Friday, August 7, 2009

Review - G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra

When a notorious weapons dealer positions himself with the ability to crush any world power, the world can only turn to one team. An elite unit comprised of the world's best weapons specialists and technology experts known as, G.I. JOE. With the fate of two nations looming in the balance, the two opposing sides face off in a tremendous battle spanning all three land, air and sea.

"G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" is the summer action I have been waiting for. It delivers on every level and had me smiling ear-to-ear all the way through. The action throughout the 118 minute thrill ride is eye popping and creative, while also being perfectly transitioned between varying battles that ensue. The story is well pieced together leaving very few moments that lull in any way. Overall, "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" was more than what I expected from a toy line adaptation that I use to play endlessly with as a child in the 80's.

For being set in the not too distant future, "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" manages to tell both current and origin tales of the more prominent Joe and Cobra characters. I especially loved the back story to the rival ninjas Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes. Old G.I. Joe fans will have to adjust to some liberties taken with a few of the characters, but the overall result works well enough not to hold the changes against the production team. The film does a capable job of creating the magnitude of both rival organizations, but masterfully displays the abilities and weapons technologies of both Cobra and G.I. Joe. Watching the battles take place on screen I always dreamt about and re-enacted as a kid was a true joy and left the kid in me wanting to yell out, "Yo Joe!" a couple times.

The action in "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" is outstanding all the way through. The film opens with a spectacular assault on a weapons transport convoy that indicates how staggering the film will be. A genuine momentum builds from the opening that only increases as the film progresses. Every battle held me captivated, whether it was Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow dueling or Cobra Viper soldiers laying heavy fire on Joe's, I was hooked. Director of photography Mitchell Amundsen does an amazing job of shooting the action sequences from unique perspectives while also keeping the shots motivating and thrilling. Furthermore Amundsen and director Stepen Sommers massive vision of the varying battles was flawless. The action sequences were brilliantly transitioned between battles ensuing in the air, on the ground or underwater.

For the most part the CGI is precise and polished, there are however a few scenes where the effects seem rushed. Luckily these minor flaws are only exterior and background shots, nothing that is up in the front where the action is really happening. The Art Department really do deserve a ton of credit. The look and design of all the nautical and aerodynamic vehicles was stellar. The kid in me wanted those vehicles to play with and so did the kid in my children who asked for the toys on the way home from the theater. All of the weapons were outstanding in design. They seemed logical with current scientific discoveries while also stretching the boundaries of the same concepts and principles. The art department furthermore did a fabulous job creating both Cobra's underwater base and G.I. Joe's desert Pit. I loved the introduction and training scenes which showcased the magnitude of the Joe's Pit.

To be clear I had a few reservations about the cast in "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra." I was weary that actors like Marlon Wayans, Channing Tatum and even Sienna Miller would pull my focus from the film. The cast most definitely surpassed any reservations I had about their acting abilities. Channing Tatum was intact as Duke. He filled the role out with impeccable detail and more importantly, carried his portion of the film without error. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Marlon Wayans as Ripcord. Wayans generally grates on me, but here his jokes and persona are restrained so that his role does not become overtly campy. Both Saïd Taghmaoui and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje were great as Breaker and Heavy Duty. They do have limited roles, but deliver credible performances with the screen time allotted. Dennis Quaid was awesome as General Hawk. I have always loved Quaid and it was a real treat to see him leading the Joe's. His introduction through use of a hologram was also a very nice touch.

On the opposing side of the battle, all of the actors who became Cobra legends pulled off the characters unblemished. Most notably Christopher Eccleston as weapons dealer and MARS president McCullen. Eccleston does a fabulous job creating a wicked entrepreneur whose main goal is global domination. He plays the character in ruthless fashion demanding attention in every scene he is in. His transformation near the end of the film into Destro was sharp and had me bubbling with anticipation for more of his character. Sienna Miller does a impressive job as the Baroness. Miller has always been extremely easy on the eyes, but not so much in the acting category. Her performances have usually fallen flat and have not delivered enough to keep me devoted to her portrayal. Here in "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" however, I found Miller captivating and fell right into her characters development. Her character is one of many that did have a few changes from traditional G.I. Joe lore, but I found the updated story to actually work quite nicely when combined with where Stephen Sommers took the franchise.

The same can be said with Cobra Commander. To be fair, Cobra Commander is not revealed until very close to the finale of this film. Sommers took major liberties with Cobra Commander's origin and I had huge reservations about how it would play out. After watching the film, I can say that while some things didn't sit right with me about the alterations, I am generally satisfied with where his character leaves off. If the film proves to be successful at the box office and a sequel is green lit, I can safely say Cobra Commander is going to be awesome in further films. Outside of that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was strong as the Doctor. At times his mask took away from his performance, but by the third act Gordon-Levitt shines right through any negative costume design he is wearing. Another character whose potential only seemed to be just beginning was Zartan. Arnold Vosloo was a nice fit for the character and I can't wait to see his role play out in subsequent sequels.

I thoroughly enjoyed both Ray Parks as Snake Eyes and Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow. Lee has more on his shoulders considering he has a speaking role, but never the less, he pulls of the performance in commanding fashion. Parks is wonderful as Snake Eyes. Being my favorite character as a child, I loved seeing him in action. The origin story between the two was also nicely intertwined throughout the overall story. Their collaborative fights had gripping choreography sequences that were both jaw-dropping and realistic.

"G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" is easily Stephen Sommers best directorial effort to date. Unlike The Mummy films Sommers directed, 'G.I. Joe' ditches much of the campy humor for intense action sequences that are magnificently displayed on screen. That is not to say Sommers doesn't still include comic relief, its most certainly there, he has just scaled it back here and the result is more appealing. Like Sommers' other directorial efforts he is able to tell a large scale story without it becoming to cumbersome. The movie has multiple story arcs intertwining, but they all come together in an action packed and exciting way that makes for one of the best cinematic experiences this year.

"G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" is escapist fun at it's best. It's a film for both hardcore Joe fans and people who never followed the franchise loyally. Sure there will be some fans who will nit-pick the film, but in the end it was everything a true fan could have hoped for. It was extremely engaging, absolutely action-packed, it developed the characters in new inventive ways that still paid off and was brilliantly put together by Stephen Sommers. Finally, "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" is a perfect definition of what a summer blockbuster should be. Don't miss your chance, see this movie!