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

Knowing is half the battle

G.I. Joe is a cartoon from the 80s, and also a 2010 blockbuster. Oh, it’s a live action remake all right – nevertheless still a complete cartoon. But one made with such enthusiasm it’s an easy film to watch. It captures the essence of the original (quite silly) Saturday morning show about heroic (mostly American) soldiers fighting against a snake-themed terrorist organization.

Converting classic cartoons into big film franchises is a tricky business. Michael Bay made an absolute travesty out of the well-loved Transformers series. Stephen Sommers fares much better. Though he slightly choked on the awful Van Helsing, his The Mummy franchise was full of adventuring goodness. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is infused with the same sense of fun. It doesn’t waste a lot of time explaining the situation or introducing characters, but dives right in with plenty of winks to the source material. For fans of the cartoon, the biggest thrills come from seeing who’s who and what’s whence. Is that Dr. Mindbender? Zartan? They built their base where?

The film is constructed very simply. It uses a few flashback moments to explore various rivalries between the heroes and their villainous counterparts, then relishes as they square off in deadly surroundings. There’s no more depth to it, but what it presents is an effective roller coaster. The sci-fi elements, much like in Battleship, are bonkers. There are things called ‘nanomites’ that eat away metal, but they must be activated through a ridiculous process that involves spinning a warhead around in a turbine at top speed. There are flashy guns and suits galore. In another physics-defying moment, at one point the ice cap on the North Pole breaks and chunks of ice sink down into the ocean. For some inexplicable reason, it didn’t bother me this time. Maybe because it had no pretensions of any of it working accurately. You don’t go pointing out flaws in a cartoon, after all.

It must be remarked upon that the film sometimes has a surprisingly cheap look. Not all the visual effects are equally impressive. Though the art direction is usually OK, especially Cobra Commander’s mask, when it is finally revealed, is truly ugly.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra falls squarely into the category of enjoyable nonsense. There are so many zany unmaskings and epic battles and daring escapes involved, there’s no time to consider how stupid it is. Enjoyable nonsense is fun to watch every now and again, if you don’t make it the centerpiece of your diet.

Roderick Leeuwenhart