Wednesday, August 05, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Real American Heroes

I have to confess I'm not much of a G.I. Joe fan when I was a kid, partly because the other Hasbro product in transforming robots had more appeal to a boy than a bunch of plastic figures in military garb. The cartoon series too didn't convert me either, as it was up against a whole host of classic series from MASK to Silverhawks, Centurion to Starcomm. Ahh, the wonderful 80s to be growing up...

So while I do not hold G.I Joe in as high a regard as Transformers (the toys or the cartoon series that is), between the two films this summer based on the Hasbro toys, I will unabashedly proclaim that G.I. Joe triumphs over the other by a long mile. Michael Bay in his second robot outing has exposed himself as a two-trick pony, relying on countless of larger than large explosions - hardly a frame passes by without being engulfed in an inferno - and of course, Ms Fox's bouncing assets in slow motion. While one can afford to leave one's brains at the door for popcorn flicks such as these, Bay had forgotten than they have to be basically fun to watch, and magically he had dumbed Transformers down to a mind-numbing bore.

Enter Stephen Sommers, who had a couple of box office successes with the action-adventure genre in The Mummy movies, so this guy obviously knows what he's doing, and it shows. Forget the excuse of a story just to link up the big set action pieces, and it is precisely in the action that Sommers understood when to show restraint, add in a dash of humour, pepper it with proper camera angles, though of course still unable to buckle the trend of slowing things down just before any impact. Slow motion unfortunately is here to stay I guess.

There are obviously some updates to this big budgeted flick, that while it's still a military-type based movie per se, some common sensibilities have crept in. No more are the soldiers "Real American" heroes (though that iconic phrase still managed a mention), and a more inclusive (but still token in a way) United Nations type best-of-the-best elite troopers get invited to this highly classified unit blessed with unlimited budget for high tech weapons and toys. Unlike Bay's invasion-and-conquer type of US troopers, these guys do get arrested after they unleash their weapons of mass destruction, diplomatic immunity not withstanding afterwards. And of course having futuristic toys help to lift this into fantasy-land, than an all out US Military commercial selling the virtues of why Uncle Sam needs you.

Sommers also managed to blend in the myriad of characters from the beloved toy lines and series, akin to what Bryan Singer managed to pull off with X-Men, but of course without the cerebral material to go along. Everything here is plain and simple, with black being black and white being white. It doesn't get bogged down with trying to tell the origin stories of everyone, but does so at precise intervals. I suspect if there was going to be more movies, then the case dossiers of the Joes would get their respective air time.

Otherwise, like the subtitle mentioned, it's more of a bad guys take all film, where surprisingly the Joes always a step behind, from the first action sequence until the last. It was smart too that the film had action over land, sea and air, covering a wide range of military operations to mop up a growing conspiracy involving arms dealers and nano-technology that doesn't seem to far fetched (in fact also seen before in other science fiction films). The best part of course is echoing some sentiments whenever opportunity allows in lambasting a superpower's policies, including a subtle jibe that most of the world's terrorist type problems, stem from ineptness and how the monster came to grow from within.

G.I. Joe was much better than expected as pure entertainment, and you really shouldn't give this a miss as it might just restore your faith in big-action summer popcorn flicks that takes a huge leaf out of their cartoon counterparts. A bevy of good looking, established stars in its casting also helped in making this watchable, even though some, like Ray Park, had to spend all his time behind a mask. See if you can spot an uncredited Brandan Fraser as well!

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