Wednesday, 19 August 2009

G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra


Directed by: Stephen Sommers
Screenplay: Stuart Beattie and David Elliot & Paul Lovett
Starring: Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marlon Wayans, Rachel Nichols, Byung-hun Lee, Ray Park & Dennis Quaid

Well, I’ll be damned: G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra is pretty darn good. Yeah, it’s crammed to the gills with over-the-top CGI and the cheese factor is rammed through the roof but damn, if it ain’t a lot of action packed fun. Plus, any flick that is based on a toy line is going to have a cheese factor and lots of CGI is going to be involved at some point, if not all the time. After pretty much every serious critic turning their noses up at it after the first trailers were released and fanboy blogging going into overdrive at how absolutely horrendous this thing was going to be, Rise of the Cobra is a whole heap of fun and delivers action by the bucket load. The bad guys are deliciously evil, the heroes bland, the action way more violent than expected and it’s like the 80s never went away. Sweet.

Now, I had my reservations as well. Stephen Sommers hasn’t really made a great flick since the awesome Deep Rising and dropped the ball with the horrible CGI fest, Van Helsing. But his bubblegum cinema is perfectly suited to G.I. Joe, a movie based on a toy line and cartoon about gung ho heroes beating ultra evil bad guys Cobra, where nobody really gets killed. Except, in this live action movie version, people do actually get killed. Obviously the source material has been updated and tweaked somewhat the major difference between this and the cartoon being the violence has been ramped up. Now, there ain’t a lot of blood but folks are killed left right and centre not least when ace bad guy Storm Shadow (Byung-hun) shoots an innocent in cold blood just to prove he means business, and then shrugs his shoulders as if it’s no big deal. When was the last time that happened in a kid's Saturday morning cartoon? Now, the new violent edge doesn’t necessarily make the film better or recommended, it's just a surprising tone the film has taken and shows Sommers has tried his best to add a bit of grit to his blockbuster.

The action is huge, set-piece after piece and while the dreaded overkill of CGI rears its ugly head more than not, Sommers has learnt when to hold back and incorporate just as much practical action as well. The stunt work is stellar, the action sequences often breathless and not too over edited and feature the Joes and Cobra locking into battle on sea, land and air. Cool. The Paris set piece (seen extensively in the trailers) is an eye popping amalgamation of stunt work, relentless pace and ropey CGI. Yeah, the CGI doesn’t always work, too much of it thrown on the screen at once but the action is still cut and paced well. Cool ninjas Snake Eyes (Park) and Storm Shadow get in some tough scraps as well, adding some martial arts to the mix but there should have been more action involving these two squaring off.

The cast is pretty game as well, especially the bad guys. Eccleston, Byung-hun and Gordon-Levitt are great boo/hiss villains hamming up the stage and there is a great extended cameo from Arnold Vosloo as another villain who really should have been in the flick more. But, it’s Sienna Miller who steals the show and not just with her good looks and ample cleavage on display. As the Baroness, she wears leather and wields automatic weapons with aplomb and out actions all the guys off the screen. Dennis Quaid doesn’t fair so well with his overly patriotic General, Jonathan Pryce looks like he doesn’t have a clue what’s going while playing the US President (then again, maybe that’s a spot on performance) and there are the requisite number of cringe inducing moments of dialogue and exposition (a plane that is activated by voice recognition Gaelic: oh dear!). Plus, is you enjoy subtle cinema, have an aversion to CGI and turn your nose up a big Hollywood blockbusters, then you won’t find much to like in Rise of the Cobra.

But in a summer of lacklustre blockbusters, Rise of the Cobra provides pure unadulterated fun. Sommers gets the vibe pretty much right, orchestrates some kick ass action, unfortunately overdoses on the CGI but wraps everything up in a slick, super charged package. Plus any film based on a kids toy that opens with a scene of a guy having a burning, red hot mask placed onto his face and then screaming loudly, gets the thumbs up from me. Seriously, when was the last time that happened in a Saturday morning cartoon?

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