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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and the Lowering of Expectations

I've figured out what it is about Stephen Sommers' movies that I absolutely despise. It's the fact that at no point in any of his films do I feel like any of what I'm watching is real. And it's not the mummies and the vampires and Sienna Miller's cleavage that make me think that -- it's the way the actors talk to each other, the way the music never stops, and the way that at no point does any character close his mouth. Every last moment is filled with dialogue, which isn't how the world works, and the constant music fills in any scenes they accidentally forgot to record dialogue for. At least Michael Bay had one or two scenes in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen with no music or no dialogue, and it seemed to be entirely on purpose. Meanwhile, Sommers has actually made a movie that may be worse than Van Helsing, which is saying something. Specifically, it's saying that there is no slam-dunk movie idea that Sommers cannot ruin, or at least make enjoyable only by slightly dim children.

I was willing to accept all of the cosmetic changes to G.I. Joe because I knew they weren't the most important element of the film; after all, X-Men managed to scrap the costumes and still remain true to the characters and their interconnectedness. But considering that there is not a single shred of G.I. Joe story element that they managed to get correct, it makes me wish they'd at least made the movie look like G.I. Joe to make up for it. If Scarlett, Duke, Ripcord and Breaker were all wearing their distinctive uniforms -- not yellow superhero costumes, mind you, just uniforms -- maybe I wouldn't mind that they act nothing like they're supposed to. Scarlett is one of two or three women seen on the Joe team, and is traditionally portrayed as tough as nails, but when she loses a fight in the movie, she cries about it, and when she is hit on by Ripcord, she acts like a Vulcan robot and says that love is illogical. (She later kisses him, and displays no interest or affection towards Duke or Snake Eyes, her two famous love interests.) More great characterization: Ripcord is a soldier who wants to be a pilot and wants to have sex with Scarlett, Duke really likes bubble gum but will give up his last piece if asked, and Breaker mixes up common English expressions. That's right, the communications expert of the team uses the phrase "needle in a coalmine," which he later -- hilariously! -- corrects to "haystack in a coalmine." Because he's foreign!

Given the mocking of foreigners, I'm still not sure what the deal is with this NATO peacekeeping force, with its kinda-sorta-international flavor. They train in "the Pit," a multi-level headquarters with an indoor lake that's buried beneath the Egyptian desert. (Not a NATO member country, by the way.) But when the Joe team fucks up by destroying a large portion of Paris, thanks to two soldiers whose heavily weaponed accelerator suits (which they haven't really been trained on) turn them into human missiles, they get arrested by the apparently oblivious French authorities, and NATO tells them all to go back to their respective countries: Breaker to Morocco (also not a member country), Heavy Duty to Britain and the other three to the U.S. There may be other international Joes, but whenever they show a room full of Joes cheering, they're all generic, white males wearing the same basic camouflage, and they give no sign of any real variety at all, which is what the original G.I. Joe was all about. Even though they were all American, they came from different ethnic and military backgrounds and had different specialties. Meanwhile, in the movie, Heavy Duty's specialty seems to be wearing big, dangly earrings and generally dressing and sounding like a bouncer at a London nightclub. Cover Girl -- played by Czech supermodel Karolina Kurkova -- displays no real abilities other than getting stabbed and dying. That's right, there are two female Joes in the movie, and one is a crybaby, and the other is dead.

The bad guys aren't much better. Destro is Scottish -- very Scottish, as in prone to using phrases like "thrown the caber clear out of the yard." (A caber toss reference! You know, for the kids!) The scarred Doctor speaks in a perfectly clear voice, as if he doesn't have a giant breathing apparatus over his mouth. Zartan is a master of disguise, which mostly means he's a master of stealing people's clothes -- he doesn't gain the ability to change his face until partway through the film, in a sequence reminiscent of the Martin Short-Robert Picardo face-swap in Dennis Quaid's Innerspace. Neo-Vipers are apparently stronger, mind-controlled versions of their regular Viper troops (or are they stronger versions of actual vipers?), and can't be killed by bullets and grenades, although swords and arrows seem to work. The Baroness wears her traditional black bodysuit, usually unzipped to show cleavage, except for her opening scene, when she actually wears a scoop-necked jumpsuit with what look like black rhinestones, which seems impractical when going into a firefight. Storm Shadow is an honorable, proud man, which makes it seem odd that he performs random, petty tasks for Destro, like killing anybody who touches the Baroness. When he was 12, he killed his master for not making him top of the class over Snake Eyes, who came to the martial arts school as a hungry orphan and yet was somehow able to stand toe-to-toe with a trained martial artist.

Aside from the canonical Snake-Eyes/Storm Shadow history, the interrelated nature of the characters is my biggest problem with this film. There are plenty of ways to make one group of people dislike another group of people, and you would think that one side wanting to destroy the world governments and the other side wanting to stop them would be enough. But no, the writers have to make it personal. [Warning: Things are about to get a little spoilery in here.] So the Baroness turns out to have once been blonde, demure and engaged to Duke, until Duke took her brother Joseph Gordon-Levitt, more scientist than soldier, into a heavy firefight in East Africa, then sent him into a lab that was about to be the subject of an airstrike. Duke apparently couldn't even face the Baroness after his death, so he rode off on his motorcycle like Nic Cage in Ghost Rider, and she grew bitter and cold and married a Baron. Duke and the Baroness cross paths a few times in the film, and she spares his life at least once, and after she outright decides to try and save his life, it's revealed that she had been brainwashed by the Doctor, who is actually... her brother, miraculously survived! The Doctor asserts himself as Cobra Commander, and actually gets a halfway decent backstory to work off of, albeit a ridiculous new costume, but it's no trade-off for turning the Baroness, one of the evilest Cobras (think Bellatrix LeStrange from Harry Potter) into a sad puppet.

I had hoped that, even if this movie was awful, that the sequel would be something to look forward to. But with the movie ending the way it did, with a remix of the Black-Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow," I don't even have that. I can expect the captured bad guys to be released somehow, the dead bad guys to come back to life and more close-ups of Snake Eyes with lips. All I have going for me is the hope that, if Dr. Mindbender (briefly played by Kevin J. O'Connor) is given a larger role in the next one, they shave his head and beard and give him a monocle. That's seriously all I've got left in me.

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