We comic Geeks see the world differently. Our brains are wired in nine panel grids, bursting with Krackling Kirby energy. We are discerning and always, always looking for a good story. We have visceral responses to stories and we have a lifetime of comics written by the masters to compare every film experience to. So welcome to the column that will filter movies Through the Comic Book Brain.
With the release of G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra in 2009, Joe fans everywhere ALMOST got the movie they wanted. The characters looked right and the overall concept was there, but something was off. It was like the filmmakers decided they would rather make Star Wars than G.I. Joe and decided everything needed to look futuristic. Where Joe fans fell in love with grunts with guns, they decided to give us battle armor and space age assault vehicles and try to juxtapose it all with ninjas, because they thought that is what G.I. Joe was supposed to be. The new film had a deeper understanding of the world of Joe and while the movies does suffer from some severe ADHD plotting, this film, if you are a Joe fan, is like opening your toy box on a Saturday morning, taking out your favorite squad of Joes and assaulting Cobra for an endless afternoon of swivel jointed combat and chaos. If you are not a Joe fan, the film promises a wild ride with some engaging action and lots of pretty people with machine guns blowing shit up.
With an ensemble cast, it’s important to look at each Joe and Cobra that gets the spotlight. Director Jon M. Chu and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick pretty much keep the cameras and the plot focused on the most marketable and prettiest stars, which is ok, because it’s best to keep a movie about action figures centered on actors who look like action figures. So let’s look at the major Joes and Cobras:
Roadblock played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
It’s always a little disorienting to see the Rock stand side by side with performers not involved with the WWE, even after all this time. When seen next to normal sized humans, it stands out just what a freakin’ tank Johnson is. The Rock carries this film as he is everything a Joe should be. He sells a wonderful form of one dimensional patriotism that can only exist in a G.I. Joe movie. His convictions and motivations are paper thin, but he sells the heck out of them. The filmmakers give him a conflict, as he never wants a promotion, choosing instead to be on the front lines. Joe fans will buy him as Roadblock as he utilizes a variety of impossibly huge weapons. When he hits someone, they stay hit. He has great interactions with Duke and Joe Colton and is the actor who can carry this franchise into the future. They even give us one line about Roadblock being a chef.
Duke played by Channing Tatum.
Sorry ladies, Duke takes an early exit to provide conflict and motivation for the rest of the Joes. Tatum plays up Duke as a sexy slice of white bread, he’s equal parts awesome soldier and awesome dude. Sadly, it seems the filmmakers wanted to distance themselves from the previous film as much as possible and poor Duke, well… see the film. Anyway, Tatum could also have carried this franchise, so it’s sort of a shame his character was dispatched for plot convenience, but his exit was nicely played as the martyr. I think Tatum will be just fine as he is now the go to lonely night fantasy for housewives everywhere.
Flint played by D.J. Controno.
Replacing Duke as the doe eyed side of beef is Flint. Awesome, right Joe fans? Well, actually, Flint does nothing other than make googly eyes at Lady Jaye and the Rock. For real, he has a serious man crush on the Rock from the film’s opening to the credits. He only exists to have someone for the Rock to bark orders at and has no conflict or story arc other than to provide cover fire for Roadblock and the more important characters. He does creepily watch Jaye’s reflection while she changes her clothes, so there’s that to look forward to.
Lady Jaye played by Adrianne Palicki.
Oh, Warners did you drop the ball on this one. Palicki is Wonder Woman. She is a tall drink of ass kick in a classy bag with eyes and skin to die for. She is the side dish to the side of beef that is the Rock. She would have filled out Wonder Woman’s costume and Warners would have had a license to print money. The film gives her a great arc, as she does everything to prove to her deceased, chauvinistic military father that women belong in combat. The filmmakers totally understand Lady Jaye as the script gives her many opportunities to use her covert intelligence expertise. She also seemingly has the super power to always have perfect mascara even after a fierce combat assault in the deserts of Pakistan.
Snake-Eyes played by Ray Park.
Ok, the mountain attack you all saw in the previews was the coolest thing ever. Director Jon. M. Chu made his bones directing dance films like Step Up 2 and he really has a unique eye for action. Other directors might resort to action clichés, but Chu doesn’t pull from this tired bag of tricks, instead he utilizes innovative camera techniques to visualize complex action scenes from a 360 degree perspective. This unique vision particularly works or the physics defying ninja Snake -Eyes. There is lots of old school Larry Hama being channeled in Snake-Eyes’ arc. His fights with Storm Shadow and with a countless array of conveniently appearing Red Ninjas plucked right out of the Marvel series and really made me feel like I was a kid hocked up on pixie sticks and Kool Aid with an endless afternoon and a box full of action figures.
