In Season of Bad Blockbusters, 'G.I. Joe' Marches in Step
By Dan Kois
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, August 7, 2009
What? What did you say? I can't hear you. Also, I can't see you -- all I see are flashing lights, explosions and perfect, gym-toned bodies sheathed in latex and steel. Plus, I am unable to communicate in any manner other than grunts and sweaty high-fives. I just saw "G.I. Joe"!
Stephen Sommers's film, based on the line of Hasbro action figures you melted in the microwave during elementary school, is the loudest, flashiest, silliest and longest blockbuster in a summer full of long, silly, flashy, loud blockbusters (long and silly "Transformers," flashy and loud "Wolverine").
Oh, it's not the longest? Well, let's just say it seems the longest. Employing an arsenal of high-tech weapons and low-tech dialogue, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" is as mindless as a laser-guided missile, and as purpose-driven. Once it's aimed in your direction, it will blow you out of your seat, whether you like it or not. A live-action cartoon that mixes the speechifying and corniness of the late-'80s animated series with the cursing and violent fiery death today's sophisticated audiences demand of their PG-13 entertainment, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" is as polished and entertaining as war-mongering toy commercials get.
And did I mention it's loud? Trucks explode, helicopters explode, the polar ice cap explodes, the Eiffel Tower topples. Deftly layered in the sound mix are the shouts of soldiers in action and the screams of dying men. Where the animated series of your childhood featured Cobra and Joe shooting harmless blue and red lasers at each other and always, always parachuting out of danger, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" dispenses with those niceties in its first five minutes, as evil forces use some kind of sonic-boom gun -- the better to bleed your ears with! -- to flatten two choppers in midair, killing their crews.
As far as plot goes, the crack commando team of G.I. Joes encounters an evil weapons dealer, a mad scientist, nanobots with a taste for 19th-century Parisian landmarks, a funny black guy, a couple of unconvincing romances, and a girl who's been brainwashed into becoming a lethal killing machine. Oh, and ninjas. Two ninjas! They fight each other! There's a cool scene where a guy gets nanobots injected into his face, and a scene I dare you not to laugh at that begins with the head-scratching onscreen title "France -- 1641." Everyone's backstories are efficiently delivered via unwittingly hilarious flashback, so that you're never confused about which soldier abandoned which girl because her brother was blown up in Somalia and he just couldn't face her and could only watch his best buddy's Arlington funeral from a distance. In the pouring rain. Wearing sunglasses. Straddling a motorcycle.
Mixed in with such hardbodies as Channing Tatum and Sienna Miller are real actors, terrific actors such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Christopher Eccleston and Sad Taghmaoui. At first the parade of fantastic actors spouting Joeisms -- "Paris? I like croissants!" says one of the Joes -- is funny, then ludicrous, and then faintly dispiriting, so that when Jonathan Pryce, one of the great British actors of his generation and a man who once chose his projects with care, shows up as the president of the United States, one can only sigh and wish that somebody would ask him for his birth certificate.
And if at any point you had forgotten that you're watching two hours of advertainment, the characters are happy to remind you via carefully enunciated appreciations of all the war machinery that surrounds them. "That's a Night Raven!" a character says in awe, upon seeing a shiny black fighter jet parked in a hangar; sadly, no one explicitly notes that the G.I. Joe Movie 3.75 Echo Vehicle Night Raven with Air Viper is available for a mere $40.68 at Amazon.com, but Hasbro can't do everything for you. Anyway! This movie will make a gazillion dollars, and who am I to say it shouldn't? It's great at what it does, which is pummel an audience into submission. Since the studio didn't allow preview screenings, the midnight show I caught ended at 2 a.m., and still I left the theater totally jacked. I might see it again, although I will be sure to bring noise-reducing earplugs, a couple of funny friends, and a six-pack of beer. Yo, Joe!
Strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout.