I have a colleague who is offended by the idea that one should have to watch movies or perceive entertainment through the eyes of "their inner nine-year-old." This of course is the suggestion, or more often, the defense many mount against movies that grown-ups would potentially want to see, but probably not enjoy, because, quite frankly, they're stupid, or poorly done, or quickly undone if any sense of logic or thought is applied to them. And while I agree with the notion that entertainment needn't be only for kids, or intelligence exist in the exclusive province of adulthood, there is something to be said for abandoning one's usual barriers of cynicism – or, to be fair, even just familiarity with storytelling conventions – in the service of enjoying something unabashedly, and against all common sense. This brings me to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
It's entirely possible that if I were nine or ten, the age that I first discovered the animated series, then G.I. Joe would be my favorite movie of all time. It features colorful, iconic characters, huge action scenes, and a plot that I'd feel smart for having figured out. As an adult, however, its shortcomings are obvious: thin, one-dimensional characters, death and destruction on an irresponsibly epic scale, and a nonsensical plot that I'd be depressed to have to try and "figure out." But G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was made for my nine-year-old self, and the nine-year-old in all of our selves; and while it certainly doesn't hold up to the scrutiny of a more mature or sophisticated perspective, it's a surprisingly fun time at the movies that reminds us we needn't be children in order to enjoy something the same way as when we were.
Starring Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Rachel Nichols, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Ray Park, G.I. Joe follows the exploits of (respectively) Duke, Ripcord, Scarlett, Heavy Duty, and Snake Eyes, members of a covert team of government operatives who are charged with transporting a secret and highly-dangerous weapon. When it gets stolen by Baroness (Sienna Miller), Storm Shadow (Byung-Hun Lee), Zartan (Arnold Vosloo), and the mysterious McCullen, the latter of whom originally designed it, the Joes take off for parts unknown to recover it. But after Baroness reveals the weapon's destructive power by setting it off in the middle of Paris, Duke and co. race into action to capture their adversaries and stop them before they can unleash it on other countries around the world.
The song that plays over the closing credits of the film is the Black Eyed Peas' new single "Boom Boom Pow," and it – and the majority of their music, quite frankly – is emblematic of G.I. Joe's charms: full of irresistible, disposable hooks, it's superficial entertainment at best, but satisfyingly so if you're into that kind of thing. The characters are just as one-dimensional as when they were actually one-dimensional, including the substance of their heroism or villainy; the action is as ridiculously huge, even if here, as opposed to the eternally-upbeat cartoon, those involved can't always parachute or otherwise escape to safety. But who needs a G.I. Joe universe where things are more complicated or subtle than that? Certainly no one who actually has a vested interest in seeing the film.
As a matter of fact, one of the only real "problems" I had with G.I. Joe is that it occasionally doesn't go far enough over the top. Although technically speaking I liked both Transformers and Revenge of the Fallen, the makers of those films dedicated way, way too much time trying to legitimize the technology and mythology of the robots themselves, which was an unnecessary effort since everyone who was going to see it had already signed up to accept the idea of giant alien robots that could turn into vehicles. By comparison, director Stephen Sommers, himself a longtime purveyor of silly spectacle (e.g. The Mummy), only falters when he tries to make his characters look like actual soldiers, as when he updates their individual outfits to offer the team a more unified, tech-heavy look.
Particularly since each character's outfit highlights his or her specialty or field of expertise, it stands to reason that in the service of distinguishing the heroes and villains, much less selling tie-in action figures, one might want to emphasize their differences. But one supposes that Sommers felt like screenwriters Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett did such an effective job defining their personalities that their appearance was relatively less important - and truth be told, he'd be right: in virtually every set piece, all of the characters have something specific to do that makes them stand out. But for fan boys like yours truly, it would have been nice if only for nostalgia's sake to see more than two or three of the characters in their original attire, rather than Bat-sequel-worthy fetish armor.
Without real characters to play - but thankfully few true cringe-inducing lines of dialogue to deliver - most of the actors do a sufficient job in their roles: Tatum is handsome, heroic and without personality as Duke; Wayans is surprisingly subdued as his ambitious sidekick, Ripcord; and Sienna Miller milks Baroness' jilted sass (not to mention skintight leather) for all it's worth. Only Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems lost in his role, albeit primarily because he spends 90 percent of his screen time behind a mask that hides his face and speaks with a voice that isn't his own. But as a rule, the men are blandly earnest, be they good or bad, while the women are pin-up-worthy tough girls – and both characterizations perfectly suit the source material and promise to feed the imaginations (okay, fantasies) of a whole new generation of fans.
Finally, Sommers' latest is an "at that age" movie; much like how moviegoers from my generation loved The Monster Squad, The Goonies, Tron, and countless other popcorn flicks that may or may not hold up decades later, G.I. Joe is a movie that seems assured to drive impressionable 'tweens wild, even if it leaves older viewers wanting. So while it's best that you're actually nine in order to properly appreciate the movie, what's most impressive is that it brings out that inner nine-year-old even if you're much older – and which is also why "at that age" movies can sometimes mean at any age. Because in spite of its stupidity, poor execution, or tenuous fortitude in the face of logic, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra ultimately reminds adults of that same unabashed enjoyment they felt as kids, even if it doesn't quite inspire it all over again.