There are a few things we should go over on the G.I. Joe front before you lock and load for the nearly two hours of supersonic warfare that is Stephen Sommers’ “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.”
First the plot, and this will probably surprise you: Well-equipped bad guys want to take over the world; well-equipped good guys fight back. Cool futuristic machines, weapons and CGI make for lots of excellent exploding and imploding everywhere. You guess who wins.
Next. Don’t call them G.I. Joes. They’re just Joes, like Cher or Madonna, I guess. And like those superstars, they come with fantastical, out-of-this-world staging.
Though the Joes forgo the sequins for a couple of tons of special-effects weaponry and accelerator suits, they’ve embraced the bustiers. So hot metal and hot bods are everywhere, a wise choice since these are good distractions when the dialogue lags and logic crumbles, which it does.
The next thing to keep in mind is that Dennis Quaid’s Gen. Hawk, who runs the super-secret Joe project, loves his Joes, as in “I’ve got 200 Joes out there, we’ve got to do something. Now!” He’s also got an assistant named Cover Girl, a runway model-turned-spy who would have you believe she’s not just another pretty face in this man’s army.
In fact, the only guys who feel like real Joes are Duke, Channing Tatum’s No. 1 Joe, and Ripcord, Duke’s “I can fly anything” comic relief, who actually is, thanks to Marlon Wayans’ playing him with as much nuance as a comic book-action hero adaptation will allow.
The rest of the elite team that Duke will lead into battle is composed of hand-picked specialists from the international scene. You know this because some have British accents, others dress like ninjas and they all have cool names like Snake Eyes, Breaker, Heavy Duty and Scarlett. Guess which one is the redheaded bombshell?
Making the Joes global, though, is a risk. That one decision strips away virtually all of the American hero sensibility that was the entire raison d’etre for G.I. Joe, if 12 inches of plastic action figure can be said to have a raison d’etre. This may sound like an unforgivable complaint, but the film actually suffers from its lack of xenophobia, which may do its part for world peace but doesn’t help intensify a cold-or-hot war. (But then with the international box office often accounting for more than half of an action film’s revenue stream, you can imagine how quickly that battle, if there was one, was won.)
Now on to the bad guys and the whole “Who will control the world and who will make it into the sequel” question, which the filmmakers are not shy about revealing: He’s in, he’s a goner, she’s definitely a keeper.
In this case, there’s a nefarious quartet at work. Sienna Miller plays a dark-haired vixen called the Baroness because . . . she married a baron, a noted scientist who is brilliant but doesn’t think to question his wife’s long absences or her dominatrix outfits. The Baroness was a former blond and former girlfriend of Duke, which means there are a lot of emotional issues for that particular Joe to work through.
There’s James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), whose MARS technology firm has developed some super-grade electronic insects that swarm and consume metal as fast as you can say Eiffel Tower. In some form, they can also be inserted into the brain and body, greatly reducing the need for considered thought.
MARS (and if I thought this would surprise you, I wouldn’t mention it) is really a front for the very bad operatives of Cobra, dedicated to the legend of the man in the iron mask, Destro, whose name sort of says it all. The normally sweet-faced Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a nasty piece of disfigurement and seething anger called the Doctor. And rounding out the bad boys is Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). All of which is to say that the filmmakers have put just about every figure in the Hasbro Joe line in the film for the fanboys.
Tatum has the sort of good looks and confident swagger of a top dog but hasn’t quite developed the emotional intensity Duke needs to sustain a franchise, which the studio clearly hopes it has on its hands. Wayans, with better dialogue and better delivery, steals the show.
Everybody, good and bad guys alike, has a back story and the movie frequently digresses into long disquisitions of same, which seriously slows it down just when you are wishing it would speed up.
The action, on the other hand, is mostly brisk and bracing and the battleground, particularly Cobra’s headquarters -- a vast network of tunnels under the polar ice cap -- are wonderfully imagined, as are the futuristic machines at the Joes’ disposal.
Basically, the Joes are not bad, it’s just that they could have been much better with a little less conversation, a little more action.
‘G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra’
MPAA rating: PG-13 for strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Playing: In general release