Weekend Review – “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”

As a child, I had over 60 G.I. Joe action figures, over 40 comics, over 30 vehicles, and had seen most of the animated series. I doubt the same can be said of the creators of this flick.

Cast and Crew Information

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Heavy Duty
Christopher Eccleston as James McCullen / Destro
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Rex Lewis / Cobra Commander
Byung-hun Lee as Tommy Arashikage / Storm Shadow
Sienna Miller as Anastasia ‘Ana’ DeCobray / Baroness
Rachel Nichols as Shana ‘Scarlett’ O’Hara
Ray Park as Snake Eyes
Jonathan Pryce as the U.S. President
Said Taghmaoui as Breaker
Channing Tatum as Duke Hauser
Arnold Vosloo as Zartan
Marlon Wayans as Ripcord
Dennis Quaid as General Clayton M. Abernathy / Hawk
Leo Howard as a young Snake Eyes
Brandon Soo Hoo as a young Storm Shadow
Brendan Fraser as Sgt. Stone

Story by Michael Gordon, Stuart Beattie and Stephen Sommers
Screenplay by Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett
Directed by Stephen Sommers

Availability Information

It’s available in one disc and two disc DVD editions, as well as a two disc Blu-Ray edition.


James McCullen comes from a long line of arms dealers. He has created devastating nanomite technology, and plans to abuse his position of trust to rule the world by proxy after creating major disasters. Duke and Ripcord are the newest recruits in an international military squad made up of the best of the best, and it’s up to this unit to stop McCullen’s plan.

High Point

The action sequences are very well done.

Low Point

Everything else.

The Adaptation

When I heard the movie was greenlit, I decided to be there opening night, purely for the nostalgia. Then the trailers hit, and I felt a fear that the adaptation would not resemble what I grew up with well enough to trigger that nostalgia. I gave myself time to accept that this wouldn’t be the G.I. Joe from my childhood before watching it, in the hopes that I could evaluate it on its own terms. Having seen the finished product, there are a few things I must say about the adaptation itself before I get into the full film review.

Well Adapted Aspects

  • Snake Eyes’ hand-to-hand skills
  • The accuracy of the physical appearances of most characters, particularly the Baroness, Destro and Hawk. Essentially, any character who retained their original nationality (except Cobra Commander) looks just like the character he or she was based on.

Acceptable Changes

  • An international team: making the strike force international instead of U.S.-centric was, I’m told, done purely to boost international ticket sales. From a story perspective, I found that it escalates the magnitude of the threats the team will deal with, which is never a bad thing.
  • Team roster: there were over a hundred characters to pull from, and no way that they’d be able to put them all in the movie effectively. While I do wonder about the inclusion of Heavy Duty instead of Roadblock, the characters that I felt were the imporant cores of both sides (good: Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Hawk, Duke; bad: Cobra Commander, Storm Shadow, Destro, Baroness, Zartan) all made it to the screen.
  • Starting with Destro in charge. This was clearly intended to launch a franchise, so using this as an origin for Cobra Commander allows effective escalation for a sequel.

Changes I don’t like

  • Scarlett and Ripcord? Seriously?
  • Snake Eyes’ vow of silence. If they didn’t know about the Marvel comics, they wouldn’t have given Larry Hama a cameo appearance. In that case, they should also be aware of the version of the story in which Snake Eyes saves Scarlett (the woman he loves) from a blast from an exploding helicopter, disfiguring him and leaving speech incredibly painful. Hama used this as the basis of the first love story I actually gave a damn about, because Snake Eyes tried to keep himself distant from Scarlett because he felt she deserved a better man than he, but Scarlett wasn’t interested in anyone else. Of course, that would eliminate the first point.
  • Accelerator suits. The Joes I grew up with had a huge variety of vehicles that did this job. Instead, it felt like they tried to turn the Joes into superheroes to cash in on the current trend. Thankfully, they were a much smaller part of the movie than the trailers for the movie.
  • Cobra Commander’s actual origin. I say again: seriously?
  • Changing the basis of Zartan’s ability, particularly given that they actually employ the hologram technology needed to have him work the traditional way.
  • Adding back story to characters other than Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. That dynamic was, again, one of the best aspects of the Marvel Comics version, and although it was represented accurately, it was grossly overshadowed.
  • Mind control technology of this prevalence and use. (For a character who was biologically incapable of fear, he sure looked scared with a grenade down his coat!)
  • Every aspect of the Baroness not related to casting. Sienna Miller has the perfect look for the part, and she turned in one of the stronger performances in the movie, but the script they had for her bore no resemblance to the character I know.

