Stephen Sommers—who in better days brought us the enjoyably brainless likes of The Mummy and Deep Rising—and the insane number of screenwriters and editors hired to hack this thing together go to unbelievable lengths to deaden and genericize this thing to the hilt. Where once the Joes were a highly colorful, highly ridiculous crew of military elites, and Cobra presented an equally rainbow coalition-esque rogues gallery of memorable foes, now all involved have been reduced to indistinguishable, same-outfitted figures that exude as much personality as a plastic fork.
Then again, putting Channing Tatum at the forefront of your movie is never a good way to encourage personality. As Duke, an army soldier that really likes to talk about how much he likes being an army soldier, he and his best friend Ripcord (a nearly insufferable Marlon Wayans) are the latest recruits for team G.I. Joe, a supersecret organization made up of musclebound, spandexed soldiers from all around the globe. Their leader, General Hawk (a scenery-chewing Dennis Quaid), sends the pair on a mission to recover some missing nanotech-based warheads, along with the supposedly nerdy-hot (but really just hot-hot) Scarlett ( Rachel Nichols), tech-head Breaker ( Said Taghmaoui), heavy duty Heavy Duty ( Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and silent-but-deadly Snake Eyes ( Ray Park).
If you know G.I. Joe at all, you know that the fiends behind this theft are the terrorist organization Cobra, headed up here by weapons dealer extraordinaire Destro ( Christopher Eccleston). Yep, the gang's all here in some form or another, including the Baroness (a raven-haired Sienna Miller), evil ninja Storm Shadow ( Byung-hun Lee), disguise master Zartan ( Arnold Vosloo), and a mad scientist so diabolical sounding and Darth Vader-masked, that you know with absolute certainty from the first time he appears that he will eventually become the infamous Cobra Commander ( Joseph Gordon-Levitt—no, seriously).
Indeed, there are names and characters here that old school Joe fans might recognize, but the cartoonish, over-the-top personalities? Gone in a poof of extreme bad-assness. Rise of Cobra tries and fails to do what the X-Men films did, dialing down the colorful nature of the original characters to make them more modern (and also samey). Here, everyone is a boring, blank slate. No one has an ounce of personality to their codename.
And yet for how dully it presents its characters, the movie seems to have no qualms about delving into unbelievably silly territory with its plot. There are more flashbacks and side-stories going on here than your average soap opera—though the acting here tends to fall a bit below that level. The movie spends excruciating amounts of time digging into the relationship between the good and evil ninjas, the history of Destro's familial revenge plot, and the insane, completely nonsensical romantic plotline involving Duke and a pre-dye-job Baroness. Over and over again characters will just stop dead in their tracks to reminisce about some tragic thing that happened any number of years ago. I don't know about you, but I didn't come to a G.I. Joe movie to learn about the troubled history of these barely sketched cartoon characters. I came to watch stuff blow up.
Then again, I guess I pretty much was. This movie is incredibly cheap-feeling, despite how expensive everything is supposed to look. It is an utterly soulless endeavor, utterly bereft of anything resembling fun, with no real sense of humor beyond facepalm-worthy one-liners about kung-fu grips. I'm sorry, but a movie based on an '80s cartoon (one that holds up about as well as a snail in a salt mine, at that) shouldn't be anything but blatantly self-aware. How do you make this movie and not see the humor in it? How do you write this script as anything other than a thoroughly knowing action comedy? How far removed from reality do you have to be to believe any of this soapy plot is capable of being taken remotely seriously?
Between Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I honestly think G.I. Joe is the more frustrating film to watch. Both are miserable, cacophonous messes, but Transformers 2 was, at worst, a natural extension of the suckiness of the original Transformers movie. It simply continues along the path its predecessor laid down, and in mostly predictable fashion (though those jive-talking Decepticons...oof). G.I. Joe , however, isn't encumbered with previous suckiness. Someone could have turned this thing into something watchably stupid, something that vaguely felt like fun. No one did, and instead we're left with this pile of execrable junk. You'll have more fun melting your old G.I. Joe figures with a magnifying glass than you will sitting through two hours of this torturesome eyesore. Stay away.