A few hours prior to seeing this film, my co-worker- who I'm sure read a ton of movie blogs about it- told me how one scene from this movie was going to mirror a scene from Star Wars. When I saw the film and that scene, I recognized the Star Wars resemblance.
Obviously, they're two different films, constructed very differently from one another. There are similar, elemental things, which one is bound to find in common with most action films. If there are some reflections or some whiffs in the air that remind you of past films you liked, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
If one feels that it's ripping off all those past films, then that is a bad thing. There are probably more skilled film critics who might say that that's what this film does. Some might argue that it only succumbs to the loud, fast, and mind-numbing conventions established by Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay, and they'd most likely be right.
However, I'm going out on a film-critic limb and say I really liked this movie. In fact, I'm about to argue that as it stands, as of Aug. 7, this is the best summer action film of 2009. It might totally fly in the face of the Rotten Tomatoes consensus, but here's my logic.
So far, this summer, the American multiplexes have been bombarded with sequels or what's been coined as reboots. As a film critic, it's always been my modus operandi to go into a movie, any movie, with a blank slate, no preconceived notions, no matter who, no matter what. I do that so that I can judge the film objectively and with as little bias as possible.
Sadly, if the summer of 2009 has taught me anything, it's taught me that I'm not as unbiased as I purport or perhaps even desire to be. I try not to be prejudiced when I sit down to watch and then write about a movie. These last few months going back to May have shown me that that isn't the case. I am nothing if not prejudiced.
A college friend who was also excited and anxious about this film sent me a YouTube video via Facebook a few hours before I went to the theater. The video clip was from the G.I. Joe cartoon. Now, like most boys my age, I watched that cartoon when I was a kid. Yet, I told my friend on Facebook that I only have a vague recollection of it. It wasn't one of my favorites, so I don't really remember it.
Therefore, going into this movie was literally a discovery for me. It was something new and dare I say fresh. So far, this summer, I've had to contend with the sixth Harry Potter, the fourth Terminator, the second Da Vinci Code, and the tenth Star Trek. I tried to stay unbiased, but I couldn't help but bring the baggage of all the previous films with me.
The latest Star Trek was my worst victim. I hated the movie. I ripped it apart because of its near-total departure in content and tone from the original series and films. I kept comparing it to the prior movies and TV shows, instead of judging it on its own merits.
With the G.I. Joe movie, I couldn't do that. I had completely forgotten about the cartoon, as well as the Hasbro toys that inspired them. I didn't bother going back and revisiting the cartoon, except for that one YouTube clip. So, with this, I really had no expectations, no prejudices sitting through it. In many ways, I believe that helped me to enjoy this movie. I like it when I see somewhat new, something that's not a ninth sequel.
That being said, this film is a ridiculous time-killer. It really is a live action cartoon. The fights are so over-the-top, extremely loud, like ear-drum-shattering loud, and very, very, very frenetic. I perhaps rolled my eyes once at the sheer ridiculousness of all of it, but it was only once. Gladly, unlike Terminator Salvation or even Watchmen, the film never took itself too seriously. It truly allows the audience to have fun watching it.
To all the hardcore Cobra Commander and General Hawk fans, I can't speak to the authenticity or even accuracy of the characters and storyline, as compared to what you remember from your childhood. I can say that even a non-fan like me noticed the iconic shot of the balloons and how here they substituted the balloons flying past the Statue of Liberty with that of the Eiffel tower. Yet, they don't cheat the cartoon's famous line that fans will be repeating, "Knowing is half the battle."
The story is pretty predictable. The characters aren't all that deep nor developed. The acting isn't all that spectacular. Lisa DePaulo, in an article for GQ magazine, quotes the actors themselves as admitting that. Oddly, the best acting moments come from a character called Snake Eyes, whose eyes you never even see. For most actors doing films, the acting is all about the eyes but not for this character, played by Ray Park from Star Wars: Episode I.
However, Channing Tatum (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and Step Up) stars as Duke, who is quite handsome and charming with "gorgeous green eyes," as DePaulo wrote, and tough yet sensitive enough to be the kind of All-American hero we'd follow anywhere.
Marlon Wayans (Requiem for a Dream and Scary Movie) co-stars as Ripcord, the funny and loveable sidekick who of course gets all the laughs, but proves he can be a bad ass, aspiring air-force soldier. Yet, if this were Rush Hour, he'd be Chris Tucker.
A general synopsis goes something like this. Duke and Ripcord are on a special NATO mission to transport and deliver a new weapon called nanomites, which despite being microscopic robots that look like termites, have the ability to destroy an entire city. Duke and Ripcord are ambushed by Cobra, a mercenary and terrorist group with advanced fighting skills and technology like energy guns. Duke and Ripcord are rescued by G.I. Joe, a covert joint-military organization that also has advanced fighting skills and technology like accelerator suits. Duke and Ripcord are themselves recruited into G.I. Joe to protect the nanomites and stop Cobra from its sinister scheme.
We jump from the United States to Egypt to France to the North Pole in one fantastic fight scene after another. They're almost relentless, but not in a bad way. I will acknowledge that director Stephen Sommers keeps the flow at a good pace. There isn't a single wasted second here. You're never bored. It moves along quickly with ease and near seamlessness.
There are a slew of great and highly entertaining supporting actors here who clearly are having fun. Sienna Miller plays Baroness, a mysterious woman from Duke's past, who is sexy and dangerous, a total femme fatale. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the Doctor, a mad and demented scientist that only cares about his twisted work who begins part man, part machine like Darth Vadar from Star Wars. There's Rachel Nichols who plays Scarlet, the cold and unemotional female soldier who wants to be as tough as the boys, and there's Said Taghmaoui who plays Breaker, the French-Morocco tech geek.
The filmmakers have flashbacks into some of the characters lives, the heroes and villains. There were some histories left out, but the door was setup for an obvious sequel. Nevertheless, the best flashback involved the history of the rivalry between the two characters called Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. The two are ninjas who first meet in Japan.
The backstory itself is quite interesting. What was most impressive was the choreography orchestrated and performed by the two child actors portraying Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. It was quite possibly the best, if not the most intense, fight scene I've ever witnessed between children on screen.
The special effects were pretty outstanding. I took note of the chase scene in Paris, which had cars tossed around like they were basketballs. From the air to the ground to under the water, there's nowhere their battles don't take place. In the midst of it all, there's a bit of a love story that's like a tiny cherry atop this metal-clanging, exploding, movie sundae.
This film is highly charged like a particle accelerator, smashing atoms and constantly spewing energy. It's certain to get you pumped.
Four Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for action and violence
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.