While I try my best to keep spoilers out of my review, I had to keep a few spoilers in to explain why I feel the way I do about this particular movie.
A few months ago, I was waiting for Star Trek to begin at the theater when a trailer came on. It was a very generic action movie about a terrorist organization and an army with super suits. I scoffed at it until I saw the title. It was GI Joe. And I became very depressed. Another childhood cartoon bites the dust.
The main plot isn’t really that bad, but far from original. The evil Cobra organization steals nanonite technology, which is basically thousands of metal bugs that eat all metal… or something. The point is, they plan to attack France, then the world. The Joes (yes, they actually call themselves “Joes”) need to stop Cobra, while new soldier Duke (Channing Tatum) is struggling with his past with one of Cobra’s top lieutenants, The Baroness (Sienna Miller). When you get into more of the details of the story, there really are very few original ideas. Certain parts are not only action movie cliches, but are pulled directly from Team America: World Police. There’s the team member who doesn’t trust the rookies, the matter-of-fact female scientist who doesn’t believe in love. Oh, and the bad guys attack Paris.
Besides stealing from a satire of an action film, the film also uses the main motive from Watchmen for one of the villain’s motives. Cobra also has a base on the north pole (it’s Antarctica in Watchmen) and that’s where the climax of the movie occurs. The only fairly original idea in this movie is that Cobra’s henchmen are basically mindless slaves that are willing to do anything Cobra Commander wills through implants in their necks. I have always questioned the logic of being a henchman as a career (ala James Bond) and I can appreciate the writers putting that little explanation in. The only problem I have with this is that they also added that these implants make the henchmen close to indestructible, which I felt was a little lazy on the part of the writers.
Not to be outdone by the plot, the dialogue is also pretty bad. They actually use the phrase “Knowing is half the battle” with a straight face. Marlon Wayans plays the sidekick and while he isn’t as annoying as he usually is, it comes pretty close. When he’s trying to audibly enable his jet to fire, he actually tells it to “pop a cap” (I’m pretty sure the Wayans brothers have set civil rights back a good 10 years just on their own). Even when the writing was just average, the way the characters spoke the lines were just too melodramatic. My favorite character quickly became Snake Eyes… mostly because he took a vow of silence.
Besides the dialogue, there are quite a few writing devices that are either overused or just not used well. The most notable of these is the overabundance of flashbacks. Personally, I don’t have a problem with flashbacks used in film. If used in the right way, it can give the audience a good amount of needed exposition in an interesting way (Batman Begins is a good example). But in GI Joe, the audience gets hit over the head with them. Five different characters have flashbacks and most of them have multiple flashbacks. I actually thought they could have just told us a few of those things instead of showing us after a while. And the fact is, the filmmakers mostly use the flashbacks to explain the Baroness’ motives for being evil, yet they reveal toward the end of the movie that she has been brainwashed into being evil. So, instead of being vengeful and bitter (which make her a better villain), she’s completely free from responsibility for her actions. It’s a big cop out and just lazy writing. And the villains themselves are just too many to introduce in one film. There’s the Baroness, the Cobra Commander, some Scottish guy and some Australian guy (I didn’t catch their names). Not enough time is spent on Cobra Commander, so when they reveal who he is, you don’t really care. I actually groaned a little (I won’t spoil who plays him, but the first thing I thought was, “Why is he in this movie?”).
They also really overuse the holograms. The first few times they’re seen, it’s not too bad, but it gets to the point where the audience isn’t sure who is actually in the room. Another memorable groan is when the Joes stab a dead henchmen in the brain and watch his memories on a computer. No, seriously.
I realize it is possible for action movies to get away with an average story if the action and special effects hold up. Unfortunately, the special effects are pretty terrible. There are particular shots of CGI jets that could have been done just as well 20 years ago. By the time we get to the last big battle, I’m more bored than anything else. I just started checking my watch and figuring out how much longer until it was over. Considering how much money was put into this film, you’d think they would have produced something better.
The biggest problem with this movie, though, is that while it’s based on a kid’s cartoon, it doesn’t feel anything like it. Sure, the cartoon was a corny piece of work and an advertisement for the armed forces, but I watched an episode recently and one thing it did have was a real fun energy and some silly charm. The movie is void of that energy and charm and takes itself much too seriously. There is little left of the original material, save for the title and a reference or two. The film is also tailored specifically for teenagers (cleavage, swearing and more cleavage), while the cartoon was really for kids under 12. They could have made this a creative, tongue-in-cheek kind of franchise that brought some of that fun from the cartoon to life, but they made this movie instead and it feels like such a waste.
Overall: A couple hits, but a plethora of misses. What could have been a fun compliment to the cartoon has been turned into one of the worst movies I’ve seen this year.
1 1/2 out of 5 stars