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G.I. Joe (2009) Dir. Stephen Sommers 12 August 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Cinema Review.
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Expectation can be a fickle mistress. Going in with high hopes to a film like Revenge of the Fallen after the brilliance of Michael Bay’s first instalment was a crucial element in cementing its generally negative reception with the public. But walking into G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra this week having read a dearth of scathing reviews from across the pond saw the bar set so low that I actually found myself pleasantly surprised by Sommers’ relentless, grotesque, joyous, bloated, but above all fun action romp.

But just to make it clear G.I. Joe is no masterpiece. It’s the kind of inane nonsense audiences shouldn’t be expected to tolerate too often, however there’s a lot to like in G.I. Joe, not least of which is the fact that it’s the first film since Star Trek this summer to have a knowing sense of humour, something more akin to Saturday morning cartoons of old than a film, but somehow Sommers manages to make it work.

Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans play Duke and Ripcord, two soldiers who join the Joes after their army unit is attacked by the Baroness (Sienna Miller) as she fails to acquire the nanomachine warheads they were protecting for her boss McCullen (Christopher Eccleston with a dreadful Scottish accent). One training montage later Duke and Ripcord are part of alpha team led by Dennis Quaid’s General Hawk, alongside smart but deadly red-head Scarlett (Alias’ Rachael Nichols), tech expert Breaker (Said Taghmaoui) and ninja bad-ass Snake Eyes (Darth Maul himself Ray Park). Their goal – to keep the world safe from McCullen’s COBRA command, who plan to use the nanomachines for world domination thanks to the technological brilliance of mad scientist The Doctor (an unrecognisable Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

The plot is pure Bond with a loving dash of the Joe cartoon series thrown in for good measure. It has no pretences that what we’re watching is high drama (unlike the two robot blockbusters this summer) and contains enough twists, dramatic reveals and unexpected left turns to keep you interested throughout the 118-minute run-time. Flashbacks expose the history behind Duke and the Baronesses’ one-time love as well as the origins of the rivalry between the mute Snake Eyes and his COBRA counterpart Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee of A Bittersweet Life) offering a welcome respite from the relentless dash to the next set-piece.

Despite the prominence  of the ‘Delta 6 Accelerator Suits’ in the trailer they only feature in one scene, a brilliant (albeit very silly) chase through Paris which incidentally has no sense of the city’s geography. The CGI can be decidedly shonky at times but gets the job done without pulling you out of the experience too much, and there are some stand-out moments – such as the explosive opening and the destruction of the Eiffel Tower. Like the Joe cartoons some of the best bits of the film are the martial arts fights between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow which, in a break from the norm, Sommers actually allows us to see with close ups and staccato cuts kept to a minimum. It’s just a shame the same can’t be said for the climactic under water battle which is near incomprehensible.

It would be easy to criticise almost every performance in the film with Tatum’s Duke having none of the charisma needed for the role, Wayans’ daft Ripcord failing to deliver the laughs and every villain hamming it up in a way that wouldn’t be out of place in the comics, but they aren’t helped by a script containing some of the worst one-liners in recent memory, “nice shoes” anyone?

Despite this Mummy director Stephen Sommers holds it all together and injects a sense of fun into proceedings which another director could have easily lost sight of. His style is workaday, but occasional moments of flair shine through as he strikes the perfect balance between goofy down-time and the next deafening set-piece. The film also sets up a sequel exceptionally well and, although this installment doesn’t entirely warrant it, based on the quality of the films this summer I’d much rather see another G.I. Joe in two years time than Transformers 3.

Don’t go in expecting a masterpiece and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. It doesn’t come close to the best of the summer (still Star Trek by a long way) and it doesn’t even reach the heights of Sommers’ best but Joe knows exactly what it is and works all the better because of it.

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