Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wherever there's trouble: The G.I. JOE review.

"G.I. Joe is the code name for America's daring, highly trained special mission force. Its purpose: to defend human freedom against Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world."

G.I. JOE is yet another example of what I like to call a 'six-step' movie. You will no sooner have left the theatre and taken six steps toward your car when the combined stupid of what you've just watched will take the creaking structure that had suspended your disbelief for the last hour and a half and send it clattering to the ground in a broken mass of rubble. It is a film that does have some enjoyable bits of business to it and when it's firing on all cylinders it's an amazingly fun dumb action flick. In the end though the things that irked and didn't work edged out the things I did like to the point where I can't say it'll be on my list of repeat viewings, nor will I be clamoring for the DVD. Let's get down into the nuts and bolts of Stephen Sommers latest popcorn flick and talk about what worked and what didn't. Spoilers ahoy for those who've yet to see it:

The visual aesthetic: The film certainly looks impressive, and does have several eye-catching set pieces (G.I. Joe HQ, the Cobra Stronghold, the Baroness' estate). The film leaps all over the world and if nothing else the movie gives you a truly worldwide battle against the forces of evil, with deserts to cities to arctic ice as the backdrop. I can't fault the film for not looking impressive. Stephen Sommers is an old hand at the globetrotting adventure schtick from his Mummy films, and we're served in good stead with some amazing location work, even if most of it is replicated on a soundstage somewhere.

Ray Parks as Snake-Eyes and Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow: Admit it: deep down these two were the sole reason any of us wanted to see this film. Yeah, the other Joes are cool enough, and yes the Baroness is as smoking hot as the brief glimpses of her have tantalized at, but c'mon. There's a reason that this former kids show had ninjas on the good and bad sides. Because one ninja fighting soldiers? Cool. Two uberninjas fighting each other? Epic. Parks and Lee bring their martial-arts A-game to the film and they really do liven things up in a film where you'd be more inclined to tug at the dangling plot threads and wonder 'hey waitaminute, this movie kinda suc-NINJAS! KEWL!!' The martial arts both warriors exhibit is damned awesome, and makes for an entertaining series of fight sequences, however ultimately brief they were. Both are equally badass in their own way, and their hard work makes this movie almost passable. Almost.

Sienna Miller as the Baroness: Hot. So very, very, very, very, very, very hot. Let's face it, after Princess Leia and the Gold Bikini, Cobra's own femme fatale the Baroness has to stand as one of the all-time fanboy/nerd crushes. I can't speak for everyone else but there's just something about a kickass woman in glasses (sexy Euro accent optional) that melts me like butter. Sadly there's no accent here, but Sienna Miller does fill the Baroness's boots (to say nothing of the rest of that wonderfully silhouette-friendly leather outfit) with some style and aplomb, kicking ass and taking names. My major gripe comes in the form of her characterization but we'll get to that later on. If nothing else, she looks awesome and kicks some ass.

Dennis Quaid as General Hawk: I've liked Dennis Quaid ever since I first saw him as Tuck Pendleton in Joe Dante's awesome adventure/comedy Innerspace, so it's always great to have him show up in a genre popcorn flick. Sadly he's stuck in the role of the 'Older Mentor/Badass who will be disabled by the third act so the Young Turk Hero can step up and save the day', but what little he does have to do here makes me want more in a sci-fi action hero vain from him. Kristopher Straub, creator of the webcomic Starslip Crisis raised the intriguing point that Quaid is exactly the right age to play an older but still believable Indiana Jones and I for one could see it. He's got the grizzled features, the same wry grin. I say slap a fedora on him and let Harrison Ford collect his gold watch.

Marlon Wayans as Ripcord: Hold it, hold it, hoooooolllllld it. A Wayans brother acting in a film in such a way that I don't want to gouge my own eyes out? I know, I'm as shocked as you are. Wayans' character is actually pretty fun, being the Wiseass Sidekick, and he has a good rapport with the Channing Tatum's Duke (in point of fact I think it's the scenes with him that allow us to see the few glimpses of actual personality Tatum brings to the character). Wayans' comedic bits cut some of the tension and help keep the movie. . .well, not grounded per se but at least allow us to chuckle a bit at the sheer implausibility of it all. The scene where he comforts Scarlett (Rachel Nichols) shows some nice interplay between the two characters, and while I never quite bought the Obvious Romantic Subplot between the two, his character does a lot to make these walking action figures just a bit more human.

All right, now that we've gotten the few bright spots in the film out of the way, let's take a bracing breath of air and dive together in the stygian blackess of the abyss, shall we?

You cannot server two masters: G.I. JOE was hobbled by it's attempts to try and be both a kids movie and a movie for the adult who might've been fond of the cartoon. You either make it a straight-up kids flick in the brightly colored costumes and the laser bolts, or you make it contemporary and badass with bullets flying and people getting the crap kicked out of them as people most assuredly do in war. Yes, the anonymous mooks get killed by the handful and yes, Duke and Ripcord's squad gets blown to hell, but none of the key players gets truly dealt a death blow, and the people who do suffer the consequences (who aren't General Hawk) we never hear about or from again. The basic message the movie seems to convey is that war and combat can be truly horrific but if you're one of the Main Cast you'll be fine. Ah well, worked for Luke Skywalker and Company I suppose, but at least the tone of A New Hope lays it out from the get-go. G.I. JOE never commits to whether it wants to be a a serious action film or a kid-friendly toy vehicle, and that wobble in tone can be felt throughout the entirety of the piece.

