G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) Movie Review

When Sienna Miller is the best actor in your movie, you’ve got issues, and Stephen Sommers’ “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” has issues. Based on the Hasbro toy line of the same name, the live-action “Joe” is about an international military commando unit led by General hawk (Dennis Quaid), whose mission is to, well, stop bad guys, I suppose. We never really learn all that much about the Joes, or their mission charter, except they’ve apparently been around for a while and operate out of an Egyptian base called The Pit. They’re also heavily armed with the latest and greatest (and in some cases, ridiculously high-tech) weaponry and vehicles. Unfortunately for them, so are their foes.

“Rise of Cobra” opens with weapons designer McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) introducing his new fancy nanomite warhead technology to NATO, the organization that has been funding his research. As McCullen prepares to deliver the warheads to NATO, tough guy soldiers Duke (Channing Tatum) and his best bud Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are assigned security guard duty. Their caravan is ambushed in the mountains by the Baroness (Sienna Miller), a sexy, black leather-clad operative, who along with the ninja Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) are secretly working for McCullen, who as it turns out is a bit of a Bond villain. McCullen plots to steal back the warheads he just sold to NATO in order to use it against the world, but mostly the French, cause ol McCullen has a bit of a bone to pick with the frogs.

Fortunately the Joes are around to save the day. Leaping into action is the good guy’s own ninja, Snake Eyes (Ray Park), who is joined by fellow Joes Scarlett (Rachel Nicolas), Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and Breaker (Said Taghmaoui). The good guys retrieve the warheads, but not for long, as McCullen’s forces counter-attack the Pit. During the attack, a lot of Joes bite it, a couple more are badly wounded, and McCullen’s plan to take over the world continues as planned. Can the Joes stop the evil Scotsman in time? Will Snake Eyes get into more badass ninja sword fights with Storm Shadow? Are Stephen Sommers and his gazillion writers really going to force us to sit through Ripcord’s courtship of Scarlett? Of course, yup, and you bet your sweet accelerator suit ass.

Let’s face it: “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” was never going to win any awards, though it is quite ridiculous how badly the toy line turned successful cartoon translates to the big screen. In an attempt to make the team somewhat conform to today’s world, the writers have removed all traces of the colorful, individually-designed attire of the cartoon G.I. Joes. Instead, everyone in the movie wear generic looking black bodysuit armor. (And in the case of Scarlett, those form-fitting bodysuits sure look good.) The good news, though, is that Snake Eyes remains mum, though for some unfathomable reason Sommers and company thought it would be a good idea to give Snake Eyes “lips”. On his mask. It makes absolutely no sense, since the lips don’t move, and Snake Eyes never says a word. I’ll leave it to the geniuses at Hollywood to explain this one.

I was never really that big a fan of the G.I. Joe cartoon, being more of a “Transformers” man myself. Although I knew going in that “Rise of Cobra” had the potential to be a stinker, I certainly didn’t think it would be this bad. There are bad movies, and then there is “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”. Let me assure you, I have no issues with shutting down the old noggin and enjoying me a good blow’em up at the movies. My love of mindless Michael Bay action movies will attest to that. But there’s just something so bad about “Rise of Cobra”, something awful about the cornball dialogue, the way Dennis Quaid seems intent on convincing me he can’t act a lick, that makes Sommers’ movie so … lacking.

No doubt hardcore G.I. Joe fans will find more to nitpick with the movie than casual moviegoers like myself. For one, handing over the romance with Scarlett over to Marlon Wayans’ buffoonish Ripcord is insulting to the Scarlett character. Likewise, unnecessarily linking Duke to Baroness and The Doctor, McCullen’s head mad scientist, feels gratuitous. The only real link in the movie that makes any sense is Snake Eyes’ past with Storm Shadow, but even that is poorly scripted. In flashbacks, we see how the two originally met, though their grudge apparently developed at lightning speed, and a year after meeting they’ve become arch enemies — as kids! So when the two meet again as adults, the idea that they’re supposed to be “blood brothers gone wrong” rings hollow. The filmmakers also decided to give Snake Eyes a rather pointless excuse for his inability to speak. They could have gone any number of ways, but the route they chose boggles the mind. Joe fans will know what I’m talking about.

Was “Rise of Cobra” a disappointment? I would have to say so. Even though I knew going in that the film had the potential to be awful, the actual Godawfulness of the movie is quite shocking. As cool as Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow were — and they were indeed very cool — and as sultry and convincing as Sienna Miller was as The Baroness (again, the only acting chops on display here was by Miller, which should say something about the movie as a whole), the rest of the film feels like two excessive hours of explosions, flashy high-tech gadgets, and ridiculously fake looking CGI that is about 10 years too old to be in a Hollywood movie. Of course bad CGI and Stephen Sommers movies go together like a fat kid and cake, so I wasn’t too surprised by that. Although I have to say, I’m starting to detect a certain level of disdainfu from Sommers towards his audience if he thinks he can get away with these cheap ass looking CGI in all his movies.

“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” would like you to know that it has a sequel or two planned. The ending sets up a direct continuation of the Cobra storyline, and one main character is seen falling to his death, though of course that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to stay dead. The curious part about “Rise of Cobra” is that it seems to want to embrace its Hasbro toy line and cartoon past (kung fu grip?), but then it goes and diverts unnecessarily from established canons for important characters like Snake Eyes. Why change Snake Eyes and Duke’s relationship with Scarlett? Why fiddle around with Snake Eyes’ origins at all? And let’s not forget Marlon Wayans. Isn’t it a little inherently racist when the black guy in your movie is also the buffoon? I’m just saying.

In a duel of the former toy lines turned movie franchises, I would have to give the thumbs up to “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”, if only because I grew up with the transforming toys and found their cinematic translation to be an overall slicker product. The difference between the CGI in Bay’s film and Sommer’s is astounding, even more so when you consider that both films have essentially the same budget and resources to work with. Of course, it doesn’t help that “Rise of Cobra” just feels overly silly from beginning to end. Everything from their impossibly high-tech and shiny toys (the film is supposedly set “not too far in the future”, but the Joes and Cobra guys look and feel more like soldiers from the future), their constant use of “Joes” (which made me wince each time), and the fact that star Channing Tatum sounds like he just left Brooklyn last week. Really, it’s amazing how much credibility Tatum loses as soon as he opens his mouth.

And finally, the title, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” seems like a case of premature titling. Shouldn’t the first movie be called simply “G.I. Joe”, with “Rise of Cobra” saved for the sequel? After all, Cobra doesn’t really show up or “rise” in the first movie, and is instead poised to take over the villainy in the sequel, with Cobra Commander showing his ugly mug at last in the film’s final few reels. But hey, what do I know. If it was up to me, the movie would be about Snake Eyes and his relationship with Scarlett in the midst of Cobra-Joe fighting.

Stephen Sommers (director) / David Elliot, Paul Lovett, Michael Gordon, Stuart Beattie, Stephen Sommers (screenplay)
CAST: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje … Heavy Duty
Christopher Eccleston … McCullen / Destro
Joseph Gordon-Levitt … The Doctor / Rex
Karolina Kurkova … Courtney A. Kreiger / Cover Girl
Byung-hun Lee … Storm Shadow
Sienna Miller … Ana / Baroness
Rachel Nichols … Shana ‘Scarlett’ O’Hara
Ray Park … Snake Eyes
Jonathan Pryce … U.S. President
Dennis Quaid … General Hawk
Channing Tatum … Duke
Arnold Vosloo … Zartan
Marlon Wayans … Ripcord
Saïd Taghmaoui … Breaker

Buy G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra on DVD