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Review: G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

G. I. Joe was a toy line from Hasbro with associated animated series in the 80ies that is virtually unknown here in Germany. The toys and a few movies were briefly released under the toy line's international name "Action Force" here, in Switzerland and a few other countries, but never really caught on. I used to watch it on an English cable channel as a kid.

The animated series was both a stroke of genius and incredibly zany (or "naff") at times. The basic premise is that G.I. Joe is an American task force (or in the case of Action Force an multi-national task force) tasked with defending against a vast, sprawling terrorist organization called "Cobra" and their detailed, complex plots at taking over the world. While the main plots were usually very sci-fi or fantasy, some of the characters impressed with their depth. The enemy is sometimes your friend, and there is even love between some of the opponents.

The new live-action G. I. Joe movie is a decent adaptation of the source material. They essentially took the Action Force premise and the G.I. Joe name, making it an international task force, kept what worked, but toned down the madness and the silliness, and tied everything together with a piece of background technology that can be used to explain away all the more cartoony aspects of many of the characters. It is a straightforward origin movie wrapped around one of Cobra's complicated plots (you generally can't call them intricate, because Cobra just doesn't do subtlety - secrecy, but not subtlety).

Don't get me wrong: This is not high cinema. It is a competently executed action movie that has a surprising amount of depth behind its characters (for an action movie). It is pleasant to watch. That said, it telegraphs most of his punches. There's two plot twists that would probably cause someone who isn't vaguely familiar with the show's characters (and hasn't read the blurb on which actor has a big part in this movie) to be a bit surprised, but that's about it.

But it is a good transition of the series to the screen, IMO. They left away the silly parts (like every Cobra soldier yelling "Cobraaa!" before they attack and all the Joes yelling "Yo Joe!" in similar situations - though there's nods to that for the fans). They added a set of "accelerator suits" that make for a pleasant scene in the middle (don't worry, fanboys, the suits are essentially in one action scene, the rest is good old hand-to-hand).

And of course they have the fantastic Christopher Eccleston (28 days later, Dr.Who) as James McCullen Destro, who plays the character with the gravitas and believability that is required for such a major character in the Joe mythos. And they have Ray Park (X-Men, Star Wars: Episode 1) as Snake-Eyes, holding up the ninja-fighting action battle-front. They don't make the mistake of over-using Snakey, and the other characters fit well. Mind you, they're all essentially clichés, but they're a lot less cliché than they were in the source material.

If you like being taken into a weird world almost like our own, with military using high-tech toys, and colorful villains, if you like to see butch soldiers and pretty women, this movie will satisfy. If you're a Joe fan, I recommend you re-watch some of the animated series (there's a DVD boxset out in the US) to remind yourself that the series was a lot sillier than you recall, then go in there and enjoy the much less silly movie. This is almost G.I. Joe as I remember it. Just without Flint and Lady Jaye...

There be Spoilers here

Okay, so much for the spoiler-free section. If you haven't seen the movie, or still don't plan to see it and want to be spoilered, here's the salient points:

Most of the movie, Destro is still James McCullen, so you get to see Eccleston's acting, which raises the movie's quality a lot. Of course you get to see Destro in the end, but honestly, the F/X suck. I sure hope they find a better way of doing this before they do a sequel. I'd love to see a sequel, by the way. Still, Destro is essentially the main villain of the piece. To a fan obvious, Destro never really says that he is the powerful man they're talking about. Either it's related to the whole Zartan plot, or a reference to the Commander. But in both cases, it is in keeping with the established characterization of Destro: He will sell to both sides. Right now, the Commander has the advantage, but how long can that last?

One of the main telegraphed punches is the whole Cobra Commander story. You know Joseph-Gordon is in there, so when he shows up as Anna's brother and she makes Duke promise to protect him, you immediately know he's gonna get wounded and made the Commander. The Mindbender-style get-up with the monocle is a nice hidden twist to confuse the fans, but really, he looks too recognizable still, so again, it's a bit obvious they rolled the two characters into one (yes, you see the actual Mindbender, but really, he's nothing like the one in the series, the Commander is). And of course, there's the Commander's mask.


Luckily, you don't see it until the end. I hope they redesign that if there's ever a sequel. Also, get rid of the mouth on Snake-Eyes costume. It just looks silly. Luckily you don't see it in too many shots.

Duke and General Hawk are the straight-shooting bland characters you'd expect. Duke doesn't really gain too much depth through the stock plot of the lost girlfriend, and the baroness loses a bit of dangerousness, but then again she always had divided loyalties, and the whole concept of good-and-evil-in-one has a long tradition in G. I. Joe. And you can easily have her go back to cackling evil, so no harm done.

Cover-girl is very under-used, even more so than Zartan. Zartan feels almost like preparation for a sequel, but his plot also works well to elevate a fairly straightforward plan into a complex scheme worthy of Cobra, and to illustrate the stakes. In the series, you occasionally had them count their losses, but generally nobody died. Here it's much more realistic, which increases the impact of the battles somewhat.

All in all, it's different, but not in a bad way. As a movie, it could use a bit of a tightening of the plot in the editing room (and what's that Destro is saying in the end about joining a long tradition of McCullens? That doesn't quite make sense? Does he think he's dying?), but George Lucas has bestowed far worse on the audience and made millions.

Anyone else seen it (maybe a non-Joe-fan?) and want to share their view?

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Created: 2009-08-26 @387 Last change: 2009-08-26 @423 | Home | Admin | Edit
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