Published at: Aug. 6, 2009, 9:59 p.m. CST by merrick
I usually don't review much here on AICN; there are plenty of people around who review regularly and I don't wish to be redundant.
This said, I'm unable to keep my mouth shut about G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA - primarily because I've spent the last year and a half kicking the film, knocking Stephen Sommers (whose VAN HELSING I still regard as one of the most overwrought, self-indulgent pieces of pap to hit screens in many years), and negatively prejudging the capabilities of nearly everyone involved with this project.
I was wrong. I'm here to say it, and I'm happy to admit it. I was wrong.
G.I. JOE is big, OTT, intellectually challenged, and idiotic as they come - which could certainly describe nearly ever other Stephen Sommers film to date. But it's also a helluva lot more fun than they are, and here's why...
Previous Sommers movies possess a smug quality; Sommers and those around him seemed to feel they were being far more clever than they actually were, which usually resulted in no small amount of groan inducing tedium. JOE doesn't fall into this trap: there are no winks and nudges here, and the success of the movie hinges on a very simple, very truthful conceit:
Sommers and his cohorts have taken all the imaginings we've ever enjoyed while playing with toys and action figures in a sandbox (or wherever) and fully visualized them using JOE's titanic budget. There are things in this movie we've never seen on screen before - but they all feel agreeably familiar, and sometimes they're even comforting. Because many of us have probably imagined what he's showing us at some point in our childhoods, but never dared to think we'd actually see such things realized.
Explosions are oversized and multitudinous - things don't just go boom, they go BOOOOOOOMMMMMM! After all, why would a mere 'Boom' suffice when you can make a bigger explosion of sand, or throw more cars into the air, using two hands? People defy gravity because their "Accelerator Suits" suits let them; allowing them to climb walls, toss around vehicles, survive impossible falls, etc. There are machine guns, laser beams, cloaking screens, and...in a frenzied delirium of ADD conceptualization...a running firefight which turns into a ninja battle before morphing into an old-fashinoed hot bitch smack-down in the span of roughly five minutes.
It's madness, but it's never self-indulgent. There's an overwhelming sense here that Sommers and his minions were carried back to their own childhoods while making this movie, and are fiercely determined to re-create that experience for anyone watching it. In many regards, JOE succeeds where Michael Bay's TRANSFORMERS films failed; Sommers has successfully achieved what Bay did not: he avoids fetishistic obsession with persons and objects, instead forging an (admittedly superficial) emotional connection with his viewer. TRANSFORMERS is (supposedly) about what looks cool. JOE is cool because it's built around the reckless, carefree exhilaration we used to feel when we smashed planes into the ground, or collided two action figures in mid air, or had submarines chaseour favorite hero in a bathtub. In short: it's cool because we've known such things were cool all along. Giant robots are hard to connect with in the Bayverse. JOE...feels approachable.
This isn't to suggest JOE as any emotional depth whatsoever. Quite the contrary: characterization is almost non existent in this film; the actors here all look like (and are presented as) action figures. Even much of their dialogue sounds it's being filtered through an underpowered voice chip in the back of some 12" deluxe figure. They are iconic, and archetypal, at best.
How thin is the characterization here? There's a voice controlled super plane in the movie (which looks a lot like the plane Clint Eastwood flew in FIREFOX). Our heros can't get that plane to work and they can't figure out why. Someone realizes the plane was built by someone who spoke more languages than English. They find a particular language in which the plane may've been programmed and, PRESTO! The plane responds! That's the extent of characterization in this film. That plane has more nuance than any single person around it. And that's they way it should be - so say he rules of the sandbox.
In a very real sense, THE RISE OF COBRA is less an adaptation of G.I. JOE than a celebration of any number of toys we played with when we were kids - of the places they took us, and the adventures we had along the way. G.I. JOE, as a concept and title, just happens to be the mechanism to propel audiences back to such times.
I didn't think I missed my sandbox all that much. Now I realize I kind of do...