Yesterday’s film was excellent, but it was also a bit heavy duty in the furrowed brow/serious drama stakes. Whaddya say we go for something a little lighter today?
Guess what? A cobra rises.
From the toy company who brought you Transformers and Battleship, this is the heart-warming tale of US Army officer “Duke” Hauser. Duke and his detachment are escorting a package of experimental (with the emphasis on mental) nanomite warheads from the manufacturer, MARS Industries, to NATO for testing, when the convoy is attacked by a mysterious team led by a familiar face. Suddenly, another equally mysterious team comes to the rescue. Duke and his buddy Ripcord are the only survivors and insist on joining the second mysterious team who plan to recover the warheads from the first mysterious team before they can use them and TRY TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD! Also, only about three people seem to have a real fucking name.
I had planned to save this to watch just ahead of the release of the GI Joe 2: Retaliation in five weeks’ time. That was the plan anyway, but Paramount decided to screw with my careful plans just last week by announcing they were pushing the sequel back until March 2013 so that it could take a trip through the 3D-a-liser. When announcing this decision, executives said – and I’m paraphrasing slightly here – “we saw what The Avengers banked and we want some of that action too”*. At least they are being honest in their intentions, but it remains to be seen just how successful this plan will turn out to be. The “3D is dead” lobby are getting more and more traction as each new post-conversion effort sees the light of day and the cries of “it’s a waste of money” and “it’s too dark! I can’t see shit!” echo through multiplexes across the world. As I have noted before, I quite enjoy natively-shot 3D but I have mostly avoided post-converted flicks (with one obvious exception) because I don’t think the technology is there yet to make it anything more than an expensive distraction. That’s right, I said yet; I don’t have the ideological objections shared by some of the louder online voices. It’s a natural progression of the way we watch movies, and who knows how refined the process will be in nine months’ time? The big downside to this last-minute bait-and-switch is the cost for Paramount, not just for all the extra post-production work but all the advertising they’ve already forked out for will just have to be written off and then spent all over again next spring. There’s no doubt that it’s a gamble and you know all the other studios will be just as eager as Paramount to see the final balance sheet. But in the meantime, I decided I’m not waiting another nine months to watch this first big budget explode-a-thon featuring the stars of the GI Joe toy lines, comics and cartoons.
We never had GI Joe here in the UK when I was growing up. Over here it was Action Man; essentially the same thing but just rebranded. My big brother had some of the toys when we were kids, but we were generally more into our Star Wars and The A-Team toys. The upshot of this was that I was totally ignorant of the whole story. I didn’t know GI Joe was a team; I thought he was just one guy named Joe who was in the army, and he got to play with all the cool shit because he was a really good soldier. Luckily for me, Stephen Sommers’ film does not expect you to know the Who’s Who before sitting down to watch. Unluckily, all the characters with a qualifying backstory get some of the most awkwardly constructed and clichéd flashbacks I have ever seen. Seriously, this film is jumping all over the place from 1641 to “the not-too-distant future”, then to four years ago, then back, then to twenty years ago, then back, then to four years ago again, and back… I was on the verge of hitting the pause button so I could make myself a diagram to keep up when I had an epiphany: Sommers knows what flick he is making. This isn’t a serious film. There is no subtext or allusion here. This is, in a word, Big Dumb Fun. Once I realised that, the rest just fell into place.
Channing Tatum has been described variously as wooden, boring, a charisma vacuum, the list goes on. He appears to be potentially on the cusp of a career resurgence in the hands of his new collaborator Steven Soderbergh but as far as Tatum Mk1 goes, I think this is the role he was born to play: a plastic action figure. I think Christopher Ecclestone and Joseph Gordon-Levitt had a side-bet on the set to see which one of them could chew up more scenery than the other. JGL especially is just hilarious to watch as the mysteriously scarred Doctor behind the nano tech. I haven’t seen him cut loose like this since his Third Rock days. Former LOSTies Saïd Taghmaoui and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje team up with Marlon Wayans, Ray Park and Star Trek’s Rachel Nichols as the Joes under the command of Dennis Quaid as General “Hawk” Abernathy, while Sienna Miller, Lee Byung-Hun and Arnold Vosloo are on Team Ecclestone with JGL. One thing you may have noticed from that list is that the baddies are so much more entertaining than the good guys. You can always bank on Vosloo, but Byung-Hun has got more charisma than almost all of the Joes combined as the all-white ninja assassin Storm Shadow. His fights with Park’s Snake Eyes are consistently the most watchable hand-to-hand stuff in the flick. The chick-fight between Miller and Nichols is fun (and surprisingly brutal) but doesn’t get nearly as much exposure. Speaking of Sienna, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Sommers farmed out her costume design to a bunch of horny 12-year-olds.
The action scenes in the flick are hugely derivative of so many other films, but the surprising part is that Sommers has reached all the way back to the seventies and eighties for his inspiration. At one point we had The Spy Who Loved Me, Firefox and Return of the Jedi all happening at the same time! Some of the green-screen and CGI work is a little iffy in places – I’m looking at you, The Pit – but I have to admire the decision to go for practical sets as much as possible. That sense of tangibility makes a huge difference, particularly as the action gets more and more outlandish. The script, such as it is, is suitably ridiculous and apparently plays pretty fast and loose with some of the accepted character histories and motivations, but these things are retconned so many times over the years it doesn’t really matter anymore.
In the battle of 2009’s cinematic Hasbro advertisements, this trumps Michael Bay’s assplosion in almost every way possible. Is it any good? Shit, no. But it is fun.
*Way down at the bottom of the press release, they also noted “and we knew Ryan was holding off on watching the first movie so this is partly just to fuck with him”.