Can you argue that it’s based on a toy line, and most of my complaints are related to the comic? Absolutely. However, I would like to point out that every action figure from the 1980s came with a file card on the package that provided a history of the character, and those were all written by comic scribe Larry Hama. As soon as you include this set of characters, you are announcing that you are based on the 1980s generation, not the 1960s generation, and that means Larry Hama’s vision of characters and personalities. The comics reflected the toy line just as the toy line reflected the comics.

The Review

This is an original take on the property. They took the core, and made numerous changes in the adaptation. Whatever I think of those changes, they still produced a version of G.I. Joe that doesn’t feel like any other version I’ve been exposed to. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects are the one aspect of the movie that cannot be faulted. The sheer number of visual effects is enormous, and most were well constructed. I give it 6 out of 6.

The story fails as an action flick and as an adaptation. Yes, they were clearly setting up a series, but there are so many gaps in logic that it falls apart. Whether those gaps are in leaving that person with independent thought, with civilian motor cycles that come out of nowhere and can jump curbs without ramps, with planes whose only voice activated controls are the ones that require the most rapid response while the pilot may not be able to speak, with a verbal reaction to the loss of a “friend” who was never shown as a friend in this version, with the world’s best soldiers making bad tactical choices, or any other entry in a list that could go on for some time, the plot of this movie is an outright mess. It’s as though the creators knew the setup, the big image for the middle, and the conclusion they wanted, and they connected those three dots by asking themselves “what can we blow up between A and B?” without asking themselves “does it make sense to blow that up?” I give it 3 out of 6.

The acting was clearly not a directorial priority. It feels like Sommers told the cast “don’t take this job seriously or it will all fall apart.” This was true, but the solution is to elevate the script, not bring down the casting. Sienna Miller, Channing Tatum, Dennis Quaid, Ray Park, Byung-hun Lee and Marlon Wayans played their roles (as scripted) well enough. Eccleston turned in a surprisingly weak performance compared to his other works I’ve seen, and the rest of the cast did poorly. Granted, there was nothing in the script to support them in any way, shape or form, so the full blame for this does not fall on the actors, but that doesn’t change the quality of the finished product. I give it 3 out of 6.

The production was mixed. The action sequences were very well made, keeping a kinetic feel without obscuring events, and even showing some innovation (including one particular cut between the Night Raven and a Mantis.) However, every scene taken out of an action sequence is awkward and pedestrian, undermining any emotional impact the flick may have been able to achieve. I was stunned to see Alan Silvestri’s name on the music credits; there were few instances of background scores that came through. When I noticed the music at all, it was because of some pop or hip hop track that was clearly intended to sell soundtracks. I give it 4 out of 6 (averaging 5/6 for the look of the action and 2/6 for the rest, rounding up.)

The emotional response was poor. I can’t completely decouple what they were doing here from what I grew up with, and some of the most aggravating changes (Scarlett and RIPCORD?!?) were not forewarned by any trailers I saw. Given the weakness of the script, I don’t believe the action would have been enough to take me along for the ride even without that “bad adaptation” crowbar prying me out of any enjoyable mindset. I give it 2 out of 6.

Overall, it’s a movie that’s good at blowing things up and dressing Sienna Miller. If you sit down to watch this hoping for anything else at all, you will be sorely disappointed. I give it 3 out of 6.

In total, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra receives 25 out of 42.

7 replies on “Weekend Review – “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra””

  1. I’m perplexed by the casting of Channing Tatum in the lead role. They could already get folks like Dennis Quaid and Brandon Frasier, why not use one of them instead? Tatum is like a plank with a face drawn on it.

  2. I thought this was a fun movie that had much of the feel of the old cartoons. The final battle in particular felt a lot like the final battles in each cartoon episode. I also liked the nod to Firefox in the control of the advanced plane’s weapons systems.

    The films certainly not high art, but it is a fun action film.

  3. I enjoyed this movie
    Never read the comics, but watched the 80’s cartoon and the couple movies
    Thought it had a decent birth of a super villain with cobra commanders origin

    Hated the bouncy suits and the JarJar’esq characters that used them

    Greatest disappointment was the lack of a Weather Dominator(tm)
    So no trip to The Isle of No Return

  4. Taken for what it is, I enjoyed the film with really only two gripes. First, the baroness with no accent. That was irritating. The second, the sound of Cobra Commander’s voice AFTER he put his mask on. They got that so wrong. It was closer to what it should’ve been (from the cartoons) when he took his first mask off when telling Duke about his grand plan.

    I guess if you never watched the cartoons then you really wouldn’t know.

    • By the time a local station picked up the cartoon, I’d been reading the comics for three years. The comics had better writing, so I found the cartoon had to get into. With that, the voices didn’t bother me, as I had to associations to deal with.

Comments are closed.