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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra / * (PG-13)

Posted Thursday, August 13, 2009, at 12:15 AM

The G.I. Joe team heads to the big screen to stop Cobra in "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra".
Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Stephen Sommers. Written by Stuart Beattie and David Elliot & Paul Lovett and Michael B. Gordon and Sommers. Based on characters created by Hasbro. Running time: 118 min. Rated PG-13 (for strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout).

Now, I'm sure all you G.I. Joe fans took one look at my poor star rating and decided that like the legions of critics who have panned the new live action movie, I have no understanding of the G.I. Joe universe and what it is all about. I can hear you saying, "It's supposed to be an action movie, not some thought provoking treatise." I understand this very well.

I was a great Joe fan as a youth. I watched the cartoon every day with cookies and a glass of milk after school--it immediately followed "Inspector Gadget". I collected the comic books. I loved the combination of combat war action with the melodramatic soap opera-like leanings of the plot. Who was attracted to whom on the Joe team? How were they secretly connected to the Cobras (the bad guys)? I delighted in the bickering and inner turmoil that plagued the Cobras, often thwarting their own plans of world domination. So, I didn't go into my screening of "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" with the typical film snob trepidation of some critics. But oh, how the gems of our youth can lose their luster.

"The Rise of Cobra" tells the story of how Cobra begins and becomes the ultimate enemy power the G.I. Joes will ever face. Taking place in the near future, we meet key members of the Cobra team before they've taken on their moniker. The Baroness (Sienna Miller, "Stardust") is a leather clad dominatrix who seems to be the secret Cobra Commander's go to henchman for getting things done. When she fails to obtain a new weapon from a NATO convoy, the second in command, a weapons manufacturer named McCullen (Christopher Eccleston, "The Seeker: The Dark is Rising"), puts the assassin Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee, "Hero") on her case to make sure she gets the job done. Meanwhile an almost peripheral Cobra operative named Zartan (Arnold Vosloo, "The Mummy") seems to be on a mission of his own. And, the mysterious Doctor develops a serum to control people and make them nearly indestructible using nanotechnology.

We discover the existence of the secret G.I. Joe unit along with the movie's hero, Duke (Channing Tatum, "Fighting"), and his best friend, nicknamed Ripcord (Marlon Wayans, "Little Man"). As the only survivors of the convoy attacked by Baroness, and because of Duke's intimate knowledge of the woman underneath the leather, the two are asked to join the elite military unit by its leader, General Hawk (Dennis Quaid, "The Express"). They meet other key players in the G.I. Joe operation--communications expert, Breaker (Sa*d Taghmaoui, "Traitor"), physical training expert and all around big muscle, Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaji, ABC's "Lost"), the sexy and brainy Scarlett (Rachel Nichols, "P2"), and the mute ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park, "X-Men").

To go any further into the plot of this film would be a waste of time. All that must be known is that the Commander has a plot to take over the world involving the destruction of well-known world monuments, and it's up to the Joes to stop him.

Here's what I liked about the movie. 1) Director Stephen Sommers ("The Mummy") utilizes spectacular special effects to evoke that great summer blockbuster tradition of thrilling the audience with the impressive destruction of famous settings like the Eiffel Tower. He precedes this with a spectacular chase through Paris as the Joes try to prevent the disaster. 2) Hyung-hun's Storm Shadow, when out of his combat costume, is a suave, sharply dressed, enigmatic character. 3) Although not the primary focus, the screenplay does keep the soap opera elements of the comic book, most notably in the relationship between Duke and Baroness and the flashback events that led to their emotional split involving her brother Rex (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "The Lookout").

The drawbacks of the movie are so plentiful I probably won't even get to them all. One very distressing element is the various flashbacks dealing with Storm Shadow's past relationship with the Joe Snake Eyes. They encountered each other as children and shared the same sensei, but their entire relationship consists of fighting each other. There are no significant emotional moments for either of them. I think their connection would've been stronger had some sort of friendship been shared, but here it seems not only were they always enemies, but for no apparent reason.

