August 08, 2009 -- I missed the afternoon show by a few minutes and ended up at the 7 p.m. show, shoehorned in between two guys in the first row of a hot, overcrowded theater. Not ideal viewing conditions for any film, but this big-budget action film overcame that problem, along with indifferent acting and a plot with way too many coincidences, to provide the sort of entertainment one expects, but seldom gets from this kind of big, dumb summer popcorn movie. I couldn't even put my arms on the armrests of my chair, there was simply no room. The movie delivered the goods somehow.
This is a formula action movie with a lot of fantastic gadgets. It has power suits (the sort of military equipment envisioned by Robert Heinlein in his 1959 book, “Starship Troopers,” but which never made it into the crappy film adapted from Heinlein's book for economic and practical reasons). G.I. Joe also displays some kind of magnetic energy pulse weapons and lots of fancy airplanes, submarines and earth-drilling vehicles. The main technical device in the film is nanotechnology. Its use in the film is pervasive and this movie provides ample illustrations of how this technology could be dangerous. After seeing this movie you can understand why many scientists are calling for tight international controls of nanotechnology. All this gadgetry, combined with the film's well-staged action scenes and fast pace makes it entertaining. Saddled with the unwieldy name “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” and produced in association with the toy company Hasbro (which also produced the “Transformers” movies) this movie is fully expected to be another franchise film. A sequel is built into the plot. Based on this first movie, I expect it will spawn another film or two which will produce a combined worldwide box office total of a billion dollars or more.
The movie's main character is a G.I. named Duke (played by Channing Tatum of “Public Enemies”). He and his friend, Ripcord (Marlon Wayans of “Norbit”) are the only two survivors of an attack on their heavily-armed convoy by a team of mercenaries led by Duke's old friend Ana (Sienna Miller of “Stardust”). The mercenaries have superior technology, including those magnetic pulse weapons, which are used to wipe out most of the convoy. Duke and Ripcord are rescued by a secret special operations unit called G.I. Joe. Despite its name, G.I. Joe is not American, but rather is international, comprised of the best soldiers from the world's armies. Duke and Ripcord talk their way into the organization and after undergoing a ridiculously short training program become elite commandos in the secret military organization headed by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid of “Flight of the Phoenix”). They are opposed by international arms manufacturer McCullen (Christopher Eccleston, a former “Doctor Who”). He wants to use nanotechnology bombs to rule the world (yes, just like a Bond villain). He not only uses nanotechnology to build bombs which can destroy whole cities, but uses medical nanorobots to control people and to change their appearance. McCullen is aided by a mysterious mad scientist, of course. G.I. Joe's mission is to stop McCullen from using the nanotech bombs. This is accomplished, but acres of room is left in the conclusion of the movie for a sequel.
The story has a lot of coincidences in it. Duke and Ripcord just happen to be the only survivors of an attack. They also just happen to be the only people in the entire G.I. Joe organization who know the person who led that attack. They also just happen to be the only people who happen know that mysterious mad scientist. Another member of the G.I. Joe team, Snake Eyes (played by Ray Park of “X-Men,” who has no dialogue in this film at all) just happens to be the only person in the organization who knows the true identity of the arch-villain Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). Granted, this is not nearly as many coincidences as it takes to get the ridiculous plot of Atonement off the ground, but it still had me laughing and rolling my eyes. It helps that G.I. Joe doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as Atonement did. The acting is so-so, and the film uses a lot of overt sex appeal in the form of big-breasted starlets for a movie based on a line of children's toys. The same could be said of the Transformers franchise, particularly the second film in the series. But, as a pure action movie, a popcorn movie if you will, G.I. Joe delivers the goods. This film rates a B.
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