I usually can't stand it when people judge something before they've even seen it. But sometimes...you just can't help yourself. Sometimes, you just get this "feeling" based on posters, trailers, TV spots, word of mouth or what have you that a certain movie is destined to fail. That all the wrong decisions were made even before the cameras started rolling. You want to approach it with an open mind but the warning signs are all there, too glaring to ignore. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is such a film. I'm not among the many who seem to feel making a G.I. Joe movie is a bad idea. Quite the opposite. I think it's a fantastic one with loads of potential. If anything, I'm shocked it took this long for it to happen. And that's why the direction it looks like they've taken with the material is so disappointing.
When Michael Bay's Transformers opened two years ago I kept my mouth shut. I wasn't a big fan of the cartoon as a kid, didn't collect the toys, so I couldn't have cared less what Bay did with it. But there were a lot of hardcore fans who did and I appreciated where they were coming from and how passionate they were that the cartoon they grew up on was done justice on the big screen. For all the criticism Bay took and still takes, when push came to shove, he delivered a film that was for the most part true to the source material, with certain understandable changes made to appeal to mainstream audiences unfamiliar with the toyline or cartoon. Some hated the movie, but most of them hate all Bay movies anyway and had zero interest in seeing a Transformers feature film in the first place. Bottom line: He came through.
G.I. Joe is a different story for me. I literally grew up on it to the point that a couple of years ago I browsed through a guide that prices old figures and discovered that had I kept everything that was listed, I'd probably be a millionaire right now. Since the project was announced I've been watching it VERY carefully and if this doesn't work out I'm going to have to take it a little personally.
If you can get past the movie's clunky, over-explanatory title (almost as bad as calling a movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine) there are other much bigger issues facing this seemingly doomed film. The only bright side here is that at least the casting doesn't appear to be horrific. It's mostly uninspired and lazy, but they could have done worse. I find it hilarious that diehards have been complaining about the casting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cobra Commander on the silly basis that's he's "too young," especially considering this is an ORIGIN story and he'll be under a mask for the majority of the picture. Little do they know he's the only hope this movie has at succeeding provided he's given a story arc that takes full advantage of his talent (which is a real long shot).
As for Sienna Miller as the Baroness, you could have dyed any actress's hair black, stuck some glasses on her and it would have worked. As such, I suspect Miller should do fine. This isn't Shakespeare. Dennis Quaid looks like a complete fool in this costume but in theory he makes sense for General Hawk. That I'm completely unfamiliar with the actor playing Destro (Christopher Eccleston) might be a good thing. Channing Tatum (as Duke) and Marlon Wayans (as Ripcord) are the lazy, uninspired choices I'm referring to. And I'm confused as to why the minor character of Ripcord is even heavily featured in the film when better options were available. That said, if the problems below are any indication there isn't anything any actor or actress could do to salvage the film. You're probably wondering why I'm listing ONLY 5 reasons this movie looks like it will suck. What can I say? I'm feeling kind.
1. It's directed by Stephen Sommers. Deep Rising. The Mummy. The Mummy. Van Helsing. I'm not doubting that's the resume of someone capable of helming a top-tier summer tentpole franchise, but I am saying that G.I. Joe shouldn't feel like it is. Sometimes the simplest explanation works: If the director is bad, the film will be. Shouldn't we have learned that lesson already from Terminator Salvation?
2. An over-reliance on unconvincing CGI and digital effects, which even if they were done well, shouldn't be showcased to this extent. It's not a franchise like Transformers, that needs to be driven completely on huge visual effects and explosions. Just watch this trailer...if you can. It's painful.
3. It takes place in the future. Huh? I thought this was G.I. Joe, not Blade Runner. I wonder how many people always envisoned this movie taking place in a futuristic society. I'm guessing not many, even those who aren't fans. They should have set it during World War II. Just the thought of that opens up all sorts of intriguing possibilities.
4. They made it your typical superhero/fantasy movie. Tatum has described the film as "Mission Impossible meets Transformers meets X-Men." Sadly, I fear that's accurate. If it is, that's a great reason to stay home on August 7 and rent the 1987 animated feature instead. Ever since The Dark Knight was released last year there was rampant theorizing as to which franchises could be "Nolanized" and given a darker, more reality based treatment akin to that film. For most it just wouldn't fit. For G.I. Joe that approach would work.
They should have approached this as a war film and played it completely straight. I'm not saying it should be an R-rated Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line, but it can be fun AND still be taken seriously. Too bad the studios are wusses and refuse to release any war film during a time of war, unless it pushes a preachy liberal agenda. Just look at this rendering of what Cobra Commander is supposed to look like and tell me this material doesn't scream out for a darker treatment.
5. The posters. Have you ever seen worse promotional artwork for a movie? It's like they didn't even care. Besides confirming the feeling that they captured the wrong tone, it's ugly and doesn't make you want to see the movie unless you had a gun to your head. All the characters look exactly the same, have no identifiable visual characteristics and could have very well stepped out of any generic superhero of the month lineup. And I hope you like black spandex and tight leather. The only two characters it looks like they didn't completely screw up were Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow (pictured above), but they were easy. At risk of sounding like a whiny fanboy, if the original costumes were fine, why change them?
Why am I wasting my time analyzing a movie I haven't seen? Because the folks at Paramount apparently couldn't be bothered to. I never thought I'd ever actually agree with the infamous Ben Lyons, but when he recently said that this movie doesn't look like it will capture the "heart and soul" of the toys or original cartoon it pains me to admit he's completely right. Hopefully, I'm wrong. Nothing would make me happier. If not, and it still does well commercially (as bad movies tend to these days), they may have another chance down the line to fix any problems. Until then, I'll be crossing my fingers that my review for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra ends up being a letter of apology to Mr. Sommers.