Everything in this movie is dealt with in pure military efficiency, and generally with the same lack of imagination. There is no character development. Each character is given a name and job--sometimes one and the same--and their development is finished. There is no plot development. We are shown weapons and gadgets, the characters are given singular objectives and the play button is pushed to set the action in motion. The jokes are all one-liners of the ilk that even Schwarzenegger might feel uncomfortable uttering. I don't think any character is required to string any more than two or three sentences together at any point in time. And, the dialogue is so atrocious it makes George Lucas's dialogue for the "Star Wars" prequels sound like Shakespeare.

One fan of the movie pointed out to me that many critics were saying "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" made their I.Q.s drop. This is a ridiculous and uninventive statement for a critic to make. Had my I.Q. dropped, I most likely would've enjoyed the movie. But it isn't really a matter of intelligence so much as one of maturity. I'm not twelve anymore and demand more competence in my entertainment. I require some quality filmmaking to go along with the dazzling explosions and sexy commandos. While the explosions, breasts and abs are all impressive here; it's the storytelling that is in short supply.

"G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" is currently playing at Marshall Cinema.

Visit A Penny in the Well for DVDs, film clips, and a Cobra rating scale.

Showing most recent comments first
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Sweet! Odds are 10 to 1 I'll have to see that in theaters, but even if I don't, I'll be sure to check out you're review!

-- Posted by Jacob Hatfield on Fri, Aug 21, 2009, at 8:39 AM

No, unfortunately I'll be missing that particular "romantic comedy" until video. But I will be reviewing "Inglorious Basterds" even though it is sure not to make it to Marshall.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Thu, Aug 20, 2009, at 11:33 AM

Yeah, I'll admit that is a little strange. Unfortunately, I don't get out to the theater very often or else I probably would discuss a lot more on this blog.

Personally, I can see the Baroness and Destro teaming up against Cobra Commander in the sequel, since Destro always disliked Cobra Commander in the old stories and the Baroness would have the brother-who-implanted-you-with-nanobots issue to deal with. But if there is even a slight mention of Serpentor, I will have lost all hope for the film, be it second or third. I'm just saying.

By the way, are you going to be writing a review of A Perfect Getaway? I know it wasn't in our Marshall theater, but my brother, a couple friends, and I went to see it in Sedalia. We all agree it was one of the best romantic comedies of the year, if not the decade!

-- Posted by Jacob Hatfield on Thu, Aug 20, 2009, at 9:44 AM

And let me just say how disappointing it is that a film I hated this much has provided the biggest discussion this column has ever seen. Not that I wish the comments to stop, but next time I review a great movie, let's discuss that one too.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 12:00 PM

@Third Child. There was no torture on behalf on the G.I. Joe team. Although, in this storyline they were never in the position to torture anyone for information as they were sadly behind the ball for almost the entire plot. Jacob's right, the Cobras are much more interesting in this series than the Joes are. Perhaps torture will come up in the sequel since the Joes have several of the Cobra team in custody.

@Jacob. I've already spent far more time on this plot than I feel its worth, but I was agreeing that indeed you were right about McCullen. I was just trying to say The Doctor probably manipulated this man who already had a plan of vengeance in play. My guess is McCullen developed the military application of the nanotechnology (the bombs) while The Doctor developed the biological end (Supersoldiers, mindcontrol, shapeshifting).

As for the sequel, which at this point is inevitable, since they've already reached the $100 mil mark, they're not going to let Baroness be a good guy. She's the most likely candidate to break the Commander and Destro out, since the nanbots still course through her body. What I'm really wondering is when will Baroness and Destro team up behind the Commander's back to create Serpentor to relinquish the throne of Cobra from him. Probably not till the third film.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 11:58 AM

Oh, I'm certain The Doctor was manipulating McCullen, but not by nanobots or actual mind control or anything. You made it sound as if McCullen was receiving orders from a superior, but there is no evidence of that.

Now, it seems to me McCullen himself probably had this in the works long before Rex became The Doctor. You'll recall the brief scene that showed Dr. Mindbender (who, by the way, deserved a much larger roll in the story) was working on nanobot technology in a M.A.R.S. bunker when Rex burst in and the place was bombed.

Clearly, if M.A.R.S. was having a single scientist do research in a secret prototype bunker in the Middle East, completely off the radar until U.S. Army intelligence got wind of it, than the head of that company would seem to have something dubious in mind. That would be McCullen.

