Comfortable and Furious

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

So, another precious childhood memory raped?

Hell no. GI Joe and Transformers were shitty cartoons that are now shitty movies. Nostalgia is overrated, and a sign of desperation. We watched them because there were three television channels, internet porn was something we couldn’t even begin to imagine, and we were not old enough to drink nor clever enough to brew meth. In its own way, GI Joe was an interesting product of the Reagan era, when America’s enemies needed to be invented to add some bang-bang to the dreary cold war.

GI Joe was an ideal army recruitment tool, what with its weapons fetishism, ineptly evil villains and robust homoerotic heroes, and a scarcity of dead bodies or horrifying wartime injuries. As far as kids knew, guns were awesome and as long as an American flag was on your shoulder the most you would sustain is a flesh wound, so why not volunteer for duty? It was only after the signature was on the line that those brave fighting boys discovered that it was less freedom and more defense of large corporate assets that was at stake, and that those colostomy bags and PTSD were permanent. Strange there was no wheelchair-bound Joe figure that would just hang out in the Veterans Hospital lobby awaiting antidepressant medication refills.

You’re rambling. So does the movie stay true to that ethos?

No, actually the body count is well into the double digits, heads come off, and blood is spilled along with the implied death of the U.S. President. The shot length is measurable only with an electron microscope, so there are no novelty deaths of note. Still, the GI Joe ideal remains alive since everyone has shiny, sparkling, impossible weapons powered by SCIENCE! and nobody actually dies except random redshirts. Children can still line up at the recruitment office in relative comfort since mortal wounds are things that only happen to other people.

The organization is paramilitary with an infinite budget with no apparent oversight. At one point, the team is ordered to disband, and they basically move to the arctic and incinerate the ice cap and it is smiles all around back on American soil. The Joes are from all over the world, and the pro-America tone is dialed way down since we are not exactly beloved in the global cinematic market.

Whatever – the crucial question is whether the Baroness brought the virgins out in force.

The theatre audibly moaned when Sienna Miller stepped into the frame with her form-fitting leather suit. Look, people, Alfie and Layer Cake are on DVD. What is the point of this?

You are gay as shit. So how does the rest of the cast fare?

Fuck you. They range from ridiculous to baffling. Scarlett is a linguistic and general-science genius played by an actress who can likely wrap her lips around anything but a polysyllabic word. Dennis Quaid is his usual contstipated and serious self who talks like a drunk who has been pulled over and is desperate to demonstrate verbal dexterity despite being tanked. Ray Park is perfect as Snake Eyes, since he is not required to speak, but the murky fight scenes and rapid cutting make his genuinely ass-kicking presence utterly wasted.

For fuck’s sake, the guy can rock shit without the wires and CGI paint, just sit the camera on a tripod like Ozu and let him work. Marlon Wayans continues his minstrel show career arc, and Christopher Eccleston fails to bring some class to the proceedings. Only Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems to get just how ludicrous this is, and he vamps accordingly. Why actors were used at all is a question scholars will ask in the next century, as the $200 million of CGI is the only star that is required.

Is there a story?

I can’t recall, and I just left the theatre. A bomb filled with nanomites –


Nanomites. They are created by SCIENCE! and can do pretty much anything the script requires. They can eat a city one moment, and in the next be injected as a mind-control device/organ healer/hair dye.

Why is COBRA planning to dissolve cities?

Destro clearly explains this in a monologue that makes no sense. I really have no idea.

Why is the Eiffel Tower destroyed?

See above. For some reason they decide to deploy a warhead from the ground. The Joes and Cobra destroy a good portion of the city in what would be a parody of American foreign policy except Trey Parker and Matt Stone already covered that ground. There is a more relevant subtext here in that Roland Emmerich, Michael Bay, and Stephen Sommers are the heir-apparents to a new era in cinema that is free of narrative.

Not like 2001 or Last Year at Marienbad, but in that the story is so irrelevant that the scenes can be interchanged with little effect on the outcome. A brave new world of films unburdened by drama, character, dialogue (apart from LET’S GO OH MY GOD GET THEM), or anything remotely human has truly arrived – so what better way to signal that arrival than the incineration of Paris? You know, where movies are made that feature people talking and shit.

What’s with the robotic gimp suits?

I guess this is one way of explaining why the named characters never get killed. They can run fast, jump over buildings, dodge bullets, blah blah. Their primary power is to look fucking ridiculous during an endless slog through the streets of Paris. Even a character on a motorcycle is CGI animated. I doubt a single stuntman was employed in this crap, making the dramatic tension of any action scene – and there was nothing but a muddle of action scenes – equal to an episode of Tom & Jerry. The villains’ jeep is hit by a train, flies thirty feet, explodes, and the people inside not only live, but run from the scene.

Does the final battle rock, though?

I can’t tell where one ends and the next begins. It was a never ending cloud of CGI obscuring bad performances and massive plot holes, with an overlaid soundtrack of migraine-inducing explosions and colliding sheets of iron. In one of the climaxes, Marlon Fucking Wayans, flying a supersonic plane he has never seen before, without a navigator, shoots down two of the nanomite missiles. First, he shoots down the missile heading for Moscow, as if anyone would notice if the fucker hit. Medvedev would likely pay for the demolition service.

Lest I forget, he fires by saying ‘Fire!’ in Celtic. When you are ripping off Firefox, the situation defines ‘dire’. He then flies halfway across the globe to shoot down the other missile heading for Washington D.C. at Mach 4. His plane is hit by nanomites, yet his fragmenting plane is quite maneuverable, and he ejects in the stratosphere, leading to a breathless moment where we wait to see if he survived the fall. Hilariously, the audience is expected to anxiously await the outcome.

Your joyless existence is why you hate summer movies.

GI Joe was too stupid to be fun. Films that are filtered through marketing departments, merchandising tie-in meetings, focus group consultants, and CGI animation teams become less clever by default, and there is no reason to intentionally make entertainment even more block-headed. I shit you not, one Joe stabs a fresh corpse in the head with a needle, and exposits the following:

“The brain stays alive for a few minutes. I am downloading the brain waves and making a picture of their thoughts.”

Michael Bay is a genius at perfectly underestimating the intelligence of the American public (thanks, Mencken), but I think Sommers is evolving to an even lower plain.

Well, dumbing it down is half the battle.