Saturday, August 8, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Reviewed--Yo Joe!!!

Yo Joe! If I were 12 years old I would think that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the greatest thing ever. I am some years older than that, and G.I. Joe successfully brought out the 12 year old in me.

Please ignore all of the hate and hostility that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is receiving from "mainstream" critics and ubergeeks with impossibly high standards--and narrow and selective memories of what their favorite childhood franchise was really like. If you go into the new G.I. Joe film with the slight bit of goodwill you will be rewarded. It is loud, ridiculous, fun, self-aware, and smart. Now, some will smirk at the last comment--how can G.I. Joe be smart? It is a retread of a cartoon that was a 30 minute promo for Hasbro toys for goodness sake!

Before someone challenges my G.I. Joe cred...why would anyone be so foolish...I have my G.I. Bonafides (get the Oscar Wilde-like worldplay?) in spades. The comics? I have read just about every issue from Hama's run up to the IDW/Devil's Due reimagining. The toys? a whole bunch. I never get my parents to buy the USS Flagg, but that god awful G.I. Joe headquarters is still at home somewhere. I was the plague of Toys R Us and Child World where I would incessantly call them every Sunday about any new toys arriving that week. I sent away in the mail for the special edition of Zartan. I spent many an hour creating contrived stories where Tomax, Xamot, and the Crimson Guards would kill the Joes until Snake-Eyes and Flint arrived to save the day.

In the ultimate act of G.I. Joe loyalty, I even had the G.I. Joe storybook/comic on cassette. This horrible product featured voice actors reading the adventure along with some pretty crappy sound effects. It was also the source of no small amount of embarrassment when my friends stole it from me in elementary school (but that is a different story for another time). In fact, I was so ashamed I almost passed out in class:

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra works because it is as ridiculous as the cartoon or the comic ever was. Brainwave scanners? Weather control satellites? Springfield, Sierra Gordo, MARS Enterprises, battles where no one ever gets killed (the invasion of Cobra Island in the comic was an exception for sure), Serpentor, Big Lob, Cobra-La, Cobra Commander's needlessly complicated plans to conquer the world, etc. etc. etc. Did any of this stuff ever make sense? Of course it didn't.

The comics (especially the Special Missions series) were our chance to be a bit more mature than the "kids" who exclusively watched the cartoon, but G.I. Joe, even with Larry Hama's military abbreviations and terminology (my favorite word that I learned courtesy of Mr. Hama: defilade) was 12 levels of crazy.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the comic book and cartoon with a 170 million dollar budget. The movie is a thinly veiled excuse to take live actors, actors who are in fact little more than living action figures, and have them fight and blow stuff up. Sadly, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a victim of poor marketing, rumor mongering, and ill will on the part of critics who the studio foolishly did not invite to press screenings.

Ultimately, my decision rule for a summer popcorn movie is as follows: Did I have a good time and would I see it again? My answer is "yes" and "yes." I smiled throughout the whole film. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra wasn't perfect, and in script doctor tradition I will suggest some changes, but it was a great time. Yo Joe!!!

Some thoughts on the movie and its sequel (and yes, there will most definitely be a sequel)

1. Lots of folks have complained that G.I. Joe is a NATO group and not an "all-American" team. I feel their pain. A fix for next time, have all the soldiers wear the G.I. Joe insignia, then an American flag, and under that, their respective nation's colors. Have a throwaway line about it and move forward.

2. I want and need to hear the old school G.I. Joe theme (the cartoon movie version would be perfect). In the sequel, Breaker should be playing with some music editing software in the first part of the film. The other Joes tease him about wanting to be a music producer. Breaker is embarrassed and takes the mp3 and puts it on a zip drive. During the movie's climactic battle Breaker plays the original theme over the communication network to rally the Joes to victory:

3. It is too late now, but the Baroness should have a Russian accent. Destro needs to be more imposing. Here, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra dropped the ball. Destro serves Cobra Commander because he chooses to, not because the Commander has enslaved him. In a rewrite, Destro chooses to don the mask of his ancestors not because of injury, but as an act of loyalty to his past as he works to redeem clan McCullen's honor.