Rex continued Dr. Mindbender's nanobot technology as The Doctor, but it looks pretty evident McCullen had something up his sleeve before The Doctor joined the team.

Doubtless The Doctor could have dropped McCullen a few hints on what the full extent of nanotechnology was capable of, thereby sculpting McCullen's plans as The Doctor would have them, while McCullen still felt in control. But even still, there is sufficient evidence that at least part of the plan was McCullen's own and had nothing to do with The Doctor.

Rex probably built off McCullen's original plan and desire for world domination to position himself to take over once the full plan had taken effect. That is, IF it had taken effect. But then, it still could, as Zartan is in fact holding the position of President of the United States.

Now comes time for sequel speculation! What will Zartan do with his presidential power? How will Cobra Commander and Destro escape the Pit? Will the Baroness be cleansed of the nanobots? Will the thing between Ripcord and Scarlett work out? And what new Joes (the true protagonists, by the way) will we see in said sequel?

You're right, it is kind of soap opera-ish. But I'm still excited to see what happens!

Yo Joe!

-- Posted by Jacob Hatfield on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 10:24 AM

How much torture was in this movie?


"One can only hope that the next study of torture as an instrument of the war on terror will focus on the perpetrators, not the victims. The actions by these men and women, U.S. military personnel, intelligence operatives and private mercenaries, reveals the sadomasochism of power that defines the American political-military state and, by extension, state and local juridical-police power.

The rationalization of state sadism to fight "terrorism" or "crime" serves to cultivate a mass-psychology of fascism, the rise of a police state. Only by exposing the pathology of power that drove Bush's global war on terror will we be able to contain the Brzezinski wing of the Obama military-industry complex that defines not only foreign policy but human rights, and thus the legitimization of the torture of innocent people in the name of a war or terror or democracy."

David Rosen is the author of "Sex Scandals America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming" (Key, 2009); he can be reached at drosen@ix.netcom.com.

-- Posted by Third Child on Tue, Aug 18, 2009, at 10:14 AM

Well, to be completely honest. As soon as I posted my response to your claims, I realized I wasn't sure whether The Doctor pushed a button to activate McCullen's nanobots or if he injected him right then and there. So I'm now thinking you are right about him being in control. And yes, indeed that is the scene I was thinking of and obviously you have identified my mistake. I do find it hard to believe all these things could have worked out as they did had not the Doctor been the puppet master of everything that surrounded McCullen. Obviously the Doctor has significant intelligence and teamed up with McCullen knowing full well how his family's history would determine his actions. Although, he allowed McCullen the illusion of control until the literal control of the nanobots became necessary, I still say everything was orchestrated by the Doctor. McCullen had control until the Doctor deemed it was time for him to take control.

And as for your plans to take over the world, well, I suppose who you see as the protagonist certainly determines which side you are on.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Mon, Aug 17, 2009, at 9:06 PM

I completely understand your not wanting to include a detailed synopsis in your review for both reasons. It's funny you mention The Usual Suspects, as it is one of my favorite movies. I'm a very plot-oriented guy, and it seemed a big mistake to me to take a plot that had as much potential as G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and reduce the movie to an action/special effects flick. But that's what I said about Van Helsing, too.

In the interest of movie discussion, I want to say I don't recall anything to suggest McCullen had nanobots in him throughout the story, until the end when The Doctor injects him with the "special" nanobots that give him into the classic "Destro" look. In fact, I know he didn't, or else the nanobots would have healed his burns without The Doctor having to inject him at all, as The Doctor had commented that the nanobots were "perfect little healers." But it was only when The Doctor finally injected McCullen that his burns were healed, at which time his head was altered to resemble the metal mask his ancestor was forced to wear. Therefore, McCullen was in complete control of his mental faculties throughout the main part of the film, and probably even after his injection.

