After floating around Hollywood for a few years, the success of Michael Bay’s Transformers inspired Hasbro to focus on a film of one of their other brands- G.I.JOE. Like Transformers it was based on a classic 80’s children’s cartoon, but trying to be more serious and bring in a new audience, as well as appeal to the fans who grew up with it. Sitting at 5.3 on IMDB and a measly 33 Metacritic score. A sequel was released in 2013, to a similar reception. But now that we’ve had some distance (and nothing else to do) maybe it’s time to revisit the Joe’s and see if it really was that bad…
“You don’t ask to be part of G.I.Joe. You get asked”
Like the Transformers films, Rise of Cobra takes various elements from the cartoon, comics and toys, giving them a 21st century upgrade at the same time. The Joe’s are an elite military unit, with each one having their own particular skill set and equipment. They use these to battle COBRA. Pretty simple stuff, but no one goes into this for the plot. It’s all about the cool action scenes.
Unfortunately, while the film has a lot of action, none of it is particularly impressive or memorable. Most of the Joes’ abilities are fairly similar visually, with the usual henchman for cannon fodder. The main villains fair a little better, as does Snake Eyes (there’s a reason he’s getting a spin-off) as these characters are more distinctive. Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow and the Baroness all get some development by some (oddly placed) flashbacks. With Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow having a shared history and rivalry, whilst Baroness has a shared past with Channing Tatum’s Duke. As likeable an actor as Tatum is, Duke doesn’t have any defining characteristics outside of his previous relationship and his friendship with Ripcord, who just seems to be along for the ride for comic relief reasons, rather than actual team value. His relationship with Scarlet gives them both more depth than it first appears, but not much. Rounding out the Joe’s are Heavy Duty and Breaker, whose names I’ve had to look up for this article.
“When all else fails, we don’t”
As mentioned, the villains come off much cooler and compelling characters in most cases. The Baroness has a solid character arc, and her interactions with Duke do give some reason to care about the action. Storm Shadow has a history with Snake Eyes, and their martial arts fights are actually memorable. Destro is admirably played by former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston but is probably the biggest waste of his talent outside of Thor: The Dark World. He does what he can, but it’s clear it’s not a dream role for him. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is having a blast, however, in unrecognisable prosthetics as the Cobra Commander. While the twist is obvious, the film is much better when he is able to let loose as a full villain.
So what are all these characters fighting for? A doomsday device of course! With a globe-trotting adventure featuring the Pit, the apparently not so secret Joe HQ, Paris and an underwater lair. The latter of which is where the film really shines. For most of its runtime, the film is trying very hard to be taken seriously, with the occasional joke. But in the final act, it goes all out. An underwater base, a ninja fight, flying around the world to destroy missiles, it shows the promise of what could have been, if only we’d gotten here sooner.
The final act almost feels like a different film, the President has been replaced for some reason (sequel set up), the stakes are high, and the relationships all come to a head. But the rest of the film just feels like a checklist. Most of the characters could be replaced with others from the franchise without the story or action changing much, which seems odd for a franchise based on characters with unique abilities
Was It Really That Bad?…Yes
For most of its runtime, it just imitates other, better films of the era. With lacklustre special effects and generic characters, the story just feels like it’s following the “Noughties Action Movie Checklist”. The third act really picks up, embracing its silly premise and characters, but by then it’s far too late. While some of its cast are having fun, Tatum clearly isn’t. There are hints of what could be a fun time, but like Cobra’s base, it’s so far below the surface it’s very difficult to find.
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