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Bringing another Toycon to Life

By Elvis D'Silva
August 21, 2009 10:29 IST
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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

Doesn't that name make it sound like an episode of a Sunday morning cartoon? Part of something a television channel would package as the Action Pack or something like that?

It sure doesn't read like the name of the first movie to give flesh-and-blood life to the iconic toys that are as much a part of American (and global) culture as Barbie. From the title itself it is clear that the studio hopes for a franchise with this effort. It seems predestined, like all those Bollywood 'superhit' ads that appear in the Saturday morning newspapers the day after said movie is released.

According to the lore surrounding this project, the writer for the film was given six weeks to come up with a viable script so that the entire production could prepare for a Summer 2009 release. The reason the writer had six weeks was because the Writers' Guild of America was about to go on strike and all guild members would be barred from doing any work on any project, no matter what stage it was at, during that strike.

So watching this enterprise, one gets the sense that this project is the sum of many parts cobbled together from other movies made over the past three decades. The plot is simple -- a throwback to the days of good versus evil cinema (that Hollywood did so well a decade or so ago) -- the surviving member of a long-ago clan plans to wreak havoc on the world by deploying a high-tech weapon, the likes of which has never been seen by the world.

This man, McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), head of MARS Industries, is a defense contractor who demonstrates a nanotechnology-based weapon that can destroy entire cities with a single bomb that does more than simply explode. Its individual fragments continue to eat everything in their path, thereby causing destruction way beyond the blast radius of any conventional weapon. So while NATO funded the development of these weapons for their own use McCullen doesn't plan on letting them keep them.

Enter the Baroness (Sienna Miller) and her crew. They ambush the transport caravan carrying soldiers named Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) and employ other high-tech weapons to defeat highly trained soldiers. Her attack is thwarted by the arrival of Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). And this is how Duke and Ripcord learn about the G.I. Joe team headed by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid).

What follows is a see-saw battle between the forces of good and evil with the warheads containing the nanotechnology at the centre of the skirmishes. Things blow up, flashy technology is demonstrated and the various characters' back stories are revealed through relevant flashbacks.

Some of the narrative devices used in the film are very effective, especially for a film of this nature which has no aspirations to be anything other than a big dumb action flick. While it is clear that most people will eventually fault the storytelling on a movie like this, the real villain of the piece is the special effects.

Most major set-pieces have a videogame feel to them. Anybody with a later generation gaming console and a nice TV has already seen graphics way better than the ones on display in this movie. By relying so heavily on computer-generated imagery the filmmakers have delivered visible inconsistency between shots, even within single sequences. That kind of treatment takes the fun out of watching a film like this. Especially when audiences have already seen what cool action sequences can look like in movies like Dark Knight, The Matrix and Iron Man (to name only a few).

The performances are pretty decent for a movie of this nature. Though it hasn't yet ceased to surprise me, Sienna Miller is more than just a pretty face and the subject of tabloid conjecture. Having already proven her worth in indie films like Interview and Factory Girl she manages to bring a certain amount of gravitas to her role as the femme fatale in this tale.

Though his character requires him to ham it up (like never before in his career) the actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt also does a good job and it is my belief that he could take on the mantle of the Joker if Christopher Nolan decides to bring the character back in a future Batman sequel. The rest of the cast doesn't do anything to draw undue attention to themselves, which makes this a better-functioning ensemble than the folks that peopled other big bang extravaganzas like the last Transformers movie for instance.

Like I mentioned earlier, a lot of this film looks like it was put together by taking cues from movies that went before it. Like the gun turret in the ship commandeered by Duke looks like something out of the Star Wars movies. The tech for the invisibility suit was already displayed in Die Another Day. The suits designed to boost the capabilities of the Joes look like they borrowed design elements from Iron Man's suit. The destruction of the Eiffel Tower and the dispersion of the nanotech looks very been-there, done-that. Even the big twist at the end of the tale recalls key sequences from movies like Face/Off and X-Men.

Sure this is a movie designed to be big, dumb fun and fun it sometimes is, but it is not very big (that command centre Hawk operates from looks awfully cramped) and it certainly didn't need to be so dumb.

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Elvis D'Silva