Can Hollywood studios please withdraw all their tent-pole blockbuster releases for the next few years and not bring them back until they come up with some better ideas? In the past three months we have seen a nonstop parade of unsatisfying action films with budgets the equivalent of a small nations’ GDP. Each one tries to top the last by making it even more explosion and cleavage laden. And hey, normally I wouldn’t mind. But after sitting through GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra, I feel as if I’ve lost an entire year in the cinema watching the same film over and over again. Frankly, special effects alone just don’t cut it anymore. Perhaps even more disturbingly, the cleavage is starting to blend into those CG backgrounds too.
So here comes GI Joe, a film so loud and dumb it makes Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen look like a Mike Leigh docudrama. It is the live action equivalent of Team America: World Police. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise that these two films share an almost identical storyline. Saying that, the plot of Rise of the Cobra is so inconsequential, I’m not even going to try and describe it. The Joes are played by Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Rachel Nichols and Dennis Quaid. The bad guys are played by Sienna Miller, Christopher Eccleston and Joseph Gordon Levitt. Each team has a bunch of subsidiary characters, as well as their own ninja, which is handy. They have a whole bunch of cool weapons that will make excellent toys and each of the characters end up exactly where they need to be by the time the credits roll. If you feel I have unjustly represented the plot of this film, I insist you see it and report back to me.
GI Joe is a difficult film to criticise, because at first it feels as if it intends to be bad. The CG is just a little too undercooked, the acting is bad enough to be satire, and the dialogue sounds like it was randomly generated by some sort of self-aware edition of Final Cut Pro. At first I thought that perhaps director Stephen Sommers is fully aware that his project is a joke. After all, he is quite literally adapting a famous Hasbro toy-line into a movie and using a Saturday morning cartoon as his inspiration. Maybe this is just ‘the action blockbuster’ brought to its logical conclusion. From this angle, GI Joe seems like a dumb, fun movie. But as the minutes tick by, it becomes startlingly apparent that this isn’t a joke. This film is really serious. It just happens to be aimed at the highly specific target audience of boys aged between 10 and 10 and ½.
So if we can’t look at GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra as a satire of modern blockbusters, then maybe we can get some enjoyment out of it as a children’s film, right? Well, not so much. For some reason, director Sommers and screenwriter Stuart Beattie feel the need to delve into the back-story of almost every single character in the film. I’ve never seen so much character work devoted to essentially a bunch of cardboard cut-outs – it’s almost adorable. At no point is it ever interesting, let me just make that clear. If they really wanted to make a dumb film for kids, why feature all that tedious relationship stuff. If I was bored, I doubt the 10-year-olds will be gripped.
The film does have a couple of highlights, including a stunning demolition derby through the streets of France. The sequence is the perfect culmination of the toy/cartoon/blockbuster triumvirate. Never believable but totally breathtaking, the entire set-piece feels like it came out of a better film. Indie star Joseph Gordon Levitt must have come from that film too; he totally ramps up the camp by playing a sniveling super villain. Alas, if only the rest of the picture were this fun.
Lead star Channing Tatum has as much personality and charisma as a basket of hats and the rest of the cast don’t fare much better. I’m not sure exactly what Dennis Quaid was aiming for with his General Hawk, but if his primary intention was to ‘weird out the audience’, then he certainly succeeded. Finally, while Sommers knows his way around CG, he cannot shoot kung-fu to save his life. And there is a lot of kung-fu in this movie. After all, each GI Joe comes with a kung-fu grip.