One of the most mystifying things about the summer of 2009 has been how, months ago and without any actual information to go on, it became gospel that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was going to be a ridiculous train wreck. This is especially bewildering in light of the moderate-to-positive buzz that preceded the release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, also for no apparent reason. Who decided that G.I. Joe would be terrible? When? Why?
I have, as they say, no robotically enhanced dog in this hunt. I certainly do not expect G.I. Joe to be any sort of season's highlight. I don't have any specific expectations for it, to be honest. But here's the information I have: this is a summer action movie directed by Stephen Sommers, whose last three blockbusters have ranged from tolerable mediocrity to delirious fun. Its cast includes character actors like Christopher Eccleston and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as the arch-villain, no less). Its trailer is no more or less ridiculous than you would expect from a movie based on action figures, and actually struck me as lighter on its feet than other recent tentpoles. Why it's fated to be the summer's biggest disaster escapes me entirely.
I mean, look at this USA Today piece about the film's "bad buzz". What facts does it actually contain? Anonymous, generalized "complaints" about elements of the trailer. (Was it really that bad? I just don't see it.) The notion that "the script was hurried into production" to beat the writer's strike -- legitimate, but shamefully vague. And a positive review from Harry Knowles, which I guess some people would consider a bad sign, but I'm not sure that's the point the article was making. The piece doesn't even mention the absurd rumors -- not helpful, though proven false -- that Stephen Sommers was kicked off the project in post-production.
The latest word, as you've probably heard, is that Paramount is thinking about considering maybe not screening the film for critics. (That's about as much as we know.) It's fair to assume that this is bad news, but at this point it seems just as likely that Paramount is doing damage control. Somehow, this movie was set up to fail, and -- given that it's admittedly unlikely to be any sort of masterpiece -- Paramount has nothing to gain from showing it to the knife-sharpening press.
I think G.I. Joe has at least a 60% chance of sucking, but that's my default for summer blockbusters, if that makes any sense. Transformers is so far ahead of the competition on my year's-worst list that G.I. Joe would have to make a truly heroic effort to give it a run for its money -- and since Sommers, unlike Michael Bay, at least has a plausible claim to being a filmmaker, that seems unlikely. Will G.I. Joe be unwatchable? How do you know?