4. Ripcord and Scarlett? No. Sorry. Doesn't work. Scarlett is Snake Eye's woman. The petty romance between the two is a distraction. Likewise, the relationship between Duke and the Baroness is a waste of time. The next movie needs to make the world a little less insular and focus more on adding the legacy Joes to the mix.

5. We need Stalker, Gung-Ho, Leatherneck, Lowlight, Recondo, Tunnel-Rat and Shipwreck added to the fight. This first installment could have used Ace (his flying the Raven is far more plausible than Ripcord's effort) and Wild Bill (although, I think we do here his signature cowboy hee-haw during the first 15 minutes of the film where the Joe's "helicopter" evacs the group..maybe his cameo will be on the DVD). For Cobra, we need Tomax and Xamot, Major Blood, the Dreadnoks, BATs, and Firefly.

6. The movie needs more legacy vehicles as well. G.I. Joe's gear is especially sterile and generic. The fun of the toys and comic was the utter ridiculousness of the equipment. Nevertheless, it was "realistic" enough that a 12 year old geek could imagine it sitting in a DARPA lab, buried 10 miles below sea level for the sake of security. For the sequels we need HISS Tanks, Trouble Bubbles, the Mauler, the Moray, the Mamba, the BuzzBore, the Rattler, and more CLAWS. The film did have some Easter eggs--the FLAGG made an appearance, there was one CLAW, and we saw the Mantas and Sharks fight it out during the climax.

7. G.I. Joe is such a huge universe that the film has to be careful about overwhelming casual fans. Also, for narrative sake, the sequel cannot feature too many additional Joes or Cobras. But, some of this can be accomplished through innuendo, side conversations, carefully staged shots, and the like. For example, in his cameo Brendan Frasier should have been explicitly referred to as Flint. During the sea battle, we could have heard Torpedo and Shipwreck on the radio giving orders to their respective squadrons. Prior to the insertion in Antarctica, Ripcord could have joked about Alpine and Snow Job being upset that they were assigned to a different mission. You get my drift. These little winks give life to a film and also make the die-hard fans feel acknowledged by the film's creators.

8. Second to final thought: yes, Snake-Eyes is that dude. Storm-Shadow will be back for sure, and in a way that parallels the comics. Unfortunately, the origin story for Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow was an example of a film not sticking with what works. Next time, the writers should leave well enough alone--especially which a standard bearer such as Snake Eyes. The winks to G.I. Joe: The Movie were great, although we could have used Doc's over the top exclamation that Duke (or in this case, Hawk) is going to be okay.

9. Cobra Commander needs his iconic hood. And yes I know that it was dropped in favor of his armored mask because folks were fearful that Cobra Commander looked like a member of the KKK. But, Cobra Commander's plan within a plan was brilliantly executed and suited the G.I. Joe mythos. Again, G.I.: Joe The Rise of Cobra borrowed a storyline from the IDW/Devil's Due comics and executed it quite well, with the moral of the story once more being, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

Any other thoughts or suggestions? What would you like to see in a sequel? Am I delusional and this film actually did rape our childhoods? Am I suffering from G.I. Joe Stockholm syndrome?


The Good Reverend Doctor said...

As long as they keep out Serpentor...LAME! Cobra Commander only works with the hood. Where was Road Block & Stalker? Hope to see more of my favorites in the following sequels.

Anonymous said...

What about the lesser skilled--I don't read the manual for my tech suit, I'm oversexed and immediately chase the girl instead of focusing on my training, black side kick. I enjoyed the film as an over the top action film (I confess, I've never seen the cartoon, played with the toys or read he comic books). That said when the leader of G.I. said the white lord scored the top of the class and then hesitatingly looked at the black side kick and said we can average your score with the lead man and pass you, I wanted to stand up in the midnight showing and shout fucking racist at the top of my lungs. Maybe I was a little too sensitive?

Lady Zora, Chauncey DeVega, and Gordon Gartrelle said...

Good Rev you don't like Serpentor. You have to admit the storyline was fun though? But we do need Big Lob.

@anon--good catch, i missed that one in my gleeful joeness. good point. at least they didn't have "rapping" coonbots a la transformers. what would you like to see in the sequel?

chauncey d

MilesEllison said...

No rapping coonbots? How did this movie get made?