Friday, August 7, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Directed by Stephen Sommers

Written by Stuart Beattie, David Elliot, and Paul Lovett

Starring Channing Tatum, Siena Miller, and Marlon Wayans

The action in G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra is coherent. I was able to follow what was happening on the screen because it was clearly shot and well edited. For some time now all actions scenes have been cut together in an incoherent mess. Quick cuts and handheld cameras have become the norm and it is refreshing to view a film in which those techniques are not employed. Nothing about the action is impressive it is just coherent, much like the rest of the film.

For this film to be a complete disaster it would have had to strive for greatness. For it to be a failure of epic proportions it would have had to have nearly impossible to reach aspirations. To be labeled a “complete mess” the filmmakers would have had to demonstrate some level of incompetence. There are no boom mics in any of the shots and as I mentioned the actions scenes are well put together so they aren’t totally incompetent. To achieve the “so bad that it’s good” status the filmmakers would have needed to demonstrate some level of commitment to the material. G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra cannot be classified as any of these things because it doesn’t aspire to be anything more than on the screen. It does succeed in achieving that goal.

Director Stephen Sommers is like a high school student who just does the work he was assigned. He doesn’t put any effort into it beyond getting it done. When it is finished he turns it in and walks away from it. The teacher might ask him if this is his best work but he doesn’t care, it’s done and he can move on. This film is effortless as in it is completely without effort.

The first indication of this complete lack of effort is the quality of the special effects. This film has a great reliance on special effects, which is confusing because they are so poorly done. Yes, they do look fake but there is more to it. There are scenes in which the audience is supposed to be in awe, but all I could think about was how cheap the effects looked. I have seen independent shorts with better special effects than this film.

Sommers relies on effects when he could have gone without them. There are shots of the characters doing super human jumps and rather than relying on practical effects he uses CGI. Most filmmakers try hard to make their CGI blend into their live action, but not Sommers. For shots in which he could have used live action it was much easier for him to use a cheap looking CGI characters. In the before mentioned independent shorts the directors try to shoot around their CGI limitations. That would be too much work for this director; he puts his cheap looking effects front and center.

The three screenwriters don’t seem much more interested in doing any kind of work. There is a particularly annoying plot device concerning a tracking device in a briefcase. First the good guys have it and then the bad guys steal it. Then one of the good guys steals it back only to lose it again to the bad guys. Both sides know that there is a tracking device in the briefcase and rather than remove the device or the contents in the case they take turns turning it back on and off. Of course the story is filled with contrived dialogue and ridiculous situations but it is the lack of creativity that bothered me the most. There is a complete lack of spectacle in this film.

This is a film that was based on a cartoon that was made to sell toys. It should have been easy for the filmmakers to indulge themselves in this outlandish film. They could have gone off the wall and really had some fun. It didn’t have to be a great movie, because it never was going to be, it just had to be a fun and exciting film.

The only people who seem to be having fun are the cast members. Sure some of them really chew the scenery, like Dennis Quaid for example. However, at very least he is having fun. Marlon Wayans plays a character named Ripcord and he is the comic relief. He is irritating but at least he is committed to the film. Channing Tatum doesn’t really have any sort of commanding presence but he plays his part with a slight grin on his face. Now don’t get me wrong they are not great performances they are simply engaged. There are only two performances that really do stand out in this film.

Sienna Miller plays a villain named Baroness and she represents the complete opposite of the filmmakers. She plays her part with complete conviction and really understands the film. She completely commits to her character and there is a sort of twinkle in her eye that tells us she is really enjoying herself.

The same goes for Joseph Gordon-Levitt as The Doctor. He is a very talented actor who doesn’t water down his performance just because he is in a movie based on a toy line. He also plays his part with complete commitment even though he is wearing heavy make-up and is hidden in his Darth Vader like costume. He could have played the costume, but instead he plays the character.

If the filmmakers had the same level of commitment to the material as these two actors then this movie would have been totally different. It wouldn’t have been a great film but it would have been an entertaining film. As it stands, it is neither impressive in success or failure, it is simply forgettable.

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