GI Joe: The Rise of COBRA
Dir: Stephen Sommers
Cert: 12A • US: 117 min • Paramount Pictures • In Theatres
GI Joe is the last of the summer blockbusters. It is a spectacle, and one should never underestimate the value of a good spectacle. The blockbuster is that great Hollywood institution on which a ton of money is spent, and in which the action is as fast as the audience is assumed slow. Sensation not cognition is the key, i.e. the ideal reaction from a test audience would be ‘Woah, dude!’ The ultimate goal of course is to create a franchise from which much money can be made from the Holy Grail of Merchandise. GI Joe, like Transformers before it, already has the merchandise in place. In fact, GI Joe celebrates his 45th anniversary as an ‘action figure’ this year. The film builds on that back-story, which is termed mythology throughout the mammoth press release, although it is more accurate to call it lore. And this is where the film is interesting on another level, one that is separate from the sensational.
And there is a lot of the sensational, it must first be said. The special effects are stunning, and the chase sequences masterful. The car-chase in Paris alone is mind-blowing. (Although if you’ve seen Team America there is an unavoidable chuckle factor.) And it is only one of many sequences. Plus there is Channing Tatum as the anchor point. And what an anchor point he is. “GI JOE: The mere mention of the name conjures up images of heroism, patriotism, and the kind of tough rigor required to get the job done,” states the press release. Either that or it conjures the thought, ‘damn, I bet he would be a hottie in real life.’ And boy is he. Of course, Tatum plays Duke, who is part of the outfit that is GI JOE. (Maybe he knows Joe the Plumber. He certainly would better represent the ideals of the Republicans and gun-happy, mentally-challenged Sarah Palin.) In the lore of Joe, he lost his 12” status in 1983, was reduced to 3 ¾”, and went from a ‘he’ to a ‘they’. Talk about emasculation. Perhaps that is where all the aggression comes from. GI JOE was therein an elite team of action heroes, and it is this team that the film transmogrifies from plastic to skin, with some CGI thrown in for good measure
The lore of GI Joe taps into the mythology of the US, which has since the Second World War had a militarised economy and a militarised culture. The blockbuster is invariably fascinating because it distills cultural mores, which are then pumped up to gigantic proportions. In this process GI Joe benefits from the fact that there is a plot. This is no mean feat in a blockbuster. So much of the fast-paced product to come out of Hollywood is more like a computer game than a film and I have a suspicion that some of the film’s montage sequences were directly dictated to by content from the EA Games companion title. Story, plot, narrative, and character (albeit thinly in the last case) all play a part. This is something that sets the Stephen Sommers blockbuster apart. The plot of course avoids grey areas. It is at heart a kid’s movie, as well as being a kidult one. (That’s where the hot fighting chicks come in. One – or two in this case – for Dad.) Anyway, the plot is true to the post-1983 GI JOE formula in the comic books, in which the JOES are transporting a weapon that is stolen. This sets up GI JOE’s great nemesis, COBRA. The aim of the action is to retrieve the weapon, uncover the conspiracy behind the theft, and, of course, to save the world.
The JOEs are a very American outfit, with General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) leading, along with Duke and his sidekick Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) as the focus. Other cultures are represented in that post-Star Trek way. There is the ninja Snake Eyes, the French-Moroccan Breaker, and the British, albeit somewhat mockney, Heavy Duty. Tough name. Tough man … who wears one dangly silver earring, as if he has just been pulled out of his secret life as a drag queen and forgotten to detach one of his clip-ons. No-one is man enough to tell him. Not even the emotionless Klingon-without-being-Klingon Scarlett. And don’t expect too much from the acting of the supporting cast. There is not much for an actor to work with. Even Quaid comes off as an amateur. These are one-dimensional characters with one life-event in their back-stories that defines them. Unless you happen to be black. If you’re black in GI Joe you don’t get a back-story. But you may get to be a hero …
GI Joe is nevertheless great fun. It has its flaws, it has its clichés, but one cannot dine, metaphorically speaking, on caviar alone. Sometimes a pizza and a coke is all that is needed. And that is what the Hollywood blockbuster is there for. Plus there are the scenes with McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) talking about the pride of the Clan McCullen that could be straight out of Blackadder III when cousin McAdder comes to stay. Very funny. And sometimes Channing Tatum, with the odd scene in the gym here, as well as the odd car chase there, is all you need to soothe the worries of everyday life.
Ok, that was crazy… What happened to you?
I went through the train. What happened to you?
I jumped over it
You can do that?