I feel no particular affection or nostalgia for the "G.I. Joe" brand-name. Yes, I'm well-aware that the toy hero has been around since well before my birth, that he's had several resurgences over the years, and that he and his massive team of friends and foes were huge cartoon stars when I was growing up in the 1980s. Yet I'm neither a fan nor a hater of the property, and so I approached his latest incarnation, the big-budget live action* film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra with no baggage whatsoever, aside from that "feelm critic" valise that is a permanent fixture inside my brain. My early verdict is this: Find the asterisked word in this paragraph, and that's all you need to know.
What many would call a "guilty pleasure" I'll simply address as a question of "intent vs. result." (Mainly because I refuse to feel guilty for enjoying a film, especially when I can back up my opinions with genius insights like this...) The intent of the mega-pricey, ultra-flashy and non-brain-taxing Rise of Cobra is this: To deliver two hours of colorfully kinetic lunacy, to be a live-action cartoon that pleases old-school fans and basic action junkies in equal measure, to present long sequences of amusing ass-kickery that are only briefly interrupted by several "exposition dumps" and a few (too many) character-building flashbacks. All coated with non-stop CGI spectacle, pulse-pumping noises, and a bunch of broadly likeable caricatures.
By those perceived intentions (and yes, it's me doing the perceiving), G.I. Joe not only achieves its goals, but actually exceeds some, too! That's not to say this is some sort of brilliant piece of filmmaking: It's choppily edited and heavy on the "breathless catch-up" sort of storytelling, a few of the performances are flat or goofy or grating, and some of the effects needed another pass through the magic machines ... but while I'd contend that these are legitimate nitpicks, this flick is simply too enthusiastically over-caffeinated to warrant much anger.
The plot is this: "Nanobites" can do pretty much anything. An evil arms dealer, thanks to his deformed, monocle-wearing mad scientist sidekick, has figured out how to turn "nanobites" into A) missiles that devour metal, B) a serum that turns men into virtual immortals, and C) a handy McGuffin for all the armor-plated characters to fight over. And what a crazy crew it is! I suppose that's what happens when your movie is spawned from a line of action figures, but this movie has mega-ninjas, robotic sharks, inviso-cloaks, machine gun bracelets, and more than enough he-men / wonder-women to play with all these toys. And for the most part, there's a good deal of loud, eye-tickling fun to be had. (The movie's goal is to be viewed when "bad guys vs. good guys, loudly" is all that your brain is craving.)
The eclectic ensemble is, of course, a mixed bag, but standouts include a wonderfully oily Christopher Eccleston as Head Baddie, Rachel Nichols as Heroic Hottie, Said Thagmoui as Computer Expert, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as All-Purpose Authoritative Ass-Kicker. Matter of fact, The Rise of Cobra just might be the United Nations of mindless action flicks. The obvious Americanism of the Joe franchise has branched out to include about a dozen different creeds, cultures, nationalities, and persuasions. I approve. At the very least, it's a pre-teen-friendly rendition of the unapologetically stylish mayhem generally found in much "harsher" action flicks. (Yep, I dig Wanted a whole lot. Action flicks get no respect I tells ya!)
Credit to director Stephen Sommers, who (after befouling my brain with Van Helsing and The Mummy Returns) finds an amicable tone for The Rise of Cobra, and maintains his spirited approach throughout. The flick is jam-packed with bloodless PG-13 violence, but it also shows off a dry sense of humor and a playful visual spark that indicates a director who's actively trying to turn out a popcorn flick with a little style. (I enjoyed a simple balloon gag that goes by real quick, and I truly appreciated the daylight action sequences that my eyeballs could actually translate into "real-life" proportions.) Truth be told, the flick's action centerpiece, a crazy chase through Paris, will soon be on heavy blu-ray rotation around my house.