For the love of God, stop explaining everything:
Look, I know a certain amount of exposition is required in the first film of a potential franchise but for the love of all things good and merciful stop expositing over things that don't really need to be explained. Say, didja want to know where Destro got his mask? Didja wanna know why Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes hate each other? Didja want to know that Duke knew Cobra Commander (oops, I mean, 'The Doctor') before they became enemies, and that he was the one who called Duke a 'Real American Hero'? Didja? Didja? C'mon, didja?! Well too bad, 'cause we're going to explain it all anyway! Every 'i' dotted and 't' crossed! Who needs to build an engaging mystery or just have an opponent we never truly get to know when we can hammer home plot point and backstory via flashback again and again and again! Guhhh. . .it's like the writers (Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett) were just throwing story ideas back and forth while they were playing on a ps3. Exposition is great and character motivation is fine, but this is G.I. JOE for God's sake. I don't need to know where Cobra Commander went to high school, or what his real name was, because Cobra Commander is just an evil anonymous badass. Does he have the HISS tanks? Is the Weather Machine there? Does he have Storm Shadow to fight Snake Eyes? Then I'm set, thanks. Really. Just roll the film and get to the action, rather than giving me flashback after flashback to pad out two hours with.

Enough with the black spandex already:
Seriously. Stop it. Yes, Bryan Singer made it look cool in X-Men but that does not mean you have to keep doing it over and over. The G.I. JOE outfits the heroes wore never looked that implausible, and at the very least some individuality amongst the uniforms would've allowed them to actually, y'know, have some character, rather than have them all really be plastic action figures. I mean, seriously, swap out a couple lines of dialogue from the script that don't feature names and see if you can tell who's talking on the Joe end of things. I have a crisp, clean $5 bill for anyone who can pull that off. The black spandex costume is just a way of trying to wear growed-up pants when they are so very, very unnecessary. I know you wanted to make it look badass and kewl, but when the team looks less like the G.I. JOE of yore and more like--say--Team America, World Police. . .well, that pretty much speaks for itself.
(Speaking of a better movie, which Team America is, does anyone think the destruction of the Effiel Tower was a shout-out to Matt & Trey from Sommers? Because let's face it, JOE is Team America if they played it deadly serious.)

Baffling, baffling character links:
The Baroness was Duke's girlfriend and Cobra Commander's (whoops, 'The Doctor'. Oh, and how funny was it to have Christopher Eccleston calling the kid from Third Rock 'Doctor'? I think I was the only one snickering a fanboy's knowing snicker) brother? Oh, and she turns around to the side of good because her love for Duke burns away the Evil Nanites That Make You Evil, the film's MacGuffin to explain the fanatical loyalty of Cobra troops (they're a mercenary arm of McCullen's operation and not terrorists. Oh no, no no. G.I. JOE fighting terrorists? No. . .) and gives them a chance at love, even though she's quite rightly locked away for killing like a bazillion people. But true love will conquer all!
(These writers need to be beaten with Syd Fields copy of Screenplay and The Best of Larry Hama G.I. JOE trade paperback until they scream for mercy and swear they'll never do it again)

Duke, where's my jet pack:
Not one jetpack in your movie. Seriously? A movie with G.I. JOE, with Duke no less, whose classic toy was packaged with one, and he doesn't get a jet pack or an American flag? Stephen, I'm sampling this movie's sauce. . .and it's weak sir. So very, very weak. I go to the movies for two primary things; lightsabers and jetpacks. With Lucas out of the cinematic game I made my peace with a permanent lightsaber defecit but a G.I. JOE movie with no freaking jetpacks?! Damn you sir. Damn you to hell(and no, that glider wing thing doesn't count. Jet. Pack. Pack, with jets).

Okay, so maybe that last one was a bit facetious, but let's face it; G.I. JOE is good, but nothing to write home about. I can see what they were trying to shoot for, but the actual product lacks the energy and gung-ho (heh) energy of the original cartoon. If they make a sequel let's hope they'll tend to take themselves a bit less seriously, and to learn not to use the term 'Joe' as a verb.

Until next time, YOOOOO JOE!


Drhaggis said...

My twitter grade review: Awful movie, fantastic GI Joe movie. Will watch sequel, will not buy DVD.

Stacy said...

It's got some fun to it, certainly (the Acclerator suits were kind of neat and I can't stay mad at a movie with not one but two action ladies kickin' ass) but it's not enough to make the grade. It's passable, but not boss, which if you're going to revive an '80s franchise you need to be right out of the gate. As much as it pains me to say it, Transformers was the stronger of the two debut films. And for me to give Bay any kind of credit? Hurgh, I need to lie down a while. . .feeling ill. . .