G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is not a great movie. It’s not even a good movie. But we need a different set of aesthetic criteria to judge it; as a film, it’s a failure, but as a two-hour, live-action Saturday morning cartoon, it’s wildly successful. It’s a double-fisted shot of over-the-top performances and flashback-based character development, with a healthy chaser of sexual tension. Clearly, this isn’t Star Trek —caliber science fiction. Joe isn’t out to challenge any of our preconceived notions or accepted mores. This is decidedly in the “America kicks evil’s ass” category, but playing on the status quo is really just a stepping stone to it’s ultimate goal: entertainment.
The plot is your fairly typical battle between good and evil. The G.I. Joes and a malevolent group centered around a disfigured mad scientist known only as “The Doctor” battle for control of M.A.R.S., Inc.’s newest and most deadly weaponry: nanomites! These microscopic critters will eat anything made of metal until they’re sent a stop signal, but unbeknownst to NATO, who funded this technology, they can also heal wounds, change a human’s behavior patterns, erase memories, and even alter someone’s physical appearance. Did someone say indestructible army of evil automatons? Though we’re launched into the battle with only a modicum of preparation, the film threads a series of flashbacks into the narrative to develop characters and elucidate motivations. These interludes are the film’s greatest strength, illuminating a surprising array of interrelationships between the Joes and their evil counterparts — ranging anywhere from classic sibling rivalry to love spurned to historical inevitability.
The plot isn’t necessarily “classical,” the writers certainly drew on some of the more enterprising elements of the Saturday morning cartoon fair when developing their narrative arc. The performances are intentionally laughable and one-dimensional, but with names like Snake Eyes, Dr. Mindbender and Cobra Commander, how could they not be? Only Channing Tatum, playing the lead as Duke, seems to have missed the joke – but even that works in the film’s favor, giving it some so-bad-it’s-good flair. When I wasn’t caught up in one of the crisp action sequences or distracted by the exaggerated cat-walk of the Baroness (Sienna Miller), I delightedly marveled at Tatum’s theatrical ineptitude. And though I can’t reveal the actor’s name without giving away an essential plot twist, the evil Doctor’s calculating tone and jerky mannerisms yielded the most satisfying caricature in the film. The over-long running time and the limited repartee are the only two real complaints. During their inevitable but nonetheless enjoyable courting ritual, Riptide (Marlon Wayans) and Scarlett (the innocently beautiful Rachel Nichols) steal most of the film’s stimulating banter, leaving the rest of the cast with little more than terse one liner’s like “Oh my God” and “Now you die!” Perhaps that’s only fitting for a film made in association with a toy company, but hopefully the producers will correct this shortcoming before rolling out a sequel.