Also, I'm still of the mind that McCullen was his own boss in the film. (And what do you mean McCullen wasn't the "protagonist"? He was without a doubt the coolest character, and the Joes were antagonistically trying to foil his plans! I'm kidding, of course. I'm a Christopher Eccleston fan and a Destro fan, so you'll understand my position.) I might be thinking of a different scene, so correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the scene you are talking about that might suggest McCullen is working for someone else went like this:

McCullen is explaining his plan to a captured Duke in the typical villainously-egotistic way, and states that after his nano-missiles destroy the three cities, people everywhere will turn to the most powerful man in the world. Duke says, "You?" And McCullen turns and laughs, saying, "No, not me." I'll admit, at that point I naturally thought, "Oh, he means Cobra Commander." But if I remember correctly, the scene then switched to the President doing something or other and Zartan appearing from the shadows to kill the Pres, which insinuated "the most powerful man in the world" would be Zartan acting as the President and taking orders from McCullen.

I'll have to re-watch the movie to be sure about that, but it seems unlikely the world's populace would all turn and submit to a snake-themed dictator in a mask who appears out of nowhere just because McCullen said, "No, not me." Again, correct me if that's not the scene you're thinking of.

And other than that one possible indication that McCullen has a superior, there is nothing else that makes such a suggestion. Now, if we had seen a hologram of a wrinkled and scarred Rex in a black robe with a hood obscuring his eyes giving McCullen orders, I would have to think differently. I would also have to think it was a Star Wars rip-off. (Sorry, but discussing movies always puts me in an oddly sarcastic mood.)

Please reply back with your thoughts!

-- Posted by Jacob Hatfield on Mon, Aug 17, 2009, at 11:02 AM

I object to your comment and petition the editor to remove it.

If I recall the "rules", you're not supposed to say anything you'd be ashamed to say in front of your grandmother.

Of course, your grandmother and my grandmother may differ in their outlook of what is improper.

-- Posted by Dawson16 on Mon, Aug 17, 2009, at 8:33 AM

I would gladly descend into the darkness of the Marshall Cinema with popcorn and synthetic butter if only they'd have some movies I like to watch.

And, note to Jacob -- if you decide to take over the world, I have no doubt you'll be successful!

-- Posted by Dawson16 on Sun, Aug 16, 2009, at 10:52 PM

Now you got me wondering just what discussion boards and comment fields on the Internet are doing to our brains.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Sat, Aug 15, 2009, at 6:37 PM

These kind of movies are predictive programming propaganda to brainwash the public into a make believe reality that conditions pliable minds to accept an unfettered military on the streets of America. Fake boogeymen and fake heros that break the rules to capture them. It's all conditioning and mind control.

Shows like "24" condition us to accept torture. Situation comedies portray the male figure as a lying stupid dufus and this is to help destroy the family unit and this and many more examples show the hand of the social engineering that is bent on destroying humanity as we know it by scientific generational manipulation. Movies and TV put us in a dream state of altered conscience where a suspension of disbelief allows restruction of the mind. People are losing contact with reality because of this.

We are descending into an abyss of darkness with a bucket of popcorn and synthetic butter in our laps. Nothing is real and everything is real. Our emotions and reality are engineered. Our food, water and air are chemically poisoned to dull our minds and destroy our health. These are soft kill weapons and we are under physical assault. We are the targets..

I will take a pass on this movie AND the synthetic butter..

-- Posted by Third Child on Sat, Aug 15, 2009, at 10:19 AM

Thank you, Jacob, for that detailed synopsis. I did, however, understand the plot as you relate it from my screening. There is not a more problematic task for the critic than the plot synopsis, especially for a movie like this where the plot is full of secrets that we must not reveal. I despise spoilers in a review; however, I do welcome them in discussion forums like this one. I just hope no one reads the comment section before seeing the movie.

I simplified my synopsis for two reasons. Primarily, it was due to space. I also didn't feel the plot was as important to the filmmakers as the action, not that I agree with that thinking. Interesting that they should make it so complex, yet feel no obligation to make it clearer to the audience. This isn't "The Usual Suspects". It shouldn't require a detailed discussion to figure out what's going on in this movie; and yet, it seems necessary.

