(2009)2.5Cammila CollarFans of the '80s cartoon series G.I. Joe were aghast when they read the cast list for the 2009 film adaptation of their beloved franchise. Full of teen heartthrobs and tabloid darlings, and with an oddly demure young lad playing the badass Cobra Commander (that kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun?), the usually relishable dream-casting stage of the project fizzled out pretty fast. But even with a weird mix of actors and the use of silly costumes, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra definitely pays homage to the animated series -- so much so, that if your inner 11-year-old isn't ready to come out and play, you can probably just stop reading now and cross this movie off your list.
It's sort of an origin story, explaining how top-of-their-class soldiers Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) came to be enlisted into the ranks of the titular black-ops military branch, and how the baddies who'd later be known as Destro and Cobra Commander ended up creating the ultra-evil Cobra organization -- all through a plot about some kind of super-weapon falling into the wrong hands and an obligatory lost-love-who-turned-evil (The Baroness, played by Sienna Miller). But you don't really need a reviewer to tell you that the plot isn't really what's important in a movie based on a toy franchise. (Though, in fairness, the story's fine. No overly complex, two-and-a-half hour Michael Bay stuff here.) It's about crazy bionic weapons and explosions and girls in black rubber catsuits with guns strapped to their thighs. It's about guys riding a clear elevator to the main floor of the team headquarters to find people sparring and repelling off walls and testing invisibility suits, all in the same room. It's about a guilt-ridden soldier who can't forgive himself for letting his comrade die rolling up to the funeral on a Harley V-twin chopper and staring pensively from a distance.
You see, in spite of the technical changes -- some of which are not worthy of defending -- and the usual choice to base lots of stuff on the comics rather than the cartoon (who the hell is Breaker?), the overall feeling of the movie is actually pretty faithful to the animated series that most people are familiar with. It was that odd mix of straight-faced earnestness and bananas action that made the cartoon so much fun, and that's what the movie delivers. When it's exciting, it's exciting, and when it's campy, nobody has to wink at you to tell you that it's okay to laugh. Some of the CGI is pretty sad (there's a polar bear that looks crappier than those Coke commercials from 1993) and they probably didn't hire a fact checker for the script, but thankfully none of that detracts from making it just what it should be: a great popcorn flick.