Jinx played by Elodie Yung.
Ah, Jinx, one of the coolest Hasbro figures. She just came with the best weapons didn’t she? Joe fans sure knew how to play with her, but clearly the filmmakers didn’t. Her entire purpose was to provide exposition in Snake-Eyes’ scenes because, y’know, he can’t. She just reacts to stuff he does without having her own purpose in the film. The plot establishes her as a familial relation to Storm Shadow but THIS IS NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN! Oh, bad form movie, bad form. She does do some of her signature blind fighting, but the script is really so in love with Roadblock and Snake-Eyes, that Jinx is left in the cold. Bad luck, Jinx. See what I did there?
Storm Shadow played by Byong –hun Lee.
The award for best character arc goes to Storm Shadow! Ripped right from the pages of the comic, Snake-Eyes and the Arishkage clan find out who really killed the Hard Master, leaving Storm Shadow innocent of the crimes he was accused of. The accusations drove him right to Cobra and a life of nefarious purpose. The face turn you played out thousands of times in your backyard is presented in this film, as Storm Shadow gets to kick all sorts of red ninja ass.
Joe Colton played by Bruce Willis.
Props to the screenwriters for not giving into temptation and forcing a kung-fu grip joke into the film. Bruce Willis plays Bruce Willis with his most Bruce Willisiness. Colton is old, cranky, badass and fun. He serves the purpose to provide inspiration to the younger Joes and introduces an awesome plot device involving General Patton’s pistol. He helps Lady Jaye overcome her doubts and does the same for Roadblock and he’s Bruce Willis, so he really classes up the joint.
Cobra Commander played by Luke Bracey.
There were lots of complaints that the Cobra Commander of the first film was not the classic Cobra Commander. This one is, with a new, but equally awesome exaggerated voice and no honor or decency whatsoever. During his rescue, he abandons Destro leaving the awesome future possibilities of the rise of Destro and the Iron Grenadiers in a future film. Cobra Commander, sadly, doesn’t do a heck of a lot, as the filmmakers choose other characters to act as the foil for the Joes.
Zartan played by Jonathon Pryce and Arnold Vosloo. The major thread left over from the last movie, this film really explores what happens when Zartan replaced the President. Sadly, this meant that Zartan was played by an actor who seems to be at least 108 years old, but he is a great villain who viewers will want to get his comeuppance. As said previously, the movie delves into the Zartan/Strom Shadow/Hard Master story, so old school fans will love that. Still no Dreadnoks in sight though.
Firefly played by Ray Stevenson.
What can I say but AWESOME! This is the Firefly fans have always wanted. How many times did I stage a rescue of Cobra Commander by Firefly and Storm Shadow with my figures? Sometimes, my wife catches me still staging it (don’t tell anyone). Firefly is an unrepentant killer, the worst of the worst who provides a perfect foil for Roadblock. The filmmakers spent time to make sure Firefly’s weapons are memorable and unforgettable. He was truly the geek squee moment of the film.
So yes, the film had its “WTF” moments. Like a Cobra officer undercover as a Secret Service agent wearing a Cobra lapel pin just to clue the audience in; London being destroyed and never being mentioned again by anyone (I guess that means in the Joe universe there will be no third season of Sherlock, damn you Cobra!); Jinx’s lineage doing nothing for the plot; and Cobra Commander executing a plan that destroyed the world’s nuclear arsenal for reasons that had absolutely no bearing on the plot. But all this was made up for with many little pieces of mad genius like:
Cobra’s plan to drop a giant tungsten rod from space in order to destroy major cities;
The care and respect given to Lady Jaye’s character;
Vehicles that have real world design but exaggerated function that make them feel like toys;
The awesome, awesome, AWESOME mountain side fight with Snake-Eyes and Jinx versus a billion ninjas;
RZA as the Blind Master;
And an always welcome appearance by Justified’s Walter Googins.
All in all, this is the movie Joe fans wished for since the first one fell just short of expectations. This is an unapologetic and chaotic mess of a plot justified by great pacing, casting and pure fun. This film was like watching a creative eight year old opening his toy box and just going nuts. YO JOE!