Now, I may have done a disservice to the set up by talking about the Cobra Commander from the beginning of the plot, when he is not revealed as such until the end of the movie. Although McCullen appears to fill the role of the film's primary villain, I do believe you missed a crucial line of McCullen's when he laughs at someone--I can't recall whom at this point--for assuming he is the leader of this plot to steal his own technology and use it to hold the world hostage. He states that while he will greatly benefit from these plans, he works for someone else. McCullen does think the Doctor works for him because the Doctor needs his money to fund his nanotechnology biological experiments. McCullen never realizes until he's turned into Destro and The Doctor dons himself the Commander at the end that the Doctor was whom he worked for all along. I couldn't keep dancing around the fact that The Doctor was the secret leader of the bad guys in my review, so I attributed all their actions to the "secret Cobra Commander" and left the Doctor out of it as if he were just one of the flunkies.

Your assessment of Zartan's role in the plans is right on the money, I just wanted to impress the secrecy of his part of the mission.

I will also concede that Storm Shadow is indeed McCullen's man, but Baroness is most certainly a choice made by The Doctor, if you consider their true relationship. Again McCullen doesn't realize this, nor does Baroness, due to the nanotechnology that courses through both of their blood streams. And no one has any notion that The Doctor is also Rex, the Baroness's supposedly dead brother, until Duke removes his mask during the final revelations. This is a development that the audience should have no notion of either. Too bad Paramount let it be known very early on in the promotional build up that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would portray Cobra Commander.

Wow, that was exhausting! You see why I simplified it? No one would have read the whole review had I straightened all that out. But these are those soap opera elements I appreciated from the comic book. Also, the great thing about any art form is the audience's ability to interpret it. This is how I saw the movie; perhaps Jacob's views are more accurate than mine, but how wonderful to discuss them and find other viewpoints, even for a movie that is ultimately disappointing.

As for the destruction of world monuments, what I meant was that it is the summer blockbuster formula that deems the villain's plans must involve the destruction of world monuments, not that this was literally this villain's plan. I can see now I did not make that clear.

I also believe you need to check your definition of 'protagonist.' Duke and the Joes are the protagonists, the heroes. McCullen and the Cobras are antagonists.

-- Posted by ydnasllew on Fri, Aug 14, 2009, at 10:59 PM

Andrew, I read your review and though I agree for the most part, I do need to correct several plot items you have wrong.


Firstly, in The Rise of Cobra, James McCullen is not the "second-in-command" as you have him, but he is in fact the main protagonist of the film as president and CEO of M.A.R.S. (Military Armament Research Syndicate) Industries. The Baroness and Storm Shadow are McCullen's go-to people. The Doctor is in the employ of McCullen, and not until the scene near the end of the movie does The Doctor proclaim himself as Cobra Commander for the first time, effectively forcing McCullen into service. This being the "Rise of Cobra."

Secondly, McCullen's plan for world domination was not to destroy famous landmarks. The Eiffel Tower was obliterated as a demonstration of his nanobots' power, chosen specifically because the McCullen clan has a longstanding beef with the French (this was set up in the opening scene). The actual plan, (and anyone who has not seen the movie might want to stop here), was to annihilate three major cities, Washington, D.C., Moscow, and one other city I can't for the life of me remember, (London, maybe?). If my calculations are correct, this would kill right around 23,000,000 people, including a great many of the world's prominent politicians.

But, as planned, Zartan (who was not on a mission of his own) infiltrated the White House disguised as the President and killed the actual President to take his place. If all had gone according to McCullen's plan, the distraught people of the world, plus the shaken and near-leaderless governments that had been hit by the nano-missiles, would inevitably turn to the "most powerful man in the world," as McCullen said. This would be the President of the United States; only it would actually be Zartan, who would receive his orders from McCullen.

While the movie certainly could have been better, it was this plan that stood out to me. I suppose this is because if I was going to take over the world, that's the way I'd probably do it. (Did I just say that out loud?)

I thought I'd straighten you out on the plot, just so you'd know, because knowing is half the battle! (Couldn't help myself!)

-- Posted by Jacob Hatfield on Fri, Aug 14, 2009, at 9:25 AM

Hey Andrew:

How about reviewing Julie & Julia. It looks good at least the food does. But will the scrip be good as well! Thanks

-- Posted by movaldude on Fri, Aug 14, 2009, at 12:38 AM

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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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