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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Big action, big explosions, little story.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Channing Tatum Stars in "GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra."
OPENING WEEKEND: $50,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $130,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

May 11th, 2009: A European-based military unit known as Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity (G.I.J.O.E.), a hi-tech, international force of special operatives takes on an evil organization led by a notorious arms dealer.

What to Expect: So I'm super psyched to write this preview because not only does it give me a chance to wax rhapsodic about an actor I adore, I also get to be really bitchy and snarky about people I think are hacks. And hey, that is what I get paid for, is it not?

Article continues below

Going in, I was thinking about discussing the total fail that has been the history of movies based on toys. But then I actually started looking up movies based on toys, and if you eliminate the ones blatantly marketed towards children or made direct-to-video, there have only been...two. The first is "Clue," one of my favorite movies of all time, and the second is "Transformers," which surprised us all by being awesome. So there went my vicious generalized belittling of all such toy-based movies, since they seem to be batting 1000 so far. I must have been thinking of movies based on video games, which do indeed have a dismal track record. "Halo," anyone? Didn't think so.

And then when I looked up this film on IMDB I found that it is not titled simply "G.I. Joe," as I'd thought, but "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra." What is it with the recent trend of filmmakers appending meaningless subtitles to their films derived from other works? First we had "," and then "Dragonball: Evolution," now this. I wonder what "Clue" would be titled if it were made today. "Clue: The Revenge of Professor Plum," perhaps. I would so see that first-run. Just call it "G.I. Joe," okay? What's the point of the modifier? To distinguish it from the several long-ago, bargain-basement cartoon movies? Not much chance of confusion there.


Anyway. This movie has been in development for awhile. "Natural Born Killers" producer Don Murphy had some interest in the property, but after the Iraq War broke out he didn't feel it was appropriate material. Then in 2003, Brian Goldner from Hasbro approached no less of a personage than Lorenzo di Bonaventura about making a G.I. Joe film. Bonaventura, if you don't know, is the former CEO of Warner Bros, who was almost single-handedly responsible for discovering and developing "The Matrix." Since then he's opened his own production company and moved it to Paramount, where he's been responsible for films like "Derailed," "1408," "Shooter" and, not at all coincidentally, "Transformers" (although that was after Goldner's initial pitch). Goldner and Bonaventura had worked together before, developing toy lines for some of Warner Bros.' films, and they initially approached "300" screenwriter Michael Gordon for a treatment, which was Bonaventura's concept of an origin story. The script went through several more iterations over the next couple of years, including one that brought in a character from the British G.I. Joe counterpart Action Man. But by this time, everyone was feeling a little uneasy about the global attitude towards Americans and American soldiers, and the climate for releasing a "G.I. Joe" film didn't seem right. Bonaventura moved on to "Transformers" (another Hasbro property) and the project languished. Those concerns haven't gone away for the film's current incarnation; in fact, the G.I. Joe team has been softened a bit from its traditional gung-ho American image. It's now a multinational organization, and the name itself now stands for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity. Hmm. I can't wait to hear what Rush Limbaugh has to say about that. In addition, the film has absolutely nothing to do with American foreign policy or the current world climate. Instead it focused on a more fantastical battle between two entities, good and bad. Normally I'm in favor of more complexity in my storylines but this concept sort of begs for simplicity.

It was the success of "Transformers" that pulled the project out of the basement. The script they had at the time was by "Hitman" and "Swordfish" writer Skip Woods, involved the Action Man character, dropped the Cobra organization and featured a Scarlett who was married to Action Man. It was leaked online and met with near-universal loathing, whereupon more rewrites were launched with Bonaventura promising to get it right.

The film finally got a director in 2007 when Paramount tapped "Mummy" helmer Stephen Sommers. Now, here's my first problem. Two words: Stephen Sommers. Don't get me wrong. I loved "The Mummy." It was a clever, funny, exciting modern-day B movie. But I give the cast most of the credit for its success as opposed to Sommers' heavy-handed direction. Since then, his films have gotten stupider and stupider. I will never forgive Sommers for "Van Helsing," one of the worst movies of this decade, in which he took Hugh Jackman, a charismatic, exciting leading man, and somehow managed to turn him into an unappealing automaton. It's hard to imagine that a film containing Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the brides of Dracula, Dracula's babies, two wolfmen, Van Helsing himself, and the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale could be boring, but somehow Sommers managed it. So you'll forgive me if I let out a groan of distress when I learned it was him. Give me anybody else. Give me Michael Bay. Give me Brett Ratner. Anybody but Stephen Sommers.

So "G.I. Joe" was a go, with a spanking new script by "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Australia" writer Stuart Beattie and G.I. Joe creator Larry Hama on board as a creative consultant. Which brings me to my other point of concern, namely the sheer number of writers that have had their grubby little paws on this project. More writers usually means watered-down, disjointed and nonsensical, and given this material...dozens of characters, action set pieces, high-concept pseudo-sci-fi storyline...it's all too easy to imagine it becoming a discombobulated mess.

