Miller as Duke’s conflicted ex-girlfriend, Ana Lewis. Family tragedy led her to join McCullen’s villainous team and change her name to the Baroness. It seemed quite obvious that Miller was enjoying herself in the role. Rachel Nichols gave an interesting performance as the brainy and uptight Scarlett, who learned to open up her heart to Ripcord’s humor and warmth. Also, she and Wayans provided great screen chemistry. And it was great seeing Adewale Akinuoye-Agbale for at the time, I had not seen him in a period of three years, since early Season Three of ABC’s ”LOST”. In this movie, Akinuoye-Agbale was his usual commanding self as Hershel “Heavy Duty” Dalton, the team’s ordinance expert who acted as field commander of the “Joes”. I also enjoyed Said Taghmaoni as Abel “Breaker” Shaz, the Moroccan hacker and communications expert that harbored a fondness for bubble gum. I especially enjoyed his performance in a scene that featured his character’s dismay at being banned from French soil, following the Eiffel Tower debacle. I have to give kudos to Lee Byung-hun for giving a convincingly complex performance as the villainous Storm Shadow. Young actor Brandon Soo-Hoo (from 2008’s “TROPIC THUNDER”) was equally intense as the character’s younger self. Christopher Eccleston was pretty solid as the main villain, James McCullen. Jonathan Pryce was equally solid as the President of the United States. Kevin J. O’Connor gave an interesting and slightly bizarre performance as Doctor Mindbender, the creator of nanomite technology. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a hoot as Ana’s slightly neurotic brother, Rex Lewis. I could say the same about Arnold Vasloo’s colorful performance as the murderous, yet colorful Zartan. Brendan Fraser provided a brief, yet entertaining cameo as the Joes’ trainer.
There was one performance that failed to impress me. And it belonged to Dennis Quaid as General Hawk, leader of the “G.I. Joe Team”. Now, I have been a fan of Quaid for years. Out of all the performances in the movie, his was the only one that turned me off. How can I put this? Quaid’s General Hawk sounded and behaved like an authority figure – whether it be a police officer, politician or military officer – from a 1950s or 60s “B” movie. You know – he spouted the usual flag-waving crap in an exaggerated manner that came off as stiff. I only thank God that his role was small.
Before I saw ”G.I. JOE”, I had suspected that it would become another ”TRANSFORMERS” or ”TRANSFORMERS 2”. Unlike the movies from that particular franchise, I did not have to turn off my brain to enjoy the film. And that surprised me, despite the movie’s flaws. Also, Stephen Sommers did a pretty good job in directing both the cast and crew in order to create a surprisingly entertaining movie. He also had the good luck to work from a solid script that provided a few good twists and surprises. ”G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA” is not a cinematic masterpiece, an action masterpiece or exercise in intellectual introspection. But it must have did something right. I enjoyed the film and it was a hit big enough to lead to a sequel some four years later.
And If you want a movie that you might be able to enjoy with kids . . . or even a few friends, then I would recommend it.