Film Review | Sunday, 23 August 2009
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Toy stories

Having sat through G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I emerged the cinema in a state of minor panic. Reviewing a film is, when all is said and done, a rather rote task: you hope that your smug prejudices do half of the work for you.
That, even before you’ve entered the multiplex, your review would be pretty much written in your head, with that characteristically high-flaunting and generally insufferable tone that seems to work so well on the page when you’re bashing somebody else’s work to pieces. You know the general outline of the story and the creative team’s bullet-pointed filmography. So you know what to expect, and since Hollywood is a soulless machine churning one crass, shallow effects-feast after another, there is little reason to assume that you would be reaching when you denounce it all as puerile, evil trash without even having witnessed a reel of the latest blockbuster. So did this particular film -directed by The Mummy’s Stephen Sommers off the famous Hasbro toyline and its subsequent cartoon and comic book spinoffs - completely make a fool out of me (in front of nobody except myself)? Well…not really. Everything I expected was pretty much there: the uber-ridiculous cartoon science, the hammy acting and hammier villains, one-dimensional characters and, last but not least, infuriatingly lame one-liners. But as the first half of the film - the task of which is to immerse us into its ludicrous world - inevitably rolls along to give way to the second, something surprising happens. The film is actually rather fun. Cynically constructed and childish in the worst possible way it very well may be, it still manages to tick all the right boxes with a neatness and glee that its other Hasbro relative, Transformers, never really managed to do on the silver screen.

Weapons expert James McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), descendant of the Scottish traitor who sold weaponry to both the Scots and the French in 1641, has developed a new form of weaponry powered by ‘nanomites’, which could, once unleashed to their full capacity, destroy an entire city. MARS, the company for which he works, sell four warheads to NATO, which are to be delivered under the care of the US Army; specifically, by our heroes Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans). As they are escorting the warheads, they are ambushed by the Baroness (Sienna Miller) and her mysterious but deadly team of operatives, who nearly manage to seize the warheads for themselves until Duke and Ripcord receive some unexpected last-minute aid from the G.I. Joe team: Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). They reluctantly agree to take the warheads back to the Joes’ base (‘The Pit’) where they are met by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), the head of the G.I. Joe who, upon discovering that Duke has a past with the elusive Baroness, agrees to give the two friends a shot at joining the elite team and to help uncover what is behind the whole commotion surrounding the warheads.

Two of the film’s largest stumbling blocks are the cheap CGI and cheaper acting. With regards to the latter, not much can be done: how, exactly, does one emote an action figure? Still, some fare better than others, and the fact that they are based on action figures could arguably be even more reason to make an effort. Tatum is completely off: there doesn’t seem to be a single line in the script that he can’t stop himself from inexplicably fracturing and draining of all life. Wayans barely manages to rescue their camaraderie by essentially playing himself, which is good enough in this case, and which also works well when offset with Nichols’ Scarlett, on whom he develops an initially unreciprocated crush. It is Nichols who truly manages to make something out of her character. As the tough as nails, super-genius rationalist, she exudes a genuine charisma that would have been very welcome with the rest of her team mates. The only other female character of note is, of course, Miller’s Baroness (supermodel Karolina Kurkova makes a negligible appearance as Hawk’s assistant). Miller claimed that she took the role because it didn’t involve “having a breakdown, or being addicted to heroin, or dying at the end” and her relish in the role is evident, though not as annoyingly obvious as Eccleston’s, whose cod-Scottish accent makes you hate the megalomaniac for all the wrong reasons. But why are we even discussing the characters? This isn’t a showcase for thespians, nor is it a probing ensemble piece. As a no-brainer actioner, it works. The chase sequence through France, excessive and preposterous as it may be, is paced rather well and is largely comprehensible: which seems to be a luxury these days, what with the CGI-clutter of the Transformers ilk. And the myriad of twists that pile with reckless abandon towards the end point to just one thing: Sommers knows his pulp, and this is a prime example of it.


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