But let's move on to the casting, shall we?

I'd just like to take this opportunity, which is my first since I started writing previews for this site, to gush about how much I adore Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He is fabulous with a capital F. Also, he bears a near-uncanny physical resemblance to Heath Ledger. Who I am still mourning, by the way. Who could have guessed when he was a kid on "3rd Rock from the Sun" that he'd grow up to be one of the most interesting indie film actors around? I was blown away by his performances in "Manic" and "Mysterious Skin," and "Brick" is a brilliant movie all around but he's especially brilliant in it. He's been toying with mainstream fame for awhile with films like "The Lookout" and "Killshot" but so far he's still underappreciated. When I heard he was going to be in this film, I was immediately more intrigued by it...although it's unlikely it'll propel him to greater stardom since he's playing Cobra Commander, who is a masked character. Even if he gives the performance of his life his face won't be associated with it. The character itself is shrouded in mystery. Its traditional white-hooded Aryan Nation look was deemed too Klanlike for the film so the costume has been massaged, but what it looks like isn't clear.

But Gordon-Levitt's part is relatively minor. The film's big star, team leader Duke, has been the subject of much casting angst from fans. The part was first offered to Sam Worthington, who with star-making turns coming up in both "Terminator Salvation" and "Avatar" is probably about to be extremely hot, but the part eventually went to an actor I have yet to get a handle on, Channing Tatum, who seems to be everywhere all at once. True confession: I have never seen any of his films. So I can't offer any kind of opinion about his ability as an actor, but...I gotta tell you, he seems like another interchangeable slab of young beef to me. I know, that's a horrible objectification, but can you blame me? He's a former model who broke out in "Step Up." His films haven't been anything to write home about yet, although he did costar with Gordon-Levitt in "Stop-Loss," and the two are friendly, which is said to have influenced Tatum's decision to star in the film. He hesitated at first because he didn't want to appear in a film that glorified war, but when he read the script he realized that the story was less a war film and more a fantasy, along the lines of the "X-Men" films, so agreed. Tatum was cast in Michael Mann's upcoming and much-anticipated "Public Enemies," so perhaps there's something to him. I'll reserve judgment.

The rest of the cast is pretty interesting. Marlon Wayans, who with Tatum are the main protagonists, was cast off the strength of his performance in "Requiem for a Dream," which, take a moment and ponder that for a moment, because I can't think of two more different films. The venerable Dennis Quaid appears as the unit commander, and fellow Joes include "Star Trek"'s Rachel Nichols, former Sith Lord Ray Park as Snake Eyes, and "Lost" alum Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who I admire not only because he is infinitely cooler than anyone, but for not changing his name to a more American-friendly one. Among the bad guys, besides Gordon-Levitt, we have Christopher Eccleston, prompting fangirl squee of "OMG it's The Doctor!" from me, Sommers stableman Arnold Vosloo, happily not playing the undead this time, and Sienna Miller, who I liked in "Casanova" but who seems to rely on her sex life more than her acting to forward her career. And Brendan Fraser is said to have a quick cameo.

The production seems to have been a bit of an ordeal, with several injuries including a burn for Nichols, a sprain for Miller, and constant costume suffering for Ray Park. A car crash in Prague left some crew members with minor injuries, and the "accelerator suits" which feature so heavily in the trailer were in reality sarcophagus-like and extremely hard on the actors. But once again, every time Sommers opens his mouth to talk about the film, it's all about the cool toys and the super-neat effects and the nifty gadgets he's shoved into every nook and cranny. Great. That's great, Steve. Did you leave any room for plot and character? You know, the things all those toys and effects are supposed to serve? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Is nostalgia enough to get people into the theaters? Is an effects-laden trailer (that frankly has Sommers' fingerprints all over it, and I don't mean that as a good thing) enough of an inducement for an increasingly demanding audience that is starting to actually want good writing along with pretty explosions? I've no doubt that it'll be enough for some. It might even turn out to be...not terrible. I'm afraid to hold out much hope.

In Conclusion: A director with a dubious track record and a tendency to pound you to death with stuff he thinks is cool until you're bored to tears wouldn't have been my ideal choice to direct this film. There's not much to distinguish it from other shoot-em-up explosion-fests aside from the "Hey, I had that toy!" factor. Whether that'll be enough to make back what is surely a considerable budget remains to be seen.

Similar Titles: Transformers, Iron Man, The Mummy
August 7th, 2009 (wide)
November 3rd, 2009 (DVD)

Paramount Pictures

Stephen Sommers

Dennis Quaid, Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller, Ray Park, Rachel Nichols, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Said Taghmaoui, Marlon Wayans, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Arnold Vosloo, Christopher Eccleston, Brendan Fraser, Gerald Okamura

Total: 155 vote(s).

Action & Adventure

Click here to view site

Rated PG-13 for strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout.

118 min




GI Joe at Trailer Addict

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