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What is GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra?

When all else fails… they don’t! They are G.I. Joe, a top-secret elite strike force featuring the best operatives from around the globe. After a high-tech, secret weapon is stolen by the mysterious and evil Cobra organization, the G.I. Joes must race against time to stop Cobra from using the weapon and plunging the world into chaos. Starring Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans and Sienna Miller.


This is going to be less of a review than a retrospective and rant. GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is fine. It’s got a bunch of flaws and die hard nutjobs like myself will nitpick it to death about continuity changes but it’s got decent action, comedy, and an update of the GI Joe premise. If they’d changed a few things here and there, it’d go from a three star movie to a four star action extravaganza. It’s just the sequel that ran this incarnation of the franchise into the ground.

The premise for GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a perfectly fine one. Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are two American soldiers guarding a nano-tech warhead made by MARS arms manufacturing giant, James MacCullen (Christopher Eccelston), who is up to something nefarious. The warhead gets stolen by advanced super-soldiers led by the Baroness (Sienna Miller) and our heroes are recruited into GI Joe before they lose the warhead again. Duke is revealed to be the ex-lover of one of the Baroness and intends to “rescue” her.

I don’t mention it very often but I am very much a GI Joe fanboy. Given I’m an anarchist nutjob, this is a somewhat bizarre thing but I actually consider the toy commercial/military advertisement to be one of the most formulative things of my youth. I think my appreciation for female heroines probably comes from GI Joe (Scarlet, Lady Jaye, Jinx, The Baroness) and why I didn’t develop into a weird guy who seems to think that every heroine kicking ass is somehow a threat to my fragile masculinity.

GI Joe has consistently struggled to find itself a brand identity outside of the comics by Larry Hama (GI Joe’s father in the way same Bill Finger is Batman’s Stan Lee is Spider-Man’s). Part of this may be the premise of a bunch of American soldiers fighting an evil terrorist organization bent on world conquest being a little too “real” after 2001. Part of it may be the fact it doesn’t have quite the same broad international appeal as Transformers. Hogwash I say!

My opinion of G.I. Joe is that I believe the biggest problem it has is that Hasbro is just handling the license terribly. Much the same with Dungeons and Dragons. They seem afraid of embracing the SHIELD versus Hydra sensibility that makes the work clique. It’s strange because they have updated it a couple of times with Sigma Six and this very movie having our heroes be a broad collection of international heroes (ala Action Force). Michael Bay was basically made to make this movie and they got the Mummy guy to do it instead and he would have been fantastic…if he’d been allowed to tweek the script like he wanted.

Famously, this was an unhappy production from everyone involved. Christopher Ecceleston hated playing Destro and I can’t help but think it’d have been interesting to get David Tenant (an actual Scotsman and fellow Doctor Who) to do the role. Channing Tatum, an actual GI Joe fanboy about my age, hated the movie from top to bottom. He wanted to play Snake Eyes instead of Duke and, honestly, probably would have done a fantastic job. Both do a great job with what they’re doing, Eccelston’s bizarre accent choice aside, and aren’t the problem with the movie.

There’s much to enjoy about GI Joe with Rachel Nicholson being a great actress I wish I’d seen more of (she was amazing in Continuum), Sienna Miller being the absolute best thing in the movie by far as the Baroness (even if she should be allowed to be bad!), Ray Park as Snake Eyes being the best sort of casting, and Lee Byung-hun is great as Storm Shadow. I even like Marlon Wayans as Ripcord even if they more or less had to invent his character whole cloth versus the comics/cartoons. The action is big, punchy, and electrifying with a great deal of fun to be had with fun toys on display. Everyone is pretty and there’s lots of exploding things. It’s a colorful James Bond movie and all the better for it.

So what went wrong? It’s tough to say but it’s one of those cases where I feel like the minor tweaks lead to bigger problems. Joseph Gordon-Levitt would have been a fantastic Doctor Mindbender (he’s clearly the only actor who understands he’s in a live action cartoon other than possibly Ms. Miller) or Cobra Commander but combining the two makes no sense. Scarlet being a weird emotionally distant scientist is, again, not really her. Ripcord and her “relationship” comes off more like sexual harassment and is weird when her two canon love interests are right there. Also, making the Baroness brainwashed gets rid of one of the great female villainesses of children’s entertainment and also makes her romance with Destro into sexual assault.

But weirdly, my biggest issue with the movie is the fact that GI Joe is a bunch of idiots. Throughout the movie, they fail to get anything done and get constantly outsmarted by Cobra. They fail to save the Eiffel Tower, they fail to stop the bad guys from getting their doomsday weapon, and they also let Cover Girl get killed (which is a problem with Hasbro–everyone is someone’s favorite figurine). It’s something that gets massively doubled-up on in the sequel when it’s hard to say our heroes did anything right when London is destroyed. That’s not a spoiler since it was in the trailer for the sequel.

Larry Hama envisioned Cobra as a sort of populist Right Wing crypto-fascist movement in the Eighties and, basically, had the same idea as George Lucas. Cobra Commander would rise to power as a very American sort of dictator and manipulate events behind the scenes to take over the world. People, especially Americans, join Cobra because they want a better life and no longer trust their government. I can understand if Hasbro doesn’t want that kind of political commentary in their books but this version of Cobra is all mind controlled and it undermines anything that would give the group punch. If Star Wars can destroy democracy with thunderous applause, so can GI Joe.

Still, I occasionally watch this film when I want some entertainment. They are very pretty people and there’s a lot of pew-pew as well as boom-boom. It has a sense of fun and adventure but if we’d had some of the character dynamics from the show/comics, I think it would have been slightly better. Okay, no, a lot better.

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